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Hero Monomyth in popular culture (James Cameron’s Avatar)

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Director’s DVD Commentary: originally written (here) on Jan 3, 2010, just after Avatar came out.  i thought that maybe i would write a much smaller thread? like 3-4 paragraphs, similar to my Maple Story (its your story; RIP story) hero monomyth threads that i posted in phiz? but as I kept writing I kept finding more and more and more correspondences far too direct and numerous to be accidental.  at some point it ceased to be an aggressive parody of l&f philosophy threads and became a much more subtle troll, something so bizarre as to be in default disbelief but at the same time so completely right as to be impossible to argue against.  i was giggling like crazy the whole time i was writing this. avatar owns so much.

anyways i still like this post so much that i edited this a bit in case anyone that isnt a goony goon wanted to read it, e.g. to make it so it doesn’t sound like something i wrote in a few hours while my gf was taking a nap, loaded with forums in-jokes.  i was giggling the whole time i was editing it too cause its still so funny to me.  love taht blessed blase-faire attitude.  NEway Plz enjoy.

Some things you can just see clearer through a second set of eyes.  I saw James Cameron’s Avatar for the second time just last night, and I was super surprised on how much more complex and subtle a movie can be when you’re not drunk and half drunk and half-asleep on Christmas Day. Meowy wowy, this is a clever film!  I started to pay closer attention after I noticed the insanely efficient  editing – none of the gratuitous fluffy fluff that you usually get in blockbuster sci-fi films.  No, this was a something that a someone put a lotta thought into.

My first impression of Avatar, like everybody elses’, was from all the peeps on the net bashing on it.  Everybody really really  wanted so badly to really really hate this film.  First ya had the yupping hippies goin on about the lack of militancy to its message, and then ya had whineo hipsters harping on its consumerist meta-irony.  Goony neckbeards sperged at the lack of implementation adherence to the canon of Sci-Fi icon Charles Darwin.  Film scholars stood on stumps in city parks brandishing printouts of the script to Dances with Wolves as if they were with Campus Crusade for Christ. And worst of all, Teapartiers and white-guilt anti-racists alike tried reducing Avatar to just yet another example of a white saivor coming in to lead the ignorant mud folks to true white values. If I ever said a dismissive comment to this truly genius film, I apologize.  Please forgive me.  In fact, just in case, I think I should still spiritually atone myself for my prior ignorance by talking through my thoughts on Avatar here in my cool blog. Also, here’s a picture so this wall of text doesnt look as huge.

In essence, I believe that Avatar is a complete, utter, total, comprehensive parody of Star Wars, James Cameron’s flying fuckin finger in the face of his bitter rival George Lucas. The two movies have been compared quite a bit since Avatar’s release on network news channels, but I think the comparison goes deeper than just ticket sales and special effects. In particular, Avatar parody’s the very soul of Star Wars, which is its use and subsequent popularization of Joseph Campbell’s Hero Monomyth. The very title “Avatar” suggests yet another implementation of the monomyth (JC has refered to specific instantiations of the monomyth as “avatars of the hero with 1000 faces”).
However, everything from star wars is backwards, from scene-by-scene comparisons to the very structure of the monomyth itself. I’ll use the simplified monomyth schema of David Adams, which i copy/pasted from wikipedia, to present my own flying finger-fuck of all you avatar haters:

1. Miraculous conception and birth

This occurs at the very last moments of Avatar. As i said above, the monomyth is completely inverted; the starting point of the hero’s journey is what closes the film, which is, obviously, jakesully’s true na’vi “birth.” Compare this victory scene with its equivalent in star wars, where the assembled mass stood in rigid order: in Avatar, the masses are moving wildly, yet oscillating; maintaining the same average position over time, but ultimately parodying a standing military formation.

