Existential Despair and Avatar

By Jeff Silberman | Section: Jan 29th, 2010 Issues, January 29th 2010 Print, Views

“Avatar” made me want to do a lot of things, like become an eco-terrorist. Perhaps I’m not the best standard with which to judge how the highest-grossing film in history affected most viewers, but it turns out many Americans, and not just the LSD-casualties, found themselves longing after the lush world of Pandora and its pantheistic Na’vi inhabitants. It seems that “Avatar” appeals to an instinct inside each of us — an instinct that wishes to reject everything about the world we currently live in.

Whether James Cameron intended it to or not, “Avatar” is emerging as the most effective critique of modernism since “Hair” (which, for the record, made me want to drop out of school and live off of my parents in a loft while pretending to draft dodge; which would eventually lead to up to the establishment of an actual love-tribe in Big Sur somewhere.)

Most critics compare the themes presented in the movie to “Pocahontas” or, more maturely, “Dances With Wolves,” but that does not explain the large emotional impact the show has been having on its viewers. The movie transcends a mere anti-imperialist/pro-environmentalist agenda and instead attacks the values at the core of modern life (and I mean that in the best possible way). “Avatar” is the first popular movie in a long time to present an alternative to our culture — one that, despite being literally alien, might be closer to humanity’s true essence. Instead of the point being “let’s just leave the Indians alone” or “humanely assimilate them to our way of life” or “appreciate their culture in the way you appreciate art you can’t understand” the movie wants to grab you by the throat and scream “LET’S BE LIKE THIS.” It’s not about sleeping in cool hammocks or going for walks amongst glowy mushrooms, it’s about being in touch with our human nature.

It’s hard for most people to not laugh at this idea, but maybe it’s true: the Neolithic revolution was the worse thing to ever happen to humanity; “Avatar” showed many that being ‘civilized’ and being ‘human’ are contradictory ideas.

The Neotlithic revolution, by the way, is anthropological term to describe the point where humans discovered farming and “civilizations” began to form. Before that humanity existed as tribes of hunter-gatherers in what anthropologists call the Paleolithic Age, which sounds like it made life really nasty, brutish, and short; but, then again, it did comprise more than 99 percent of human society.

In the wake of “Avatar’s” premier, news sources reported that many viewers left the film feeling depressed and “lost” about their relationship to contemporary society. Some people even contemplated suicide with the realization that we are trapped in a world that will never be like Pandora. Is this merely the result of the cinematic idealism of Cameron, who portrayed an utterly impossible society that violates the human condition too much to ever be considered possible? Or does the movie instead appeal to an intuitive presence inside all of us — not mere animal instinct to return to nature — but true “humanity,” that is, the kind of existential condition that characterized the vast majority of our species’ existence. Too bad we killed all the wooly mammoths.

Jeff Silberman is the views editor. He can be reached for comment at .

Leave a comment »

  1. Good article. Thanks

  2. Thank you for putting it so succinctly. Will be seeing it three more times in the next five days and will feel as if I’m returning “home.” If only it were so!

  3. man this by far and without a doubt the best movie i have ever seen. it really does make you very depressed afterward. however, as soon as i took my dirt bike into the middle of the mojave desert that next weekend, i realized that i actually love this planet. if you want to feel better after this movie, go sit at the top of the highest mountain in the middle of the desert, where you can see absolutely nothing but more desert. it may seem more depressing, but it’s actually very peaceful and made me feel very good.

    only problem was that now i feel like pandora and earth are now fighting for the most insanely awesome landscape lol. there’s a whole lot more world outside the city, and it ain’t very hard to find.

    oh and just fyi i’m not a tree hugger by any means. i drive a 20 year old 3/4 ton truck every day and a very loud and polluting dirt bike that’s street legal. even then i just love avatar.

  4. […] a glimpse of true humanity nice analysis Existential Despair and*Avatar - thehullabaloo.com part of the reason is that the RDA peoples humanity is subservient to their professional roles, […]

  5. VERY GOOD ARTICLE. This is exactly why Avatar had such a profound effect on me. In my opinion, the Na’vi represents our human potential as well as the corporate dogs depicted in the movie. So, I have a choice, I can be totally materialistic, live out of a fear of lack like a corporate dog, OR I can live in the present moment realizing just how incredible it is to be a part of our universe and planet. The Na’vi demonstrates the latter…

    Avatar is a perfect modern day mythological representation of human life and our universe. The same wonder and awe that I experienced watching Avatar as well as the movie gently suggesting ways to live an authentic human life is EXACTLY what the churches and religions are supposed to render, but fail miserably because of their ignorant belief that our planet and universe is cursed! No wonder it’s so easy to destroy our planet and environment….everything will be ok in the afterlife so screw it! Additionally, churches and religions are prone to taking the mythological symbols as concrete fact instead of metaphor for what we have right here on planet Earth and our very existence.

    Thanks James Cameron!

    Thanks for the great article!

  6. The movie is about online culture and not about Pocahontas. People are caught up with political interpretations instead of it being an interpretation of online culture. It is about being human, but compared to an online entity. Some very interesting comments on the movie,explaining these points:

Leave Comment