Excerpts of a talk to the CG JUNG FOUNDATION program on the Collective Unconscious called “First Tuesday in which Gary Brown is a frequent presenter. This is a series on the evolution in the consciousness of humanity.
I believe that the movie AVATAR marks a significant collective event, the birth of a new kind of consciousness in humanity, and a new ego form to house that consciousness. Evidence in the movie seems to suggest, that the Collective Unconscious itself is actively working to bring about this birth about.
Psychologically, the great importance and impact of Avatar is attested to by the sheer numbers of those seeing it, and its near “cult-like” popularity. Right here and now we note that so many have come out here today to hear and talk about it. That so many are stirred and shaken so deeply points to the soul-fissure in the cultural and individual unconscious that has been touched in people around the world, by the film. I believe we see in AVATAR the autobiography of our time and our souls: our devastation, and the possibility of opening to new life, a new consciousness.
The tremendous impact of resides in people deeply feeling, by way of the film, their own lost connection to nature, not only nature in the world, but also loss of our own inner nature. In viewing the movie we see not only this estrangement but also the possibility of regaining our own natural core and our intimate relation with the natural world. We see paradise lost and paradise regained simultaneously on the screen.
As we begin, we have to be clear first of all that we are not primarily talking about the brilliance of the film; is it “good” or not, did we “like” it or not, though of course those judgments come into our understanding. But rather we are looking at it as a cultural/psychic phenomenon first. Our question is: what is its psycho-cultural significance on a large scale, and more, what does it mean in my society, in my life?
In a very short time has seized the imaginations, emotions and sensibilities of many millions of viewers around the world. It seems likely that it will prove to be the most-viewed film ever to date as evidenced by gross receipts at box offices. When such a cultural event happens, we can look on it as a very important psychological occurrence. The tremendous embrace of the film by so many millions, voting so to speak with their feet and dollars raises it to the level of a psychological phenomenon worthy of inquiry and study.
This consensus omnium, as Jung would say, “the opinion of all” is as substantial as a statistical study and the equivalent of one it seems to me. Even the arguments that the draw is the novel graphics and the “3-D” (which will no doubt be Hollywood’s “take away”) beg the question. The movie’s “cult-like” acclaim further proves the point.
In his own study of UFO’s, in 1958, Jung came to believe that the very widespread and long-lasting belief in them indicated that there was an extremely powerful and important psychic component behind the belief especially since there was no definite physical evidence of flying saucers. He noted that his own published remarks on the saucer phenomenon were taken to indicate that he “believed” in them and thought them “real” and were seized upon by the world press. When he wrote to clarify and give the “true version” of his remarks, namely that the sightings were of psychological interest, except for one paper in Germany, his statement of rebuttal went unnoticed by the same world press.
He saw this denial of the un-newsworthiness of his clarification and the grip on the press of their mistake on his earlier remark as a kind of Gallup poll of world opinion, a desire to believe, itself worthy of examination, which he proceeded to do in his essay, “FLYING SAUCERS: A MODERN MYTH” (col. Wks, vol 8, Civilization in Transition)
[Note my own ‘blowback” from working on this and seeing the movie multiple times. I felt especially sensitized to the pain of women, in the past few weeks, their pain and traumas, now and over millennia, whether women in my practice, friends, or in the news. I felt more emotionally free, free flowing emotions, sorrow, anger, rage.]
As we begin to stand back and explore our reactions and responses and those of others to the movie, we find them divided. The movie is either religiously loved or critically hated.
One blogger (Full-Blooded Awakening & Embodiment: A Review of Avatar by Robert Augustus Masters, Ph.D) writes, “For me, Avatar resonated so deeply that I wept through much of the last half the film. I felt it really succeeded in touching and evoking my own animistic soul, and I immediately knew even before I left the theater, that this film’s effect is a significant collective phenomenon.”
A reviewer and dramaturge declares AVATAR to be “Pocahontas meets Dances With Wolves”, trite and clichéd, nice effects!
My 17 yr old son decides the story is “kinda old, and the dialogue a little corny”. But he loves the movie!
“White man’s burden, phony noblesse oblige, indigenous people exploited again, etc, this time as a money making movie about their exploitation., etc, etc.”, said those who hated it.
And it is hard to tell the story in a way that’s gripping and new.
It is a typical story; it has it all: The cycle of the hero’s journey with evil villains and a transforming hero, the love interest, exotic locale, fanciful weaponry, boy gets girl, even if she is big and blue and very, very strong!
