Transcendentalism is an American philosophy started in the 1800’s, which is still part of modern culture today. Transcendentalism was developed by Immanuel Kant, and was based on the idea that, in order to comprehend the nature of reality, it must first be observed and explored using the method of reasoning. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were fundamental figures in Transcendentalism. Using the ideas of these figures many movies, music, television shows, and plenty more things in pop culture are based off of Transcendentalist views. In the movie Avatar directed by James Cameron, the characters depend on nature to survive, believe G-d is apart of nature, and believe that each individual has significance, all of which are Transcendentalist views.
The dependence on nature in order to survive is a key factor in the movie Avatar. Emerson once said “…occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I not to them” (Emerson, “Nature”, 391), proving to us that Transcendentalists believe the man is a component of nature. In the movie Avatar, the Avatars live in the woods known as Pandora and use their surroundings to survive. Dr. Grace, Jake, and the rest of the people work together and depend upon one another and nature for survival. In the film the Na’vi people have a sacred relationship with their surroundings and teach Jake a new way of being in their world – being in agreement with his natural surroundings. As the conflict develops over the destruction of Pandora’s habitat, even the creatures come to the support and protection of the land. Neytiri says, “Our great mother does not take sides Jake, she protects only the balance of life.” (Avatar). The characters learn that overtime nature is what keeps oneself from surviving in a world full of chaos. The movie demonstrates how G-d plays a role in each characters life through the natural world.
Eywa, the Goddess of Pandora, plays a significant part in each characters life through nature. Eywa protects the balance of life on Pandora. Without Eywas’ protection Pandora may not have survived the war. Neytiri states, “Very soon you are all approaching the ecological-mystical festival that intertwines celebration of the Great Tree of Life Itself, God, Namasté to all” (Avatar). In the movie the Tree of Knowledge, otherwise known as The Home Tree, symbolizes the existence of G-d in nature. The Home Tree, which is sanctified to the beings of Pandora, can be compared to the Kabbala, Tree of Life in modern day. The roots of both these sacred trees are in heaven, which is believed that G-d watches over.
It can be inferred that praying to The Home Tree for protection is reminiscent to praying to G-d for protection. Avatar teaches that the war against people and the war against the Earth are the same war. Fighting a war against the Earth is similar to trying to destroy G-d, in this case Eywa who is a part of nature. “I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all.” (Emerson, “Nature”, 391). Transcendentalists believe that G-d is a part of nature, and this is shown in the movie through the character Eywa and her existence in The Home Tree. Individuality is found in each character although unity is a theme of the movie. “To be great is to be misunderstood.” (Emerson, “Self-Reliance”, 394), not following the usual and being unique is a belief of Transcendentalism. Dr. Grace Augustine tried to speculate as to how the Na’vi interconnect, “Its more than connections to the human brain, get it, its a network, its a global network and the Na’vi can access it, they can upload and download data, memories.” (Avatar). The sense of interconnection and unity thrive in the film.
Jake is balancing between two worlds – the world of the military mission he is part of, and the world whose goal is to defend the Na’vi people. As he gets more connected with the life of the Na’vi people, the sense of unity he has with them grows to a point of conflict and personal consequences. He goes against what he is suppose to do in the Pandora world, replacing his brother, and truly becomes attached to the Na’vi people becoming his own independent person. He learns that “Imitation is like suicide…” (Emerson, “Self-Reliance”, 393). He did not have the aspiration in life to be his brother, but to be his own self. Through the course of the movie, he truly learns who he really is in life, and not his brother’s clone.
The movie Avatar shows many Transcendentalist views including the characters depending on nature to survive, believing G-d is a part of nature, and believing that each individual has significance. Through the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, one can learn many life lessons about the importance of nature, individuality, and G-d. “When nature has work to be done, she creates a genius to do it.” (Emerson). This quotes expresses many Transcendentalist beliefs all in one. Emerson explains that G-d creates people for a reason, which shows the importance of G-d in each person’s life.
It also shows that people are created for a reason and have importance in life, although it may not be known. Additionally, it proves that G-d has a plan for everyone in life. Using ones uniqueness and personal abilities, one can carry out the plan that has been set up. “Eternal life and the invisible world are only to be sought in G-d. Only within Him do all spirits dwell. He is an abyss of individuality, the only infinite plenitude.” (Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel).
Avatar. Dir. James Cameron. Perf. Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Michelle Rodriguez,
Matt Gerald, Dileep Rao 2009. DVD.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Nature.” Prentice Hall Literature: The American
Experience. Ed. Armand Eisen. NJ: Prentice Hall, 1991. 390-392. Textbook.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Self-Reliance.” Prentice Hall Literature: The American
Experience. Ed. Armand Eisen. NJ: Prentice Hall, 1991. 393-395. Textbook.