2. Initiation of the hero-child

Again, this phase is an inversion. Here, jakesully’s initiation proves himself as one of the people by joining in them with battle of an enemy that is not naturally his own. And again, consider the inverted Star Wars parallel:  instead of the rebel fleet attacking the monolothic death star, the rebels are the monolith and the fleet is the empire. I’m sure there are some pretty close scene-by-scene comparisons, as the whole damn thing reminded me so much of the X-Wing/Y-Wing / Star Destroyer battles of Star Wars and its sequels, with the birds weaving through the ships like that (although maybe
Return of the Jedi, which had a much larger space battle and also that whole parallel business on the ground of Endor, is a better comparison), but I can’t remember well enough to describe them here. Oh well, maybe when it comes out on DVD.  (note that it is out on DVD now but I’ll probably not delve any deeper into this) At any rate, the whole ridiculous battle ends with a final showdown between Darth Vader and Luke, or in this case, Catlady vs Mecha-Lucas. (Yes, JC hates George Lucas so much as to portray him as the very reification of fascism, but more on that later.) However, with the help of a distraction from Han Solo, two shots are fired into the one universalweakpoint of evil men – the human heart. RIP georgey porgey.

An extremely important scene here is easily overlooked within the chaos : just before the battle, jakesully communes with that special glowing tree, i.e. the avatar of ewya or whatever that goddess’s name is. (sounds a lot like “ewok” if you ask me), begging her to directly help the Na’vi in their battle. He says that the humans “have killed their mother,” which, on the surface, sounds like standard hollywood treehugger-slimehippie fare, except that, in just the preceding scene with Grace, the “mother” is redefined from its usual connotation as the collective unconscious of the planet – the total biological ecosystem is just her body. So, when jakesully says that the humans have “killed their mother”, he means it not only in the literal sense of industrialization trampling on the green parts of his former world, but as both a perversion of the natural Oedipal order and as the death of humanity’s collective unconscious by the unshakable dominance of fascism. jakesully rejects this corrupted ethos by doing what he was born to do: kill his false father (George Lucas) and eventually “pass through the eye of Ewya.” (fuck his mother)

Its worth spending a paragraph on the depiction of mankind’s fascist civilization in the film. Athough there is no backstory,  which is a relief from a pacing perspective, it is clear that cameron has extrapolated mankind’s current path into the mid 22nd century, where corporate power and nationalist wars are the modus operandi of the day.  I guess Francis Fukuyama was right after all. Each facet of the pandorian operation is singular-minded in totality, and the corporate facet is in dominant control of all – note that the highest ranking military officer on pandora, Colonel George, is only a Colonel, not a General, and his direct superior is that corporate slimeball dude. A “survival-of-the-fittest”  ideology is pervasive in both internal and external interaction, and cognitive dissonance is apparent at extreme heights. Take slimeball dude, for instance. Profit is his God. He does not understand Pandora nor the technology he intends to use to subdue it (he cant even use the 3d computer monitor by himself) nor even how his own humanity can exist within it. (as seen by the parallels between his handling of Jake’s Na’vi evacuation plan, perhaps as a last-chance to redeem his humanity, his submission to the Colonel’s demand for all-out war, and his last final glance at Jake before boarding the spaceship at the end of the film. The purified resultant of Capitalism does not leave room for one’s humanity!)

3. Withdrawal from family or community for meditation and preparation

As the attack from the world tree has become a reality, jakesully’s alienation (lol) has reached a breaking point. Cut off from both  reality and simulation, he  is unable to determine which is which. Eventually simulation becomes true reality. Why?

This phase of Avatar is why I reject the white anti-racist interpretation. How different would this movie have  been had jakesully would have been an American POCman? First, I think the prevailing white guilt accusation would have been nonexistent, although nothing in the movie itself would not have been different at all.  Coulda been the same damn movie line for line for line, scene for goddamn scene. Consider the reality of the 22nd century by the makeup of the base: there are people of all shapes, colours, and sizes here. The average makeup suggest heavy racial mixing. There is no racial tension and all speak with one “American” voice.  El Luce binds a unity that cuts across all racial and gender boundaries though the elimination of the discord of discourse. In fact, the only outsider here is jakesully himself, rejected by all.  He’s shunned by the military aspect because of his disability; (the first we see of this is when he is mocked by a (black!) solider as soon as he leaves the plane!) it is even said that the military is not willing to spend the money to fix his back injury, despite the injury presumably due to some sort of combat. Thanks neoliberalism! He is also rejected by the scientists, because he does not have the education of his egghead twin brother. Poor ole’ Jake is treated like a piece of property. (the dragon of capital consumes all)  It is only the Na’vi who engage him as he truly is, as a free being. As a part of the Na’vi, Jake is finally Being-In-The-World – jakesully! – a warrior willing to risk both his human life (with the escape) and his Na’vi life (by connecting to that big ass bird) to prove it.

