AVATAR

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movie review

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The spiritual strength of stories is in their ability to touch the soul. If we capitulate to poor storytelling, we become the cheated instead of the uplifted. Stories matter because they connect us, enliven us, and are means of transmitting important information about who we are.

Art and spirituality share an important partnership in the telling of stories and their ability to touch and even awaken the soul. But this ability to use a story to hint at the inexpressible mystery of life does not come easily. This is why great directors are known to say, “It’s not the story; it’s how you tell it.”  This of course assumes that you are starting with an actual story worth telling — a story that has in it the types of personalities that we can connect with and care about. As well as circumstances that, no matter how fantastic, provide us with meaningful struggles that, when overcome, teach us about ourselves.

Atmananda Dasa

Atmananda Dasa

Avatar, sadly, has none of these qualities. It is an arguably insane use of human and material resources, to satisfy the technological whims of an effete filmmaker. It is hundreds of millions of dollars of cinematic geekdom with no redeeming spiritual or artistic value. Avatar is the ironic equivalent of a four-hundred–million dollar PSA by the Sierra Club. (So you cannot excuse this film by saying it engenders discussion on the environment — that could have been accomplished with one percent of the budget in a Superbowl ad.)  It is a mind-numbing display of hour after hour of digital fireworks. Like most fireworks displays, after ten or fifteen minutes of oohs and ahhhs, it becomes quite boring.

The tendency to look at a setting like the film’s mystically beautiful Pandora and compare it to earth and lament the difference is a form of sentimentalism. In the Vedic model of reality, majestically opulent planets exist in the universe, but even they pale next to the realm of pure consciousness, the spiritual goal of a yogi.

Avatar is a two-dimensional and utterly un-profound movie shot in high-end 3D-CGI. This total lack of story should prompt outrage. It is important for members of society to raise the standard for our art and culture. We need stories, good ones. We should not settle for the threadbare recycling of mediocre stories, as Avatar is of the Disney movie Pocahontas (see the graphic for the plot summary of Avatar and a funny comparison.) The story of Avatar — the space-age Pocahontas — is a weak and sentimental approach to the condescending notion of the noble savage. People are not necessarily noble or dharmic just because they reside in nature. Virtue or dharma is a quality found in varying quadrants of life. The tendency to look at a setting like the film’s mystically beautiful Pandora and compare it to earth and lament the difference is a form of sentimentalism. In the Vedic model of reality, majestically opulent planets exist in the universe, but even they pale next to the realm of pure consciousness, the spiritual goal of a yogi.

The story of an unwitting dupe thrust into a new environment where he meets a cute girl, gets the cute girl, loses the cute girl, comes back with a bigger phallic symbol, (car, jet, dragon…) and gets the girl back, hardly qualifies for the dramatic and spiritual depth that constitutes the hero’s journey (which, by the way, is not even that great of mythic story arc to begin with.)

For a filmmaker to copy the story arc of another film is not always bad. It happens all the time. What is bitterly disappointing is to hear that after someone has worked on a movie for over ten years the best he could come up with was a script that just rehashes someone else’s insipid and poorly thought-out script. And trying to call the story in Avatar “the hero’s journey” is a poor characterization. The story of an unwitting dupe thrust into a new environment where he meets a cute girl, gets the cute girl, loses the cute girl, comes back with a bigger phallic symbol, (car, jet, dragon . . .) and gets the girl back hardly qualifies as a saga with the dramatic and spiritual depth that constitutes the hallmark of the hero’s journey (which, by the way, is not even that great a mythic story arc to begin with.)

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Avatar’s two-dimensional characters and implausible plot remind one of the skimpiest comic book stories.  (The guy who played the big mean army colonel looked and acted like a cardboard cutout.) It was as if Cameron and crew purposely decided that all that mattered were the visual effects and that the story was of no particular importance. But technology is supposed to serve the story and not the other way around.

Avatar should be seen as an insult to the film viewer, who is expected to shell out hard-earned money to watch what amounts to an auto-erotic technofest. Viewers who waste their money on this film have a right to feel duped.

Sadly, the hyped-up Hollywood fan-boy awards system has already begun to give statuette accolades to this bit of techno-treacle. But that does not make it a good or important movie. It just means we are once again settling for mediocrity.

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Synopsis: This film is all form and no content. See it if you are a geeky fanboy with a World of Warcraft screen-saver and have nothing better to do than waste your mom’s money.

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