Human Science

by Roy Posner

Avatar Movie Poster


Avatar is a 2009 American science fiction epic film, written and directed by James Cameron, and starring Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez and Stephen Lang. The film is set in the year 2154 on Pandora, a fictional Earth-like world in the Alpha Centauri planetary system. Humans are engaged in mining Pandora's reserves of a precious mineral, while the Na'vi—a race of indigenous humanoids—resist the colonists' expansion, which threatens the continued existence of the Na'vi and the Pandoran ecosystem. The film's title refers to the genetically engineered bodies used by the film's characters to interact with the Na'vi.


In 2154, the RDA corporation is mining Pandora, a lush, Earth-like moon of the planet Polyphemus. Parker Selfridge heads the mining operation, and it employs former marines for security. The corporation intends to exploit Pandora's reserves of a valuable mineral called unobtanium. Pandora is inhabited by the Na’vi, a blue-skinned species of sapient humanoids with feline characteristics. Physically stronger and taller than humans, the Na'vi live in harmony with Nature, worshiping a mother goddess called Eywa.

Humans cannot survive exposure to Pandora’s atmosphere for very long and use oxygen masks. In an attempt to improve relations with the natives, scientists create human-Na’vi hybrids called avatars, controlled by genetically-matched human operators. Jake Sully, a paraplegic former marine, becomes a last-minute replacement for his murdered identical twin brother, a scientist trained to be an avatar operator. Dr. Grace Augustine, the head of the Avatar Program, considers Sully an inadequate replacement for his brother, and relegates him to a bodyguard role.

Jake escorts Augustine and biologist Norm Spellman on an exploratory mission in their avatar forms to make contact with the Na'vi, in order to help establish diplomatic relations, solve the problem of resources and end the threat of violence. The group is attacked by a predator, and Jake becomes separated and lost. Forced to survive the night in Pandora’s dangerous jungles, he is rescued by Neytir, a female Na'vi. Neytiri brings Jake to Hometree, which is inhabited by Neytiri’s clan, the Omaticaya. Mo'at, the Na'vi shaman and Neytiri's mother, shows interest in the warrior "Dream-walker" (their term for the Avatars), and instructs her daughter to teach Jake their ways. Colonel Miles Quaritch, leader of the security forces for RDA, hears of Jake's unique relationship with the Omaticaya and promises Jake his "real legs" in exchange for intelligence about the natives and what it will take for them to abandon Hometree, which rests above a large deposit of unobtanium.

Over three months, Jake grows close to Neytiri and the Omaticaya and begins preferring their lifestyle, eroding his loyalty toward RDA's agenda. He is initiated into the Omaticaya, and he and Neytiri reveal their love for each other, choosing each other as mates. Jake's change of loyalty is revealed when he disables a bulldozer's cameras as it destroys the tribe's "Tree of Voices". Col. - Quaritch disconnects Jake from his avatar and presents Selfridge and Augustine with a vlog in which Jake admits that his mission is fruitless; the Omaticaya will never abandon Hometree. Selfridge is convinced that negotiations will fail and orders Hometree's destruction.

Augustine argues that the destruction of Hometree could affect the vast bio-botanical neural network that all Pandoran organisms are connected to, and Selfridge gives Jake and Augustine one hour to convince the Na’vi to leave Hometree. When he reveals his mission to the Omaticaya, Neytiri accuses him of betraying them, resulting in Jake and Augustine's imprisonment. Quaritch’s forces destroy Hometree, killing Eytucan, Neytiri's father and clan chief, and many others. Jake and Augustine are disconnected from their avatars and detained for treason along with Norm. Trudy, a security force pilot who is disgusted by the violence, breaks them out. During their escape Quaritch shoots Augustine. With Augustine dying, Jake turns to the Omaticaya for help. To regain their trust he tames the Toruk, a powerful flying beast that only five Na'vi have ever tamed. Jake flies to the Omaticaya, who have gathered at the sacred Tree of Souls, and pleads with Mo'at to heal Augustine. They attempt to transplant her "soul" into her avatar, but her injuries are too severe and she dies before the ritual can be completed.

With the assistance of Neytiri and Tsu'Tey, the new leader of the Omaticaya, Jake assembles thousands of Na'vi from other clans. Jake prays to Eywa to intercede on behalf of the Na'vi in the coming battle. Quaritch, noting the mobilization of Na'vi clans, convinces Selfridge to authorize a preemptive strike on the Tree of Souls. Because it is a center of Na'vi religion and culture, its destruction would leave the Na'vi too demoralized to resist further human encroachment.

As the corporation's army attacks, the Na'vi retaliate but suffer heavy casualties, among them Tsu'Tey and Trudy. When the Na'vi are on the verge of defeat, the Pandoran wildlife suddenly attacks the corporation's forces, overwhelming them. Neytiri interprets this as Eywa answering Jake's prayer. Jake destroys the main bomber before it can reach the Tree of Souls. Col. Quaritch escapes and finds the avatar interface pod where Jake's human body is located and attacks it, exposing Jake to Pandora's atmosphere. Neytiri kills Quaritch and saves Jake. With the attack repelled, Neytiri and Jake reaffirm their love as she sees his human body for the first time.

