Avatar Review

Originally, I hadn’t planned on seeing the movie Avatar while it was in theatres. Money is tight right now, and I don’t go out to the movies as often as I used to. I heard so many positive reviews from friends, though, that I decided to see it.

I’m glad that I did!

Avatar is one of the most impressive movies I’ve seen in a long time. In fact, it’s one of the most impressive movies I’ve ever seen! There are flaws to it, of course, and I’ll get to those in a moment. Even with these flaws, though, I would say that it’s comparable to the original Star Wars series in terms of its groundbreaking visual style and profound mythological themes.

So what do I find so impressive about this movie?

First, there was my purely visual enjoyment of the film. Some of my friends who saw it in 3D were not that impressed with the new 3D technology. I, on the other hand, was deeply impressed. Maybe it helped that I haven’t really seen much of the old 3D technology, so the thought of seeing anything other than real life in 3D was still pretty new to me. Then, throw in the fact that they created a visually stunning virtual world and used the ultra close-ups sparingly enough to make them pop when they did happen. It really helped me to feel more deeply immersed in this alien world and the film’s compelling narrative.

Second, there was the story itself.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet, this will contain a few spoilers. With that said, I’d like to talk a bit about the story.

Human beings have established a military and economic presence on a distant moon named Pandora in order to extract an incredibly powerful and valuable mineral called unobtainium. [Yes, they really call it unobtainium.] Their extraction of this mineral, however, is complicated by the fact that there is a race of sentient indigenous humanoids called the Na’vi who live tribally in the massive forested landscape of Pandora.

The forests of Pandora are an impressive creation. The moon has lower gravity than Earth, and subsequently has massive towering trees and an endless variety of vegetation interwoven throughout the forest floor and canopy. They don’t say anything about most of the species present on Pandora, but it’s clear that they put a great deal of thought and effort into creating a rich backdrop of alien biodiversity for this profoundly ecological narrative.

One of the most interesting aspects of this ecology is the neural link. The Na’vi, as well as many other species (all animals?) have a braid-like appendage at the back of their head that grants them the ability to link into a global neural network that is personified as a planet-mother goddess named Eywa.

This is where the mythological elements really shine through. Each clan of Na’vi clusters around a massive Hometree. Together with the Tree of Souls and Tree of Voices, this Hometree constitutes a quite literal manifestation of the Tree of Life concept that is present in many real-world cultures, faiths, and mythologies. Their daily lives and identities are inextricably linked with their tree home, and it is both a symbolic and a literal connection to their planet-mother Eywa.

One of the most poignant scenes of the movie for me was the destruction of the Hometree.

Naturally, the largest deposit of unobtainium within range of the corporation’s base is underneath the Hometree. Therefore, after a half-hearted effort to get the local Na’vi clan to relocate, the corporation orders its military force to destroy the Hometree and drive any surviving Na’vi out of the area.

I know that some people don’t get as into movies as I do, and some people like to mock anyone who gets emotional about anything, especially a movie. If you’re one of those people, you can feel free to mock away. I must say, though, that the scene surrounding the destruction of the Hometree was profoundly moving for me in ways that I can’t even describe in words. But I have to try.

The Tree of Life — or the World Tree, or the Hometree, or whatever you like to call it — is a very primal mythological concept that has probably been with us since we descended from the trees to walk on the plains so many millennia ago. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, I encourage you to read up on it, starting with the Wikipedia article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tree_of_life

This Tree of Life has meant many things to many people. The overarching concept, though, is using a tree as a metaphor for the different aspects of the world as a whole. The roots involve the underworld, a hidden place beneath the soil where the dead depart to and new life emerges from. The trunk represents the manifest world, a solid and thick place where energy flows between earth and sky. The branches represent our connection to the cosmic, to the infinite, to the many branches of knowledge and wisdom and understanding. Taken as a whole, this Tree of Life represents the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, and all of the mysteries and beauty and glory that it entails.

