‘Avatar’ Themes And Inspirations, Explained: How Much Of Pandora Mimics Our Reality?

Some of the seminal science fiction-oriented contents of fictional history have their lore deeply rooted in sociopolitical conditions and the lived realities of people of different sects. Dune and Star Wars constitute some of the best examples where real-life global history and politics get alluded to in the narrative to create a strong foundation for the story arc. James Cameron has stated he took inspiration for “Avatar” from the sci-fi stories he read at a younger age, and in the process of creating a layered portrayal of the characters and making them feel more relatable, James Cameron took inspiration from the mythology of various cultures, history and political situations of the contemporary world. We will briefly discuss the inspirations Cameron took and the themes he presented to create depth in the narrative.

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Multifaceted Inspiration Taken For ‘Avatar’

Cameron’s sci-fi epic “Avatar” deals with a futuristic scenario of human colonization on a resource-rich moon and the collective struggle of the natives, known as Na’vi, who want to assert their freedom. From the names themselves, the allusions become perceivable. Pandora, the moon, and the giant gas planet it is orbiting, Polyphemus, are names associated with Greek myths. The Greek myth of Polyphemus, the giant in Homer’s “Odyssey,” will remind readers of a creature that ended the lives of the stranded sailors, and in a similar way, the gas giant has been described in the movie as unfit for life. Pandora’s myth describes a beautiful girl who brought evil with her. Similarly, the lush, vibrant world of Pandora is as alluring as it is deadly to human beings. The alien denizens of Pandora are known as Na’vi. The word “Na’vi” means prophet in Hebrew and translates to the visionary who has direct communication with the Almighty. Even the prime deity of the Na’vi, the central entity consisting of the composite lifeforce of Pandora known as Eywa, is a jumbled-up pronunciation of Yahweh, the Hebrew name of the God.

To build a relationship of trust with the natives of Pandora and to explore the land (since the moon is uninhabitable for humans), humans had developed a human-na’vi hybrid clone, in which the host human’s consciousness is put. These hybrid bodies are known as Avatars. The very name of the movie, “Avatar,” translates to “incarnation” in Sanskrit. According to Hindu mythology, deities like Vishnu and Shiva incarnated in various physical forms through different eras. Similarly, the concept of putting someone’s consciousness inside a completely different species justifies the title, which ends up becoming more true as Jake Sully, the human protagonist, chooses his Avatar form to be his primary and only physical form. Cameron himself had said the blue color of Na’vi was a deliberate conceptual similarity with the traditional portrayal of Hindu Gods Shiva and Krishna.

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The Eywa, who is considered by the Na’vi as the great mother, is an obvious allusion to the ancient myth of Mother Nature, which can be a part of almost every world mythology at some point in time. Philosophers opine that Eywa is a modern version of Thales’ philosophy of “hylozoism,” which asserts that nature is a living organism connected to all its creatures in a direct and reciprocating way. The Norse mythology of Yggdrasil also comes to mind. In the movie, Jake asks Eywa for help in his final battle against the humans, and Eywa answers his prayer by sending hordes of Pandora’s megafauna. The Greek myth of Potnia Theron, or the Lady of Animals, seems to be the key figure in structuring Eywa’s role in the movie. The entire Na’vi character gallery was portrayed by a POC cast. The attire and rituals performed by the Na’vi are direct references to the Nilotic people, considered the tallest and darkest people on Earth, who live across Sudan, Ethiopia, and Northern Kenya. The language of the Na’vi was sourced from the Maori language. The pro-environmentalist message of “Avatar” culminates in the native’s struggle to save their rainforest, something the director used as an allusion to the struggles of the Penan people of Borneo, the Bushmen of the Kalahari, and the Yanomami people of South America.


Themes Depicted In ‘Avatar’

The story of “Avatar” has been adorned with a layer of themes that provide the movie with a timeless quality. Director James Cameron installed sociopolitical, cultural, and religious themes in the interaction between humans and Na’vi.

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Horrors Of Imperialism: While showing the repercussions of human colonization on the alien moon Pandora, Cameron has created an allegory of the treatment of indigenous people across the world at the hands of European aggressors during the Colonial period. Even the private military contractors being used to destroy the Hometree in the movie is said to be a reference to how in real life, mercenaries are being used to destroy flora and tribal habitats in the Amazon rainforest. A similar scenario is also perceivable in middle eastern countries where denizens are held captive by foreign military interference as their resources get drained. In a scene where Quaritch says that they (security forces) have to fight terror with terror, the speech is eerily similar to a few American national leader speeches. However, Cameron has been criticized for this portrayal too, which reinstates the assumption of natives being savage, primitive, and technologically inept. This is further worsened by Cameron’s choice of the protagonist being a human himself, who manages to save the day by uniting natives—something that seems like a bad precedent for the colonial-savior complex.

Nature And Technology: There is a direct conflict and a strange instance of resolution between nature and technology in “Avatar.” These two elements are shown as binaries as the technology sides with humans who are corrupt, greedy, and aggressors who are pushed so far into their egocentrism that they think the entire world is theirs for the taking. Strengthened by technology, they have created cloned bodies as hosts, destroyed homes, and desecrated the sacred lands of the natives. On the other hand, the Na’vi, who are spiritually connected with nature, are forgiving, harmonious, kind, and wise. They respect the importance of life, while the so-called civilized humans don’t. However, there is a strange connection between technology and the Flora of “Avatar,” as the collective plant life is connected by neural connections, whose network is spread throughout Pandora. In the Tree of Souls and Tree of Voices, the neural link can be accessed by Na’vi using the Tsaheylu bond, which lets the user access past memories or send messages to Eywa. This works like a database of some kind from which data can be downloaded and uploaded. This instance was perhaps used by the director to indicate that technology and nature can live in harmony if not misused.

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Religion And Spirituality: “Avatar” takes inspiration from a significant portion of world mythology in order to portray Na’vi’s complex sense of spirituality. The natives worship a prime deity named Eywa and the associated trees. The movie poses the question between faith and mutual cooperation, which one is more effective for sustenance. Na’vi’s approach to life have been likened to Tibetan religious beliefs. There is also a theme of pantheism—paganism coming into conflict with Christianity.


Final Words

With these major themes and inspirations, Cameron has crafted a believable alien paradise that the audience can relate to. The universal human experience is the direct result of employing the elements successfully. Taking the scope to address important social issues has been proven a timely effort in a positive direction.

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See more: The World Of ‘Avatar,’ Explained: Exploring The Flora and Fauna of Pandora


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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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