Yes, the story is clichéd, but more so in the sense that cliché’s are clichés because they have a great deal of truth. Of course, if major details which I’ll get to are overlooked, it is a story that can be simply read as a sermon on the demonizing of native peoples to justify their destruction and the pillaging of their lands. But from my perspective even this is a story that cannot be told too many times, one that only becomes more important with the passage of time as it becomes more and more clear that we in our time are both oppressors and oppressed.
So AVATAR goes far beyond this too-familiar tale of oppression and exploitation. It is a story whose time has come.
IT IS a story which is also hard to tell simply verbally in a way that’s gripping and new. I’ll try. Pay special attention to detail.
Here’s the story in a nutshell.
An American Marine veteran of future wars has been disabled and confined to a wheelchair, his legs useless from an exploded landmine in a war fought for resources on distant, old Earth. He’s hired as a mercenary who travels to a planet named Pandora, in a star-system six yrs distant. A planet on which a rare and precious metal is being mined which is of great value on Earth. It is called, “UNOBTANIUM”, and is worth $20 million a kilo back on Earth. (It must be pretty good stuff!)
Traveling in technological hibernation, a sleep in which he dreams of being a “whole man” and of “flying”, he’s awakened on arrival reflecting, “No matter how good your dream, you always have to wake up”.
The establishing, good vs. evil shot of the movie is seen on landing as we are shown the lush green jungle and the ugly scar of the mine and the glowering fortress (or is it a ) prison of the paramilitary corporate complex on the new world.
We’re introduced to the theme of two worlds, sleep and awakening: which is real, which is dream? We learn that our wounded hero, Jake, is there because of his twin brother who was killed while being robbed on old Earth. Because of his identical genome Jake is able to transfer his consciousness to a body that has been grown in an “Amnio” tank on the base from the combination genetic material from both of humans and the local humanoid species, the Na’vi.. His new recombinant Na’vi body is nearly twice the size of the human body, very powerful, and able to live and breathe on Pandora, a most important point in the story and in our understanding of this myth for our times now.
Jake’s job, as a “sleepwalker” in the slang of the Na’vi, a human in a Na’vi-like body is to act as security for the scientific party studying the Na’vi in hopes of making a diplomatic bridge so their lands can be exploited without overtly destroying them.
Jake’s undercover mission is to infiltrate the Na’vi tribe to gather “intell” on the structures supporting the “Hometree” in which the tribe lives for to support military action against them.
Through a series of hapless adventures, he’s chosen, first by the Earth Mother Goddess of the Na’vi, Eywa, then by the shamanic matriarch of the tribe and then, chosen by trial to join the tribe, he is chosen as a mate by Nakiri, the Na’vi maiden Nakiri, the designated heir of her mother, the shaman.
Nakiri has saved his life and has trained him to be able to live on Pandora as a full-fledged male warrior of the clan. Most importantly she has taught him “ZAHEYLU” , the bond, which is made through the filament-like hairs at the end of the tail of the Na’vi body. The zaheylu allows him to bond with animal and plant life of Pandora, the other Na’vi and, most importantly, with Eywa, the Great Mother of All.
“Turned as a triple agent” by his sympathy and bonding with the Na’vi, Pandora, Nakiri, he tries to stave off the destruction of the Na’vi and their Hometree and is seen as having double-crossed both sides.
Declared a traitor, and a scapegoat by both sides, he escapes from the corporate prison back to his Na’vi body and to the Na’vi tribe where he is violently disavowed by his mate Nakiri. Through an extreme act of heroism he distinguishes himself as the Savior/Messiah of the Na’vi, unites all the tribes of Pandora, miraculously defeats the corporate forces of oppression from old Earth and forces them to retreat from Pandora.
Very importantly along the way to this victory, he enlists the aid of Eywa, the earth mother, saying to Nakiri that on their own planet Earth, “They have killed their mother.” Nakiri, reconciled to him, informs him that Eywa “doesn’t take sides”, and that She “only provides the balance of life”. To her amazement, and ours, the audience, all the animals of Pandora, rise up in the attack of the Na’vi against the invaders. She has taken a side.
To come to a clearer understanding of this we have to take the perspective of a dreamer on waking recalling a dream, only in this case the dream is the film AVATAR. Looking at it from this viewpoint allows us to interpret it as we might a dream and bring the tools, so to speak, of Jungian dream-work and ways of thinking to aid our understanding.
Read part 2 of this series here.