The first (and last) time I saw Avatar, I viewed it as a story; instead of focusing on specific details, I remember seeing it as a story with a beginning, middle, and end. This time, I chose to refocus my attention away from the story itself and onto the technology present in the film. In doing so, I began to see similarities to other works we’ve studied in class; I also felt much more awed by themes explored in the movie when seen in context of the technology present. What I mean by that is this: viewing it before as a story left me with the impression of “that was a cool movie. Great story line. It moved forward at a decent pace and left plenty of room for character development. Oh, and the avatars were pretty cool too.” By altering my focus, I finished the movie wondering what the implications of the technology in Avatar are.
In many ways it seemed that the story line used technology to update the story we all know of the Europeans colonizing and taking over countries to exploit their natural resources. The soldiers in Avatar didn’t care about the Na’vi, their homeland, or their beliefs; Pandora had an incredibly large supply of Unobtanium, which could be sold for exorbitant amounts of money. Instead of using diplomacy or trying to understand each other, the majority of the humans on Pandora wanted to just barge in and take this natural resource. In this way, Avatar paralleled Sleep Dealer; in both, technology was used by the “haves” to exploit the “have-nots.”
In both Sleep Dealer and Avatar, there is a neural link technology that allows a person to link up with something non-human. In Sleep Dealer, this can be anything- we see that Memo becomes a robot working on a construction project. In Avatar, this neural link allows Jake, Grace and other select humans to link up with an avatar- a Na’vi in appearance, but with their human brains intact. As mentioned before, in both cases this technology is used to exploit natives. In Avatar this is not as obvious; the humans who link up to avatars (i.e. Jake and Grace) seem to really want to understand and learn from the Na’vi. However, at the beginning of the film Jake is sent to live with them in order to help the soldiers and corporations. At the end of the day, the neural link technology was used by the oppressor in order to get exactly what they wanted. The implications of this are intriguing: does superior technology necessarily mean exploitation of everyone else?
On a totally different note, another thing I found interesting was Jake’s initial reaction to his avatar. Because Jake was a paraplegic, he went kind of crazy when he woke up with two working legs. Throughout the time he spent in his avatar, he seemed to appreciate more and more the physical capabilities of the Na’vi. During the movie, he even made a comment along the lines of “Out there is the true world, and in here is the dream.”
I felt like Jake (who didn’t have much of a physical life as Jake) was enthralled with the possibilities being an avatar gave him; it enabled him to fly through the forest, run wherever he wanted, and not be dependent on a wheelchair or other people. For Jake, the avatar represented his escape from his typical human body into a bigger, better, and more powerful Na’vi one. While we don’t have technology as advanced as that yet, this did make me wonder about the possibilities available to enhance the human body. We’ve discussed this before in class- such as robotic arm transplants- and I still haven’t decided how I feel about it. In some ways, it could be incredible; yet in other ways that technology in the wrong hands could be a disaster.
In any event, the technology I saw in Avatar raised several questions for me. The first is the same one I had regarding Sleep Dealer; could this possibly be our future? What can we do to avoid such a future? The second question is about Jake’s human body. Jake’s broken human body could not compare to his avatar one. Should we push for “better” human bodies and tamper with evolution’s natural course? While I don’t have answers yet, I can’t help but think about the (good and bad) possibilities.