Avatar: A Second Chance to Get It Right

In my last post, I reacted to critics who were convinced there was a racist motif in play in Avatar.  But I’d like to talk about what Avatar is all about: Second Chances.

The movie is riddled with “seconds”— a twin who takes over for his brother when his brother is killed, a man who has his legs taken away from him getting a second chance at walking, Sully who has a second chance at being useful to the Na’vi, humankind getting a second chance to be at peace with a Planet.  

Cameron in his acceptance speech for the Golden Globes says as much:

“‘Avatar’ asks us to see that everything is connected, all human beings to each other, and us to the Earth. And if you have to go four and a half light years to another, made-up planet to appreciate this miracle of the world that we have right here, well, you know what, that’s the wonder of cinema right there, that’s the magic,” Cameron said.

I was moved by the essay on Sully that I read over at the Respectable Negro Tribe blog

Jake Sully is emasculated in a literal sense because of a combination of physical injury, financial inadequacy and family tragedy. Not only is Jake Sully a Marine who cannot walk or fight, but more tragically he knows that there is a cure for his injury, but cannot afford it. Further, Jake’s closest relative, his twin brother, has been killed in a meaningless act of violence that Jake could not prevent, and now Jake is now forced to step forward into a position that he does not feel he is smart enough to handle.

He gets that second shot, for his brother, for himself, and in a representative way, for humans.  When he is at the tree with the glowing strands, he asks the ancients to link up with him, look into his past.  He’s trying to warn Erya that his kind are bloodthirsty, and that they would destroy the planet if given the chance.  “We killed our Mother,” he tells the planet.  And the planet steps up to save itself.  

One wonders what our story would have been like if we would have had a more respectful way of listening to our planet.  Is Climate Change the consequences of not listening?  

This is the stronger message of Avatar.  Not who saves who, but of having a second chance to save things at all….

It’s a Wonderful Life, Captain Picard

270px-st-tng_tapestrySeeing that it’s Christmas, and I’m going through a midlife crisis, I thought I would further comment on the magic of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” That magic: the Re-vision of a person’s life has been played out on a number of TV shows. That 70’s Show undid a kiss, Moonlighting a meeting, etc. Each show played off the idea that life could be revised differently, playing to our many regrets. All of us have wondered from time to time how life might have been different if we’d chosen another option.

Here’s Star Trek’s version of the Capra classic, and whether you are a Sci fi fan or not, or a Trekkie, the message in this episode is broad enough to speak about the human condition.

In “Tapestry,” Captain Picard is killed on an away mission. His artificial heart is damaged and it fails him. He meets up with Q as an afterlife. Q is the Trek Universe’s answer to God–an amoral, irresponsible, uncompassionate God. Omnipotence with no ethics. Clarence with no caring. Q offers to change one aspect of Picard’s life, and he uncovers a pivotal moment when Picard loses his real heart in a fight with badass aliens, when he was a young officer. Picard never realizes that the moment is pivotal. Q transports him back in time to play out that moment when he was stabbed. Q forces him to either accept death, or find a way not to get stabbed and see what his life would have been like with a real heart instead of an artificial one.

Picard replays the days leading up to the argument, to the fight, to the stabbing, to avoid violence. To do this, he has to stop his friends from defending their honor, and in doing so, loses his friends–but gains his life. Q transports him back to the future–or to the present. Picard finds that he has a completely different life. A life void of risk, completely safe. And by playing it safe, Picard has become a Lt. Astrophysics analyst, who transports data back and forth to senior officers.

If you want the whole episode, go to Youtube and begin here.

But I think the end has the meat of the message. Watch here.

The difference here is not that Picard is pivotal in the lives of others. Undoubtedly he was. But that our risks bring about a person who can lead. Our risks, or lack of them, define us. George Bailey’s sacrifices define him. Picard’s daring defines him. What defines you?

For another take on this idea, here’s a heartwarming video by Garth Brooks called “Standing Outside the Fire.” Pardon me mixing Star Trek and country music, but the themes are nice together.