Selfridge and the military personnel are expelled from Pandora, while Jake, Norm, and the scientists studying Pandora are allowed to remain. Jake is seen wearing the insignia of the Omaticaya leader. The film ends with Jake's consciousness being transplanted into his Na'vi avatar permanently by the Tree of Souls.



-Avatar is a spectacular cinematic achievement using state of the art technology; including 3D, wide-angle shooting, and motion capture animation. For the viewer, the sense of being IN the movie is very real.

-Avatar demonstrates that even more far-reaching epochs that touch the imagination, like the Indian Ramayana and the Mahabharata, with all their phantasmagorical forms, circumstance, and insights can be brought to the screen. That too will help the world see alternate psychological and spiritual perspectives (particularly in the West), that it does not now have.

Classic Tale

-Avatar is a classic tale of the conflict of civilizations, not unlike what happened between the European white man and the Native peoples of the Americas.

-Thus, the theme of the movie is very similar to 'Dances with Wolves' with its Native American themes and the journey of a white man who crosses the cultural divide. There are also additional African influences, and Eastern spiritual themes.

Energy and Form

In Pandora, we see a profound philosophy and cosmology at work. There all is a product of one essential Energy that takes many forms. When the form dies, the energy remains, but enjoins another form. That Energy is also that which binds all life forms on the planet, creating a deep respect among the (animal) species and between the people.

This is similar to Sri Aurobindo's notions that all things are forms of the one Conscious Force and primal Energy. (I.e. in creation, out of the Conscious Force came Mind, then the plane of Energy out of which Matter and Life evolved.) Also, that energy does not die with the form, but takes another higher formation. Even Science is in the earliest stages of subscribe to this view; especially now that it  has discovered Dark Energy, which some believe is the source of all material existence in the universe.)

Cooperation and Oneness of Society

-Whereas in 'Lord of the Rings,' Gandalf had to plead with the various people to combat the enemy, here the clans are far more ready to cooperate. That is because they perceive their essential bond of Energy and Force between them; i.e. the Spirit. This is a lesson we could all learn in dealing with society’s problems here on Earth.

-The relationship between the humans of Avatar and the animals is charming in the extreme. Again, it is because they share a deep essential bond of spirit-like Energy. Even the trees, plants, and especially the sprite-like seeds have great consciousness, as the latter at one point gather over Jake perceiving his role in the destiny of the planet. The earth itself and all its species are conscious. (These entities are like Cameron's cosmic jellyfish from his 'The Abyss.') In essence, all life on Pandora is animated and motivated by a cosmic Energy and Force originating in what they believe is "the Mother of all things."

-And yet existence of Pandora is not so different in form to life on Earth. They are still human-like (as on earth), with all the foibles. Yet on Pandora, they have made the transition to recognizing the cosmic bond between things, including people and species; again something we humans could learn from.

Beyond Simple Good and Evil

From a deeper perspective, we should not perceive this as is an absolute right and wrong predicament; i.e. the humans being merely mercenary and barbaric, and the people of Pandora sweet, evolved, and cosmic. Though the Pandora’s are invaded by a brutal army from Earth seeking highly valued minerals, it also the destiny of the people to open up to the outside world and become more than who they are; i.e. to add this dynamic side of the people of Earth, initially through Jake as avatar. It is the principle of 'contradictions are really complements' in action. I.e. each side evolves through the knowledge the other has, which is learned through their conflict and eventual harmony.

(This dynamic was also true for the Native Americans, who were brutalized by the white man, yet who still needed their modernity for their own progress. I.e. a coming together of cultures for both their evolution. We see this also in Tibet and their relationship with the Chinese.)

The Aspiration and Transformation of Jake

-Jake's soul and being was ready to make a new progress and evolution. His own injury, and the death of his brother made that possible. The opportunity he was given to go to Pandora enabled that fulfillment.

-Jake then rose to that occasion and fulfilled the yearning in his being.

-Jake came to bring the next stage of progress and evolution to the peoples of Pandora. Thus, he not only did this through his Avatar, i.e. a substitute being in which he projected himself, but he became an Avatar in the spiritual sense; that is one who brings the next stage of progress to that civilization. (E.g. Jesus brought divine love to the world, a new progress; just as Buddha addressed the issue and cause of suffering on earth, something Indian spirituality had not addressed before.) Jake in essence not only rallied the various people's of Pandora, but brought the outside world, its technologies, and ideals to this world, which could further enrich it in the times to come.

Life Response

Life on the outside is a reflection of our consciousness within. If we change the inner, the outer instantly responds in kind. This phenomenon is known as "Life Response." Sometimes it is referred to as the power of attraction (as expressed in the book and film 'The Secret.')

As it turns out there is a wonderful, life changing life response for Neytiri and her people when in the midst of the battle with the humans, she decides not to allow herself one final fight in which she is sure to die. In the midst of the battle that they are now losing, Jake as avatar pleads with her to hold back and retreat. Against all her instincts, she restrains herself and listens to him. Instantly, a great species of animal warriors come out of nowhere and destroy the immediate enemies in front of her. That is instantly followed by the sudden arrival of the warriors and fighting animals from the other clans, who overcome the enemy. By practicing restraint in that one instant, Neytiri not only saved her own life, but changed the course of history for her people and her planet.

Life in Movies Project