Archive for Avatar

The Power of Myth

Posted in Asides with tags on 2010/01/12 by mattermind

All apologies to James Cameron.

A while back, I wrote a half-assed comment saying, “Now if only Shakespeare had written Avatar.” That was obviously before I had seen Avatar. [Note to self: avoid commentary, public or otherwise, on matters you haven’t experienced for yourself.]

God only knows what sort of screenwriter — or filmmaker – Shakespeare might have been. Unlike the great novelists who came to Hollywood in bygone eras and failed, he — with his grounding in acting and drama and superiority in general — would no doubt have been an A-lister. But I don’t know if Avatar would have been up his alley.

Makes for a great Starbucks debate, though. The man who wrote Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lear and the Tempest would certainly have the chops to do anything he felt like; and Avatar falls within the same visceral terrain, more or less.

But walking out of the IMAX theater, satisfied in a profound way like I haven’t been since I was a kid after having watched Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark, I was grateful that Cameron had been at the reigns of this one, and that myth had triumphed in a Joseph Campbell sense.

I’m not sure where Shakespeare would have taken the story. Who knows, but it might have been even greater. I just know that Avatar is perfect in everything it is and aspires to be.

James Cameron truly is the king of the world when it comes to cinematic storytelling on a grand scale. By the time its run is finished, Avatar will have become either the first or second most successful global boxoffice smash for all time, giving Mr. Cameron the #1 and #2 slots (Titanic occupying the other). That’s a staggering feat.

But beyond the popularity, and I believe driving it, is the way it connects to our primal desire for Jungian dreammaking to flourish and survive — and even, in this case, to triumph.

It wasn’t just any ogre the feminine world of Pandora was fighting, but the military might of a masculine, Western empire. Intuition, a deep connection to all living things (a la The Force from Star Wars), fidelity and serendipity — even monogamy — are set against raw brawn and visceral power evincing a primal desire for acquisition at any cost. This is more than a fictional story — it is a metaphor for the particular time in which we live.

Hamlet is Hamlet and Avatar is Avatar. It’s not an either/or question but a celebration of both. Great storytelling is what matters at the end of the day.

While Hamlet enlightens me about the complex world of motivations in which I live, Avatar inspires me to hold onto profound psychological and spiritual metaphors I want to preserve — myths to live by, as Joseph Campbell called them.

And so, in the words of Kurt Cobain — all apologies, Mr. Cameron. Thanks for giving me a cinematic experience I won’t soon forget.

Shakespeare & I

Posted in Hamlet with tags on 2010/01/05 by mattermind

One of the stated purposes of this blog is to chart the effect that reading Shakespeare has on me — not just to make a fool of myself broadcasting my ignorance about the greatest writer who ever lived.

I figure that spending a full year in the company of greatness ought to have some sort of impact on my congenial mediocrity… Why not find out what that might be?

Already I can tell that my standard view of characters is being demolished. Granted, you and I chose Hamlet to begin this odyssey and Hamlet is considered one of the most complex and nuanced beings in the history of literature.

But you see it in damned near every one of the parts. It’s as if Shakespeare, being an actor himself, didn’t dare hand out roles to friends that he wouldn’t want to play himself. No cliched stereotypes or on-the-nose dialogue here!

I find myself already reading the news with a deeper tolerance for ambiguity. I’m an idealist at heart and always have been. So accepting the dark and light shadings inside of everyone is a task that very well may expand me… if I can handle the inner turbulence and turmoil generated by so much human frailty and evil being brought to light.

I’ll keep an eye on that, especially as we head deeper into the tragedies. I can feel myself balking at the murders and deceptions that await me. I feel like Hamlet wrestling with the hard realities of life, those humans compound by rufusing to rise above them.

Maybe that’s why I identify with Ophelia as well. Her take on the world is innocent, while the plots and subplots whirl about her with a frenzy that threatens to tear her apart.

Shakespare maps a whole psychological terrain in this regard, from Hamlet’s famous taciturn struggles to do the moral thing, Horatio’s calm and steady rationality under fire, Polonius’s overzealous, self-interested meddling to achieve his ends, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern’s obsequiousness in service to the status quo, and of course the king and queen’s ruthlesness to fulfull their personal lust and greed.

Each has motives and methods in contrast to all others. The play is a clash of conflicting worldviews, with each character following an independent line in search for his or her own definition of happiness.

From act to act, I watch (or read) in suspense, not knowing what turn the story will take next. Each step is logical, arising from a grounded and established motivational center. And yet… the results are startling, mindblowing, shattering.

Now if only Shakespeare had written the script to Avatar!