Monday, December 21, 2009

The Week Of Trying To Say Anything In The Least Bit Interesting About Avatar, Day 3: Avatar, or On Talking About Dreaming

My grandmother likes to say that she has no time for people talking about their dreams. And she is older than democracy, so she has probably heard many such discourses! I have taken this maxim to heart, but extended it. There are three things I have no time for talking about:

- Your dreams,
- Your cat, and
- Your atheism.

Avatar is almost three hours of a man talking about his dreams, which is quite a solipsistic thing to make a movie about. Also, the dreams are basically all about his cat, with whom he has onscreen sex. So there's that. The movie's most dynamic figures are actually the atheists, because they are the ones who catalyse the scenes of Shit Getting Blowed Up Real Good, which is what you paid to see; whereas the folks with strong beliefs spend far, far too long talking about them under the mistaken assumption that these beliefs are at all unique or interesting, which (I will hesitantly call this ironic) is exactly why talking to atheists about their beliefs is usually so boring.

ANYWAY, why is people talking about their dreams so boring? After all, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud loved that shit. But outside of the codified structure of a therapeutic discussion, talking about your dreams is more like sending someone a video of you having a wank. You are both subject and object of the conversation, and there is nothing the other person can do to enrich the experience for either of you beyond acknowledge that they are paying attention. It is a supremely anal-fixative act, to tell someone about your dream.

Avatar is very explicitly a big dumb white guy spending two and a half hours telling us about his dream (and when I say "very explicitly", what I mean is, "he specifically refers to it as a dream, to make sure you know what he is talking about"). If you met a big dumb white guy in a bar and he said, "so I had a dream about the richness of tribal animism", you could say, "whoah there Paul Gaugin, I'm trying to get drunk here", and you would have gotten as much of a meaningful thought experience as Avatar offers.

Because the dream in Avatar is so astoundingly literal. I don't mean that I would have liked to see more dwarves/midgets (though I have nothing against either race, and I happen to wish the people in Avatar weren't so tall, because it honestly made me feel physically ill), but the dream-world of Pandora is really a very shallow metaphor for whatever it wants to be a metaphor for. You know when Sam Worthington is dreaming about a horse, because he dreams of something that is basically a horse but has gills and a slightly longer snout. You know when he is dreaming about a tiger, because he dreams of something that is a tiger, only with a hard carapace. You know he is dreaming about human tribal society, because he dreams about a supposedly utterly alien race that just happens to be exactly the same as an amalgam of all the people white folks have ever done wrong, only their skin is blue.

When you are listening to someone talking about their dream, the best thing you can do is say, "well, this element in the dream you just told me about probably corresponds to that element in your life, because you are a person who et cetera". This lets the person talking about their dream know that you are not just buying into their self-fixation, you are applying your mental powers to deepening it. But if you were listening to Sam Worthington's character talking about his dream, you'd want to say, "well, that probably represents horses/tigers/colonial guilt", but you'd be embarrassed to say that, because you'd feel he'd probably just look at you like, "well, I know that".

But he probably wouldn't. Toward the end of the movie he gives up on calling things by the made-up names James Cameron paid someone to invent a language for, and he just calls the things that are basically horses "horses". This makes him seem like a charmingly unimaginative lunkhead, which is what he started out as.

It is things like this that make me wonder if James Cameron really is as imaginative a constructor of metaphor as I have always assumed he is.


Brian Barker said...

And before "Avatar" and "Star Trek" there was Bill Shatner speaking Esperanto, in the horror film called "Incubus".


As an Esperanto speaker I found it terrifying! His Esperanto pronunciation that is, not the film.

Your readers may be interested in :)

Homage said...

All Shatner content on Ornery World is warmly welcomed.

Robyn said...

"8.59am. Jakesully has come to the Diary Room."

"Hi, Big Brother! Um, I just wanted to say I'm having a really cool time. The forest is really awesome the way the trees are all connected and natural. I was a bit freaked out when my ponytail connected with the bird, but once I got used to it, it was fine. Actually, at first I thought my ponytail was quite gay and I wanted to cut it off, but now I think it's quite cool. I'm thinking of getting some braids done. I might see if one of the other housemates will do that. Also, can we have some more toilet paper as we are running out. Thanks, BB!!!!"