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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
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The Avatar Blues

When I was ten, I saw the movie "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

I had just moved to France with my parents. My dad was a teacher on sabbatical for a year in Europe and we lived in a fairly small town outside Paris called Ormesson sur Marne.

The movie made a profound impression on me and for a couple weeks, I made cardboard swords and shields in the garage of our house and acted out scenes from the movie. I was enchanted by Snow White and I wanted to be Prince Charming.

The fact that it was a cartoon seemed not to have slowed down my imagination one bit.

I was reminded of that old feeling when I saw the movie "Avatar" last week. For a half - hour, rather than weeks, the real world seemed to have disappeared and I was held in the thrill and sense of wonder the movie had generated.

No matter that it too was in good part a cartoon and a simple one at that.

It worked a miasma of themes: Indians against the Union Army (the native Na'Vi against mercenaries), a pagan religion, and an evil power that combined the idea of real estate developers (bulldozers tearing down a forest home) with corporate pillagers of the earth's bounty (in this case, blowing up a big tree that is home to the natives in order to obtain the valuable mineral underneath).

And it put dinosaurs (the birds the Na'Vi use for transportation) together with underwater imagery that flowed throughout the film, from the lighted, hanging strands of a sacred tree to its seeds that float through the air like phosphorescent sea anemones drifting on an underwater current.

The action takes place on the planet "Pandorum," reputed to be a place full of things that will kill humans quickly and easily, an easy play off the expression "Pandora's Box."

And the mineral sought by the bad guys is "unobtainium," as though a writer said let's call the unobtainable mineral unobtainium until we think of something else. And nothing better came up.

It was as simple as a kid's cartoon story. And yet it carried me away.

If I were to go back to that moment and that bar where I quaffed a beer after the movie, I would say it was partly because, just like when I saw Snow White, it was simple.

There was good and bad. There was a hero. There was a beautiful maiden. But the imagery that held the tones and three-dimensional movement of diving in the sea was the thing that pulled me into that other world and held me there.

As if by a kind of visual magic.

So an article on CNN.com about the Avatar Blues came as no surprise, where some of those who watched the movie had trouble leaving the movie behind and returning to the real world.

Among its weave, if not cacophony, of notions, the movie does have an enormous environmental theme running right through the heart of it. As the hero exhorts the natives to repulse the invaders, he says there is nothing green left on Earth and the invaders will not stop until there is nothing green left on Pandorum.

While the invaders themselves are about as direct an embodiment of the phrase "military industrial complex" as the imagination could conjure up..

Just as art both reflects reality and sometimes precedes it, "Avatar" does tap into the unsettled sense of current times with fisheries failing, forests disappearing, ice caps melting and a line of birds and animals marching into extinction.

On the same timeline, the Earth's population grows at an unsustainable pace, matched by rising religious fervor and the proliferation of increasingly powerful weapons.

There is a reason why those with the Avatar Blues find it hard to leave the world of make believe.

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