To watch such a clear and powerful incarnation of this Tree of Life being brutally destroyed before my very eyes was a profoundly sorrowful experience. It was like a re-enactment of humanity’s untold centuries of senseless genocide and ecocide, all of it packed into a few minutes of masterful cinematography. The only thing I can compare it to is the encounters I had with real-world ecocide during my time in Idaho — walking through the scorched remains of a series of massive clearcuts, or walking through a long stretch of cleared trees and realizing that this path would soon be a road on which many more clearcuts would unfold.

For me, it was a profound experience. I would go so far as to say that it was a spiritual experience. If the movie had just ended there, I think I would have been inconsolably sad and had to call my friends for emotional support.

Luckily for the moviegoers, however — and luckily for the Na’vi — it didn’t end there. With the help of the human main characters, the Na’vi fight back against the invaders. They not only succeed in driving the human aggressors back, but also manage to take over their base. The majority of the corporation’s personnel are exiled back to Earth, and the main characters and Navi live happily ever after.

On the whole, as you can tell, I was very impressed with Avatar. One of the flaws in the movie that I will point out, though, was mentioned to me by a friend of mine. I had noticed it on some level, but might not have thought to comment on it if she hadn’t brought it to my attention. It involves the two-dimensional — or perhaps more accurately, one-dimensional — portrayal of the humans who are fighting the Na’vi.

First of all, what are their motivations? They’re a military force — perhaps more accurately, a mercenary force — so we can’t expect them to be too sympathetic to the plight of the people they’ve been hired to keep in line. At the time they signed up, it wasn’t a full-on war with the Na’vi — but given the fact that you’re guarding mining operations that are encroaching ever-further into Na’vi territory, you’ve got to have at least some clue of what you’re signing up for.

Given the dehumanizing that goes on in any war, you can expect most of them to be down with the program. But all of them? Without question, without reservation, with great enthusiasm? The only people who even seem to consider the Na’vi perspective, much less support it, are: the scientists on the mission; the ex-Marine who is working for the scientists and spends all day running around in a Na’vi body; and one pilot who is friends with the ex-Marine and science team. Everyone else is just mindlessly hungry for the blood of the Na’vi, including a general who makes a deliciously over-the-top villain but doesn’t offer any depth to the humans who work for the corporation.

The conclusion I came to about this is that James Cameron simply doesn’t find the story of the conquerors interesting. He sees them as a one-dimensional force of nature — a mindless killing machine — rather than a collection of individual human beings with their own motivations, hopes, dreams, and so on. The aforementioned general has an intense and highly visible personal character, but it is there mostly for our amusement and/or horror, and offers intensity without any real depth. This is really unfortunate from a social and political perspective because one of the most important parts of fighting against imperialism and oppression is understanding what it is and how it works!

Another smaller issue I had with the movie was a quick throw-away line about how the Na’vi and their ability to communicate with their planet-mother goddess Eywa was a scientifically demonstrable phenomenon rather than some “mystic Pagan voodoo” or some similarly ridiculous and offensive phrase.

On the one hand, it was just a throw-away line that a real scientist might in fact use when describing a form of advanced biochemical communication that might otherwise be seen as “mystical” or “Pagan” or “voodoo.” On the other hand, it felt rather jarring and out of place in a movie that is otherwise profoundly mystical and arguably deeply Pagan in its narrative. People of many faiths and beliefs can identify with the tale, of course, just as they can appreciate ancient Greek mythology, or incorporate pagan mythic elements into decidedly Christian tales such as the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or the Lord of the Rings. But it seems a bit silly to me to construct an entire tale around a planet-mother-goddess archetype and then mock the ancient Pagan cultures that gave us this archetype.

One last point about Avatar that I’d like to talk about briefly is the fan response. In particular, the fans who have become depressed because of the movie:

http://mashable.com/2010/01/12/post-avatar-depression-hits-thousands-of-fans-video/
http://www.cnn.com/2010/SHOWBIZ/Movies/01/11/avatar.movie.blues/index.html

I’ve heard people making fun of the “Avatar Blues,” so I wanted to say something supportive about it.

