Read part 1 of this series here.
The very engagement of such a large mass audience is due to the psychological nature of identification. It is this human tendency for identification which draws us into dramas of any kind, plays, films, dreams, etc.. Certainly the writers, directors, and producers of the film were very aware of this effect of identification and quite consciously built mythic themes into the movie
As dreamer/viewers we first become aware of the character we come to identify with as the dream/movie/myth begins: Jake, the wounded hero/savior/scapegoat.
He is how we, each of us, feel now. Wounded. Wounded in our capacity – legs – not able to walk, i.e.,” we can’t go on this way” (without legs) in the world, in our lives, with our deep selves. We feel without vital life force.
It is as if our lives have no continuity, no longevity, no “legs”. In the last couple of years the once vague sense of the breakup and breakdown of our reality, socially, and culturally, has more and more come home: the increasing knowledge of environmental degradation has led to a deep core feeling of personal fragmentation.
The recent and continuing economic meltdown was the last straw, an event on which our deep existential anxiety has been projected. “The Economy” is both a cause of the angst and a mirror for it. It has become harder and harder to hold on to a sense of normalcy. No longer is “all right with the world” and we know it both “out there” and “in here”. Our very sense of the world and ourselves feels fractured. We feel there is no way, no place to stand. We’re at the end, we and our world seem to have no longevity, no legs.
The myth/dream/film takes us step by step through Jake’s transformation: his story/ our story is of course the traditional cycle of the hero’s journey as has been outlined by Campbell and other mythographers: the birth of the hero, the separation from his people, his challenge or trial, death and finally his resurrection or return. This is the journey from which he brings his gift to the tribe, society or culture. This is of course the ur story, the basic, archetypal dramatic pattern which underlies all human story.
However there are two big items of news in the AVATAR version of the myth of the hero. One element comes at the beginning, most important news, the body of Jake’s transformation is a body combining both human and Na’vi genes. Unlike other stories and movies of this sort, the hero actually becomes different, here literally in a different body. I.E., he is structurally different, not just in dress/appearance (persona).
This new body/structure acts as a psycho-biological bridge. Here psychology borrows from anthropology the term “endogamous” from Greek roots meaning “joined within”. An endogamous group is one in which every one is genetically related, as in a family, the “blood bond”. One cares about or even only recognizes those to whom one is related by “blood”. How much more so is this caring only for ones own species. In AVATAR it is shockingly shown to occur between species: this film shows compassion of humans for Na’avi and humans for Na’vi, in the case of the heroic outliers among the human invaders, Jake and the scientific crew. [I’m indebted to the well-known Buddhist teacher Bob Thurman for bringing this to my attention].
The chief biological scientist in the group, shot while escaping in her attempt to save the Na’vi asks, “Why should they (the Na’vi) help us? We’re attacking them?” Yet they do! In the final scene following the “Battle to Defend the Tree”, we have a brief but unforgettable scene, as Nakiri, the large, blue Na’vi female, holds the broken, dying human body of her lover, Jake, in her arms, a deeply moving and poignant Pieta.
Interspecies compassion runs counter to the cogent remark of Jake earlier in the film that in order for one group to take something from another group, the latter must first be made “the enemy”, and finally “de-humanized”. The movie shows both: the creation of enmity of the other and the “de-humanizing” of this now enemy. Here of course, the other is bio/culturally already other. Yet compassion prevails. The “blood bond ” was superseded by the “zahelu”, the bond-with-all things.
Our depredation of other species in the world today would cease, and our “inner and outer” paramilitary forces of oppression and exploitation would end, “go home”, if we were, each of us, to feel this bond, interspecies compassion.
The evil colonel of the invading Earth forces sneers at Jake Solly, “You’re not one of them!!!” And indeed he is not. He is something new, in a combination human/Na’vi body! New body equals new consciousness equals new consciousness of body, a newly embodied consciousness equals a new sense of self.
The birthing of this new consciousness is portrayed by the acquisition by the hero of the movie of a powerful body in which the spiritual and the instinctual are held closely together. We should note, not just in passing, that the attainment of this “new body” echoes Jake’s our wounded hero’s, earlier wish he that he be a “whole man”. Clearly his new embodiment is both the means to this wholeness and portrays its end result.
The other avenue I spoke of bringing the emergence of this new form is that it is actively promoted and protected by the Collective Unconscious itself in the form of the Great Mother called Eywa, herself embodied as a giant, luminous tree. I share the idea of a new development in consciousness with my elder colleague, Jerry Bernstein in Santa Fe and am indebted to him for his elaboration of the “borderland” personality and the active support of the new ego he sees coming from the very depths of the Collective Ucs. His very valuable book has the same title and I urge you to take a look at it.
This new embodiment of the hero foreshadows the possibility of living closer to our worlds, inner and outer, both individually and as a culture. In our worn-out, current consciousness, the fear of the feminine in both the outer world and as the Unconscious is projected outward.
This fearful projection leads to the rape of the feminine in our outer world today, both in the form of women, indigenous peoples, the land and environment itself: the blow-back of this rapacious attitude results in turn to yet more violence to our own inner, unconscious life, bringing the death and destruction of our own creativity and energy, leaving us desolate emotionally and ill physically. In the words of the transformed hero in the movie, “They have killed their mother”, a dire process we see all around us in many forms in our world today.
Viewing the film as a “Big Dream”, we see the crippled hero become a powerful savior, who goes from being unable to walk, let alone live without technological assistance on the new world of Pandora, to being powerfully embodied in a new form able to function there. From being one of the rapacious invaders from a devastated planet, Earth, read as the worn out world of Consciousness to being fully integrated into the new world of Pandora, the Collective Unconscious, he moves from a motivation of ruthless self-interest to one of self-sacrifice.
Read part 3 of this series here.