December 25, 2009

THE WRITE STUFF: I SEE YOU

Having seen Avatar for the second time, I have to re-adjust some of my earlier comments, for the movie is much more layered than it lets on, and certain things unlock only when you are past the beauty and splendor of it all.

I still think that some of the scenes, especially the ones in the human camp should have been polished up a little here and there, and to be honest, that would have been a week's worth of work, not more.

On the other hand, I believe that "I see you" is one of the best dialogue lines ever written. Not because it is a great sentence in and of its own, but because of what it means in the context.

Especially at the end of the movie, when Neytiri sees the actual Sully for the first time, after she realises (and yes, neo con idiots, that is part of the movie) that the shell she has fallen in love/lust with is just that: a shell.

And even when she had told him the line before, when he became their Mujadib type character, the "leader", and she told him, "I see you", no, she didn't, it was that she wanted to see.

It is here that she actually sees him for the very first time. After being frenzied and frightened and hammering against the blue-skinned ferocious god that is on the forest ground, and even the line by the major villain (whose name escapes me right now) gets a whole new level of meaning: time to wake up.

Yes, this is it for her. Time to wake up. It's when she realises, and again, it's in her eyes, that one moment that this isn't my Jake, that Jake is somewhere else, he is someone else. And when she jumps into that small container, scared, knowing she will have to move fast, knowing that it may already be too late...

... that the man is – what most be to her mind this tiny dwarf of pinkish skin and dying right in front of her eyes – this human being here, and when he opens his eyes, coming back to life, and he says "I see you", her replying the same sentence takes on a whole new level of meaning that – again, completely passing the idiots by – means "I see your soul", and that race doesn't even enter into it, it is the soul that counts, not the skin that surrounds it.

Time to wake up. For all of us.

"I see you."

It makes this simple line a classic movie line, together with "You complete me" or "Here's looking at you, kid" or "Get away from her, you bitch!", which we all remember not because of their sentence structure or perfect grammar, but because of the deeper context, because of what they mean.

"Get away from her, you bitch", the angry shout-out of Ellen Ripley at the Alien Queen at the end of Aliens is the Mama Lion's roar that tells us we will do anything to protect our children. It isn't merely a line. It is a statement about what we are capable of as human beings. To put somebody else's safety first, to do anything if we need to save our children from immediate harm.

"I see you."

Couples will say this to each other when they fall in love.

I see you.

Now, couple that with the line Neytiri's mother tells Sully earlier on in movie. "You don't want to know. Your cup is full." Which means nothing more than "you already think you know everything, and are not willing to learn anything different from what you already know." And isn't that a wonderfully biting description of our "civilisation", which has always been so smug and arrogant that we constantly think "this is it, we already know everything, there is nothing left to learn". Look up the Victorian Age of England at the end of the 19th century, where that type of thinking was prevalent, that they were the peak of everything humanity could achieve. Hasn't really changed all that much, has it?

And I find it structurally brilliant, especially after Weaver's character tells Sully, "Don't try to think. Shouldn't be too hard for you" as a diss against him being a marine, and thus being woefully retarded, while she as a scientist, she has this all figured out already, yes, she is the brilliant one, she "wrote the book, I mean, literally the book on the Na'Vi" as the other scientist says... and what did she really do? She built a school for the Na'Vi to learn our ways instead of really listening to what they might have to teach us. The scientists in the movie are just as guilty of arrogance as the corporations: "We tried to give them roads!" I mean, really? In a jungle? roads are the pinnacle of civilisation? Why should they need them? They can navigate the forests without fail. We were the ones who couldn't.

It is right to have Sully being a Marine. The guy who is on the ground. The guy who sees things that people back at HQ always dismiss, because they pick out only the intel that they think is necessary for the decisions they have already made. Ask the people on the ground wherever we are fighting wars, ask them today, and you will get information you don't find in the New York Times, carefully and cautiously fine-tuned to build a narrative supporting decisions that were made in camps far, far away from those who are actually there.

That is good writing, even good character development, because as Sully tells the Na'Vi "My cup is pretty much empty, you just have to ask Grace", and it's how those who have never served (and I have, thank you very much) see our soldiers. Tools. Blunt, stupid instruments who are there to carry out the orders of the "intelligent people" who would never have the guts to step out onto the ground. Even Michelle Rodriguez' role, too short for my tastes, she sees what that decision has in terms of results, and she says "I didn't sign up for this shit"... this shit being nothing short of genocide.

Cameron's writing tells you something on numerous levels. It isn't about tree-huggers. It isn't about jingoism. It is about telling you, every single one of us that it is time to think, he praises the individual choice, he tells you, "you have a choice, all of you, you have the ability to make that choice, don't listen to orders simply because they are orders. Think. Think about what this will mean."

Cameron tells us to praise what soul we have if we make the right choice. If we are human. If we are humane.

"I see you."

It is at that moment when you see the fragile Sully at the end that we can see us. We are fragile. And we are stronger than we think we can be. What could be more of a praise of the individual freedom? What could be a stronger praise of what it means to have a soul? To be human?

And it is Sully who Neytiri kisses at the end of the movie, with such gentleness as his soul gets transferred from his human body into the Avatar, it is him she loves, and that is done without words, that is the magic of what Cameron does, he shows us what the truth is, that the truth lies in the soul, and that all souls are connected.