Personally, when I left that movie, I felt uplifted and inspired. The Na’vi may have lost a Hometree, and many lives, but they drove back the invaders. I’ve joked with friends that Avatar was like a re-enactment of the European conquerors invading the Americas and Africa — but this time, the indigenous people had dragons on their side! It’s an inspiring tale of resistance and liberation, and it ends on a bright and hopeful note.

But I can understand why it would leave some people depressed. Maybe they never encountered a fantasy story with that strong of an archetypal narrative before; maybe the 3D effects made it seem that much more real to them; maybe the current state of the economy and the nation has them feeling more depressed than usual. Whatever it was, I can see why it would leave some people depressed, and I think it’s cruel to make fun of them for it.

A big part of what helped me to have an inspiring rather than depressing experience was my firm belief that someday, if we choose wisely and take action to make our choices a reality, we can live in a world that is far closer to the deep beauty and deep connectedness that exists in Avatar. No, we probably won’t sprout USB ponytails that allow us to connect directly to Gaia’s neural network. But we can certainly live a life of deep, personal, and daily relationship with the beautiful living ecosystems that surround us. And as a mystic myself, I believe that we may even achieve telepathic abilities one day which surpass even the biochemical form of telepathy present in Avatar.

So if you’re one of the people who left Avatar feeling like your real life was a little too grey for comfort, take heart! If the movie touched you that deeply, then you are carrying a little splash of all of that color and radiance and connection around with you deep in your heart. And you are surrounded by many other people doing the same. So even if your surroundings look very grey at the moment, there is a network of people all around you who dream of a better world — and you can be a part of making it happen.

And if you’re one of the people who hasn’t seen Avatar yet, I would highly encourage it. Even if you only watch it so that you can make fun of “Dances With Smurfs of Fern Gully,” you may find yourself touched at some point by the experience. This one is definitely a classic worth seeing.

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DONATION: Carbondale Interfaith Council

This week, I’m making a donation to the Carbondale Interfaith Council.

http://www.cdaleinterfaith.org/

The purpose of the Carbondale Interfaith Council is to make God’s love visible in our community by fostering interfaith cooperation, sharing religious experiences, engaging in service, discovering unity while respecting our differences, and speaking with courage and strength for justice.

I started going to the Carbondale Interfaith Council board meetings in 2009 and am happy to be involved in the organization. Two of our most prominent programs include our support for the Good Samaritan House and the Ralph Anderson Interfaith Dialogues.

The Good Samaritan House was established in 1985 by the Carbondale Interfaith Council to provide services to the needy in the Carbondale area. They provide an emergency shelter, a transitional housing program, a soup kitchen, a food pantry, and an emergency assistance program.

The Ralph Anderson Interfaith Dialogues offer a series of public panel discussions on a variety of social and spiritual topics. Each dialogue features a leader or spokesperson from several different faiths who discuss their perspective on the topic of the day in light of their faith. After the panel discussion, speakers are open to questions and ongoing dialog with members of the community.

In addition to these long-term programs, the Carbondale Interfaith Council and members of the interfaith community also recently sponsored a small delegation to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia. This delegation allowed local people of faith to interact extensively with members of the global interfaith community, sharing their experiences of faith and service here in Southern Illinois and bringing back knowledge and wisdom from the conference to the Southern Illinois community.

Even if you are an atheist or agnostic, you may find common ground with the Carbondale Interfaith Council’s commitment to public service and promotion of dialog and peaceful co-existence among people of all faiths (or no faith).

These programs are certainly reason enough to support the organization. However, I’m also making this donation on behalf of the Southern Illinois Pagan Alliance.

