I’m not a person who would normally say, ‘Go see this movie’…but, go see this movie! The movie is “Avatar”…preferably in 3-D, if it’s offered at a theater near you. No, I’m not on the payroll. My reasons for referring you to this movie experience aren’t found in any of the film critics’ reviews…at least the 10 or so I’ve read. From these reviews, you might have the impression that the special effects dominate the film and that the story is predicable and a bit thin…and from that you might feel it’s not worth your time or money for a theater experience. I had the same initial reaction when our son requested that we go see “Avatar” as part of his recent birthday celebration. We were all shocked by our own responses to the film as we left the theater. Go see this movie!
Yes, the special effects are breathtaking, but they carry much more meaning than just WOW! For many people, the WOW-factor is enough to make the theater decision obvious…for others it may have the reverse affect. I have lots more to say about that in a minute. “Avatar” has a multi-layered story line, but none of the obvious parts of the story are as powerful as the foundational world view. I’ll have more on that in a minute too. It also has significant social and environmental message. Yes, it does have some biases built in, but they also play an important part in the overall affect of the movie. There are many reasons to see this movie, but I’m focused today on the reasons we might have as people who believe in deliberation as a means to the long-term goal of more effective public decisions. To those who practice public deliberation in any way, shape or form…go see this movie!
The special effects in “Avatar” are high-end versions of what is already available in immersive virtual worlds, like Second Life (SL). Yes, here he goes again…the SL thing. “Avatar” is visually spectacular…you are immersed in the awe and beauty of a totally different world, like many places in SL. And…SL has its own 3-D without the funky glasses. In the movie as in SL, the ‘avatar driver’ is somewhere else while the ‘avatar’ is fully engaged in the other world. Why is this important? We simply cannot meet face-to-face enough to talk through the complex dilemmas of our times. The expense and time investments are prohibitive, and the carbon footprint of all this travel is ethically problematic even if we could afford it. SL is not the only virtual world environment…others are available now, and more sophisticated worlds will certainly be developed with greater capabilities in the near future. Behind every ‘avatar’ is a real person with hopes and dreams, fears and frustrations. We can meet in a virtual world or two to share our hopes and dreams with a new and remarkable clarity, and to visit our fears and frustrations so we can develop new tenacity and new partnerships in resolving public dilemmas.
The story in “Avatar” has several layers…some more complex than the others, but even the love story has some surprising parts to it. A foundational world view, however, is present as an emerging theme: everything is connected to everything else. You’ll recognize this theme from many world religions and philosophies (yes, even in Christianity, Judaism and Islam…if you look deeper than the superficial and popular level of each) as an integrated, basic assumption. In the movie, it emerges slowly but steadily, becoming a critical plot connector on several levels. I don’t think this hint will ruin the movie for anyone…just watch for it as it starts small and then becomes more obvious. Why is this important? We should have learned by now that we cannot truly understand or resolve complex dilemmas in isolation. Each one of us is part of the everything…and each issue we face in our communities or as a human family is part of the everything. When we realize that we truly need each other, we’re then ready to enter into a deliberative conversation, seeking all voices rather than just the ones who agree with us already. Every issue is connected in some way with every other issue. When we fail to connect issues with each other, we fail to link our currently pressing issues with the many, mostly-resolved issues that have already been addressed…where some common ground in thinking has been discovered and integrated into public policy. We who believe in inclusive public deliberation can recognize the power of this foundational world view…and find new applications for it in our Practice.
As a new decade begins, we can resolve to be more immersed in both the beauty and the tragedy of our world. We can recognize new opportunities for dynamic partnerships with many more people and groups across the country and around the world. We can decide to respect the issues we’re confronting enough to see their inter-connected nature. I’m more convinced than ever that a breakthrough is possible in deliberation and dialogue when we choose to frame global, systemic issues as a complementary part of our local, state and national issue work. It’s time to expand on the 70′s quote that has been attributed to many people: “Think globally, act locally.” In “Avatar” as in SL as in real-life, everything is connected to everything else. Go see this movie…then let’s dream and act big!