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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Rhys Southan on the rationalism of the Na'vi

From Rhys Southan, Richardson, TX:

I saw Avatar yesterday and thought it was incredible. One of the many ways I appreciated it was as an Inglorious Basterds style re-writing of history the way it should have happened, with the Native Americans defeating the Europeans (except told symbolically, unlike the literal re-interpretation of Basterds).

As you suggested in your review, the Na'vi are inspired by what we see as the Native American model of living: close to the earth in its natural state, seeking to be as non-destructive and respectful of other creatures as possible, all tied together with a belief of the connectedness of life. It's a way of seeing and experiencing the world that has an undeniable appeal; some of us idealize it as a more spiritual and generally more satisfying outlook than our own.

But one major difference between the Na'vi and our notion of Native American culture occurred to me today. Native Americans had to be creative and spiritual to see the connectedness in life the way they did. Europeans, after all, interpreted the world a little differently. But on Pandora, the connectedness of life, the sacredness of the forest and the existence of a benevolent higher power are all impossible to miss. The Na'vi aren't creatively interpreting their world: they are merely acknowledging the obvious.

In other words, there is no spiritualism to the Na'vi. Their beliefs would be fantastical on Earth, but on Pandora every single one of their convictions are borne out by physical facts. Even the Earthlings and their Earth tools are able to prove the scientific validity of Na'vi claims.

The Na'vi are strict rationalists, but in heaven. Their world is so naturally magical that they don't have to believe in anything they can't actually see. And they don't.

The Na'vi get to have the easy part of religion -- the comfort that life is meaningful and death is not the end -- and they don't even have to do the hard part, which is to take a leap of faith.

No wonder Jake Sully wants to join them. I'm jealous too.

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