4. Trial and Quest

Luke’s trial was to prove that he has the spirit of a jedi; Jake’s trial is to prove that he has the spirit of a  Na’vi.  Duh. The trials in Avatar are more reminiscent of the Empire Strikes Back than A New Hope, but I guess thats fair as that equivalent scene is like a total of two minutes in SW and here it lasts like a quarter of the movie. The inversion here is that for Jake, the trial&quest do not transform the normal to an exception (superman), but rather from an exception to a part of the whole. The gift that he brings is not a supernatural force, but an outsider perspective and knowledge that allows the Na’vi to overcome the threat of the other outsiders – truly giving it in totality, not as like an “indian giver,” so to say, as we know he does not have “it” any more by the end of the film. Compare that to the human strategy of taking the na’vi perspective and knowledge by force – a strategy which fails.

Whatever, this part of the movie was IMHO the coolest, especially where he rapes the shit out of that flying duck thing, the beginnings of a proper oedipal stance that will culminate with his unholy matrimony with nature before the end of the film.  Ganbare, jakesully!  The sweet bliss of the catlady awaits!

5. Death

Luke is confronted with the tragedy of an entire planet’s death before he makes his first actions as a hero, felt not by himself, but by trusting the emotion generated indirectly by an intermediary (Obi Wan’s force connection). Jakesully, on the other hand, is confronted with the tragedy of the slaughter of those jackal dog things – felt not by himself, but by trusting the intermediary itself (catlady). Another twisted parallel (an orthogonal perhaps?) is seen in the visuals of those fairy jellyfish things, that represent the pure souls of the dead, that surround jake in order to help him win trust and respect from catlady; compare to star wars, where the rocky asteroids of a smashed and dead planet engulf the millennium falcon.

6. Descent into the Underworld

The initial foray into the jungles of pandora. Jake’s first impression is with whimsical, gentle, otherworldly fauna. Mos Eisley, where Luke first encounters alien beings, is in contrast repulsive and violent). Jake’s encounter with violence occurs only after he’s upset the natural order of things. Forced to defend himself against an avatar of Cerberus (that bigass dog thing with the multi-part head, I mean, come the fuck on, how much more blatent does it need to be?), he escapes through hyperspace, crossing the river Styx into the REAL underworld.  Also note the imagery of the torch, a handy lil tool that you usually use to creep through tombs…

7. Resurrection and Rebirth

Very obviously, Jake’s rebirth into his avatar body compares pretty close to Luke’s acceptance as Obi-Wans apprentice; Jake leaves behind the old, dessicated home of his broken body, while Luke leaves behind his literal home, full of dead family members.

It is here where jake submisses to his false father, Colonel Lucas. The oedipal complex is again perverted here – the “No of the Father” is instead transformed into a “Permission of the Father,” as the colonel promises the re-acceptance of Jake into the hierarchy, through the return of his true legs and thus sexual vitality, should he accede to his will. The Colonel himself is warped by a different kind of simulation than that of the Avatars, evident from his weight-lifting shortly before entering a total mechanical war machine. He, like the rest of the Pandorian Corporation, has his true essence hidden under the guise of Science. The scar on his face marks him as the enemy, but also makes him look totally wicked cool. That is, funnily enough, an inversion of the real life George Lucas, who looks totally Gay. (but still has a fucked up face)

8. Ascension, apotheosis, and atonement

Both films begin with a descension from the heavens. In Star Wars, what descends is the birth of a quest, but in Avatar, what descends is the hero himself, an inversion of the traditional final ascension to the gods. Whatever, I think you get the idea by this point.

god luck and god bles.s

(who, if it is not clear yet, is the Avatar of George Lucas, the fascist commander of

a unity that cuts across all racial and gender boundaries though the elimination of the discord of discourse),


Written by meowywowy

June 19, 2010 at 5:15 am

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