The Carbondale Interfaith Council is primarily composed of members of the Abrahamic faith traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. However, they are open to engaging in dialog and shared community service work with people of all faith communities that are present in Carbondale and Southern Illinois. As a member of the Pagan community, I intend to make an annual contribution to the Carbondale Interfaith Council on SIPA’s behalf in order to demonstrate our community’s willingness to engage in community dialog and share in community service work organized cooperatively by people of many faiths.

If you’re fortunate enough to have money in your pocket after you’ve paid for food, shelter, utilities, and so on, consider making a donation to the Carbondale Interfaith Council or the Good Samaritan House ( http://goodsamcarbondale.org/ ).

Thanks for listening, and thanks for any support you can send their way!

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Progress

When I decided to do some blogging tonight, my original plan was to write an entry about my first few months as a Real Life Superhero. However, I’m also going to take a look at the course of my life in general.

First of all, a few words on my Real Life Superhero adventures.

These first few months as a RLSH have been a good start! There is still so much more to do, but I feel like I’ve been making progress.

Some of the changes have taken place online. I’ve renovated my website, including at least two new pages: a RLSH page to describe the work I do, and a Causes page to describe the local, regional, national, and global causes that I support. I’ve also been talking with members of Heroes Network and RealLifeSuperheroes.org about everything under the sun.

Some of the changes have taken place offline. I’ve been spending more time working directly and indirectly with local community groups. Highlights include speaking out at public meetings in opposition to the Mayor’s suggestion that we privatize the local water supply; working with other community members to organize a new climate change group and a week of local climate change action; and starting my Donations program, which has given over $100 to local community groups and raised public awareness about the good work of these organizations.

The local media has even taken notice. An article about my work as a Real Life Superhero appeared in the Southern Illinoisan, which is the biggest newspaper in Southern Illinois. I’ve also heard that my comments at the City Council meeting made it on the local TV news, although I still haven’t seen the footage.

What really blew my mind, though, was that one of the events I was involved in organizing — the Sustainable State of the City Address — made it onto the front page of the Southern Illinoisan! For those of you who don’t know the politics of the paper (and the region), it was pretty impressive to see a story on climate change making front page.

I attribute this success to a combination of good timing, good organizing, and good reporting. Our event was held the day after the Mayor’s State of the City speech, which was also in the middle of the global climate change conference in Copenhagen. We put a lot of thought and discussion into what to include in the press release and the talks we gave, and members of the press were very responsive and did a good job of covering the story.

I especially want to thank Janet, Sarah, Barb, Katie, James, and everyone else who came to meetings and help pulled the group and events together. They’re the ones who got the ball rolling, and kept it rolling — I pretty much just showed up to meetings and tried to keep pace! It’s only a start, of course, and we have more plans in the work to continue addressing climate change on a local level. Even so, it was good to reconnect with old friends, connect with new ones, and see people from different parts of the community coming together to do what we can on such an important issue.

October, November, and early December were a rush in terms of community involvement. Once the week of climate events was over, though, it was time to slow down a bit and take stock. The students and faculty were starting their winter break, and I started a bit of a winter break of my own.

First, I spent some time with members of my “local family” — people who I don’t have any blood relation to, but who I’m close enough to that I consider them kin. I have a group of friends who I spend most Thursday nights with, and another group of friends who I spend most Sunday nights with. I spent a little extra time with each of them in mid-December, including a birthday party and a holiday party. This reminded me that I’m very blessed to have such wonderful friends, and that I love them dearly!

Then, I took the train to the distant north — a town by the name of Brookfield, on the outskirts of the legendary Land of Chicago. I spent almost a week there visiting with my mother, my stepfather, my brother, my sister-in-law, my sister, and her fiancé. I also spent much of Christmas Day with my extended family on my mother’s side, including my grandmother, who has been in ill health but was able to visit the longtime family homestead for a few hours on Christmas Day.

