Sunday, March 28, 2010

Avatar & the dream of flying

Apple trailer-teaser, "Avatar"

By now you've seen Avatar, maybe more than once. You don't need my review. Let me just argue that all the critics got it right -- the grumpy cineastes who panned it as a simplistic, hack version of the "white messiah" theme, pitting noble mystic-native good guys against greedy techno-corporate bad guys... & the eager technophiles who could not find enough ways to hail it as a historic breakthrough & the greatest pure movie-viewing experience ever.

To me, Avatar is both. Personally, I don't much care that it's a stupid story because I find its images so hauntingly beautiful. I'm particularly moved by the flying sequences, which, after all, tap into a very ancient human dream -- a literal sleeping dream for millions, starting long before Icarus & including me. We've had films of flying before -- shot from balloons & airplanes, e.g. -- but they are dependent on the vagaries of light & lenses & of course they can only record what's there. Avatar has none of these limitations. Its 3D is perfect & we fly through a made-up world.

A dream. Avatar is the only movie that has ever -- for whole sequences -- taken me over like my own nighttime dreams.

I have always had blockbuster dreams. Recently, these have become more frequent. Sometimes after a dream has lit up my brain like a prairie-wide Nebraska thunderstorm for what seems like hours, I'll sit up & spend 20 minutes trying to gather my consciousness back into my head. Where have I been? In my own brain presumably. But who knows? My dreams are huge! They shake my being & then drain away, leaving only fragments.

It's odd that I can't remember much about my dreams, because I always experience them so intensely. They may not be aesthetically pleasing like the sequences in Avatar. They are sometimes hellish -- brutal, fecal, shocking. But their versimilitude, my sense of actually living them, is astonishingly complete. Just as in my waking life, I sometimes pull back & marvel at their complexity, the number & vividness of the colors, the intricacy of the plot. And just as in my waking life, their reality is not in dispute.

In my dreams I can fly. I leap from a high place, a roof or cliff top or high tree branch, &, at first, I fall, struggling, body & will, until the fall turns into a swoop & finally -- I am flying. But my flying is never easy. The power to rise, even a little bit, is rare. When it does come, it is somehow intuitive, only dimly understood, more a matter of warm wind or beautiful light than anything I'm doing. The power to simply stay aloft comes & goes too. My flying is best when I have no words or pictures or ideas in my mind, only pure, confident will. Anxiety weakens me & I lose altitude. As I approach the ground, fear jabs at me, the trees & buildings begin to block the sky & flying becomes harder. Going down, I land like a parachutist, tumbling & rolling, & come up running.

As I think about it, my 3-D flying with the blue people & giant reptile birds in Avatar is very different from this. It is beautiful, exalted. Effortless, lyrical, free. It costs me no effort. I love it.

In my own flying dreams I'm not supposed to be flying. I fly anyway & it gives me great joy. But the ground is always tugging. And death is always there.

1 comment:

Christine (CA) said...

Wonderful piece, Tim. I'm totally not in touch with my dreams and sometimes envy those who are. Sometimes, though, I'm just as glad.

As for Avatar...yes, I was totally transported into that world and mostly don't care how dumb the story is. And....I really want a Toruk (the big red winged guy).