When does a film become a philosophy?
When does a creator become God?
When does a work of art become a miracle?
When does a dream become so real that we can almost reach out and touch it?
James Cameron's new masterpiece Avatar is about the power of dreams. The film begins with an aerial shot — a bird's eye view of lush green mountains — and the narrator's voiceover tells us that he often dreamt that he could fly. Interesting because, the narrator, Jake Sully is a paraplegic on his way to a moon called Pandora to replace his brother who was trained to be part of a space expedition. Only because his genome matches the expensive 3-D Avatar created for the mission. Yes, in the course of the film, Jake does fly.
Jake's destiny isn't too different from James Cameron's. If Jake was an ex-marine, James was a truck driver who quit his job after watching Star Wars with a dream of making something as spectacular as that. Some day.
Decades later, it came true. Not just because of science but sheer faith.
James Cameron's epic Avatar is an instant classic not because it's a game-changer for cinema, visual effects and the way stories are told on this planet but because it is the most definitive film of our times.
Avatar packs every single conflict we've faced in recent history and explores these themes rather seamlessly, employing the 3-D fusion technology only to flesh out the canvas demanded of such an epic.
It's the stuff legends are made of, a textbook illustration of Joseph Campbell's 17-step journey. In other words, in the tradition of Star Wars or The Matrix, Avatar too will have a loyal cult of fierce followers.
Take a look at the layers of conflict around which Cameron builds his story in a world so beautiful and mesmerising that just the realisation that the Na'vi exists only in fiction could give you a heartache.
A. Man Versus Nature
So what's the big point Cameron's trying to make using all that science and technology? He just wants us to dream, believe in that vision and have faith in the possibilities. Avatar is an extremely spiritual film about conservation and peaceful co-existence with nature. According to the faith of the Na'vi, every living creation is connected. Nature has its way of restoring balance. The hero is just a leader chosen by Nature/Supreme Power. He is saved because he fights for Her. He is saved because of a prayer.
B. Man Versus Machine
Like The Matrix and Star Wars before that, Avatar too is the quintessential story about good warriors led by the destined Chosen One battling evil oppressors who control the system. Today, with the ever-increasing role of technology, it's not a fair match at all. The villains of today have become more difficult to beat, they have become more perverted in their greed and will stop at nothing to win. The villains today are companies with deep pockets, people in white collar jobs controlling people in army fatigues to get them what they want by force simply because they can.
C. Man Versus Man (Us and Them)
Avatar is also about race and loyalty, a celebration of the dark race.
What defines our race and identity? Is it where we hail from or who our heart beats for? We begin to hate humans. We want to be with the Na'vi and embrace their way of life. The filmmaker achieves this with simple subversion. He lets the tribals refer to the Humans as the “aliens” and has the humans refer to the locals of Pandora as the “hostiles” and as “blue monkeys”. The cheek of the foreigner to come to a different land and call the shots!
D. Man Versus Woman
Cameron's film is a feminist statement despite its male protagonist simply because it's the women in the film who wear the pants and save him consistently. The woman is the face of preservation in both camps.
One's a Scientist, the other is a Tsahik (the spiritual leader). It's a woman who saves our hero from certain death. Twice. It's a woman who breaks him out of captivity. And a woman who kills the bad guys.
With an emotional core that explores these themes, Avatar is full of moments that will give you goose-bumps. It shouldn't totally surprise us if an animated character gets a Supporting Award nomination, that's the level of detailing. Tears have never felt more real.
So yes, to add to those questions we began with... When does cinema become an out-of-the-world experience?
When is probably the easiest part of these questions.
Today, December 18, when Avatar hits screens world over. Watch it only in 3D. Better still, in 3D IMAX, even if you have to go to Hyderabad to do that.