It’s hard for me to even imagine what it must be like for my grandmother to have lived in the same house so many years. I feel at home in Carbondale because I’ve lived here for thirteen and a half years now — but that’s been spread out over half a dozen different residences! In contrast, she’s lived in that house in Bellwood for significantly longer than I’ve been alive. I think her oldest son still lived at home when they moved there, and her other children spent some or all of their childhood there. And her children brought back grandchildren to spend their holidays there.

It’s no wonder, then, that after several months going back and forth between the hospital and the assisted living facility, she was eager to go home, if only for a few hours. It took considerable effort to get her there and back, especially on a snowy and icy night. But she seemed happy to be back in her chair in her living room again, and happy to have family gathered around her for Christmas. And she even got to see a DVD with messages from a few other relatives who weren’t able to make it.

In retrospect, the whole experience has given me pause to consider many different aspects of life, and family, and so on. I don’t really have any concrete thoughts on the matter, but I’m glad she was able to make it home in spite of the difficulties, and I’m also glad that I was able to spend time with my immediate family. If I had more money, or even my own transportation, I’d visit them more often!

Speaking of money, I’d like to talk more about my money situation — or more accurately, my lack of money situation. On a brighter note, I’d also like to talk about my continuing improvements in health. This entry is already growing a bit too long, though, and I should be going to sleep soon anyway.

So, next time I’ll talk about my money woes, and my ongoing efforts to do something about them. I will also talk about my health, and how my slow but steady increase in energy and muscle mass may very well turn 2010 into the best year ever.

In the meantime, I’m off to bed. And so, Gentle Reader, I bid you a fond farewell, and wish you sweet dreams.

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DONATION: Student Farmworker Alliance

This week, I’m making a donation to the Student/Farmworker Alliance:

http://www.sfalliance.org/

I’ll be making this donation tonight at “Jam for Justice,” an exciting music and art event brought to you by local SFA organizers in order to raise funds, raise awareness, and have a good time in the process.

Jam for Justice is tonight at 9 pm at Tres Hombres in Carbondale. Come have a drink (if you drink), listen to awesome music, and support farm workers all in one night! Bands include: The Ivas John Band, Nighty Night, The Jug Dealers, and Matt Mings on acoustic guitar. There will also be Live Art for auction by Justin Rosenfield and raffle tickets for sale. Raffle prizes include: a $50 Longbranch gift certificate, 2 free entrees from Global, fair trade chocolate from Town Square Market, gift certificate for Fat Patties, a two-topping Pagliais pizza, and more! Cover charge is $5 at the door — and I know economic times are tough, but this is cheaper than a movie, and far more entertaining than anything Hollywood has to offer at the moment.

In case you’re not familiar with them, the Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA) is a national network of students and youth organizing with farmworkers to eliminate sweatshop conditions and modern-day slavery in the fields. They work in alliance with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a membership-led organization of mostly Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian farmworkers and other low-wage workers based in Southwest Florida. They understand their work – which formally began in 2000 – as part of larger movements for economic and social justice.

Most of my donations toward Causes will be going toward purely local organizations. However, the local supporters of the SFA and CIW have been very active and productive in this cause for several years now, and I want to support their local work in the service of a broader social justice cause. Their work has offered concrete material support for the SFA and CIW while also inspiring local people, especially young people, to get involved in this and other solidarity work. Solidarity with working people in other regions is very important, and these local organizers are leading the effort to ensure that our food and services aren’t brought to us through the exploitation of workers in other regions.

If you’re fortunate enough to have money in your pocket after you’ve paid for food, shelter, utilities, and so on, consider making a donation to Student/Farmworker Alliance, either by attending Jam for Justice or contacting local organizers Erica Dodt [ erica@sfalliance.org ] and Katie Lenza [ ktlenza@gmail.com ]. You can also contact them if you would prefer to get involved by volunteering, participating in future events, etc. They’ve done some great work for the cause, but that work will only reach its full potential with proper support from people like you.

Thanks for listening, and thanks for any support you can send their way!

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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