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Thoughts on Avatar and Personal History

An article by Tom Gilbert - © December, 2009

Movie AvatarMy family and I went to see the movie Avatar. It is a grand cinematic experience. Writer and director James Cameron has created a stunning visual film that includes the latest in animation and special effects. But is also a story that encompasses big themes like dealing with racial and species differences, the drive for power and wealth, community, the interconnectedness of all life and the need to honor and preserve our past for the future.

It is this final point I mention that has the most significance for those interested in personal history preservation. We all have a story, but the incredible thing about our stories is that they are in some way - many ways - connected to the stories of others. We all hail from somewhere, even those who've struggled through abandonment and loss of family.

The main character in the movie, Jake Scully, is a paraplegic Marine, injured in battle. He is a twin and his brother had been trained for a mission on the planet Pandora where he was to be part of a group who mingle with a humanoid alien race, the Na'vi. This is done with a sophisticated creation, an avatar, a bio-techno engineered replicant of the Na'vi matched to the unique characteristics of each human. Jake is the closest possible match to his brother and becomes the replacement for his brother's avatar.

There are a lot of themes that run through the movie that are pertinent to our world and lives, including excessive corporate power and greed, respect for ecology and life in general, and the struggle of good versus evil.  These are some of the big themes in life. There is also a powerful spiritual element to the movie.

How does Avatar relate to personal history and life story preservation? In one aspect there is the practical recording of Jake's experiences among the Na'vi. After each excursion into their world in his avatar he returns to his human body and then must record his experiences. He does this with a video log and it doesn't seem much different than you speaking into a webcam and recording it all to your computer. Perhaps this will become quite commonplace in the near future. There are a couple of scenes where Jake wants to avoid the "download" process of his experience, but the scientist he reports to urges him to get it "while it is fresh". This is a good reminder that when we have significant life experiences we need to find a way to document it - with video, pictures, journaling and so forth. And don't delay! Capturing your memories while they are still new will help you down the road to recall their significance. Time will help you process the meaning and importance of your life experiences, so you aren't necessarily ranking the experience with your initial documentation. But do try to get down what your senses experienced. What did you see, hear, smell, touch and feel?

There is a bigger theme in Avatar that is important to your life story. The Na'vi believe that all of life is connected. They live in a world of lush forests and their most sacred place is called the "tree of souls". It is there that they can actually connect with their ancestors and access their voices. In our world this is a spiritual thing. Where do you get in touch with the "voices" of your ancestors? Do you hear it in the wind, see it in the sky, feel it in your bones? You are genetically connected to a big family. Ultimately we are all connected and you have both family and human memories encoded in your DNA.

The spiritual aspect of our journeys - the experiences in our lives that rise above the mundane and give us guidance and purpose - are crucial to our stories. We need to pass on our values and our life lessons. I found a lot to think about in this area after seeing the movie, Avatar.


Everybody has a story to tell!
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