How “Avatar” Inspires Love of Nature and Love of Science
Few recent movies have moved this nature-lover’s heart as much as the smash-hit “Avatar.” For anyone who loves nature and astonishingly beautiful plants and animals, the experiencing the world of Pandora was like entering a dream-come-true.
In fact, that’s exactly how one New York Times reviewer described the movie—”a biologist’s dream.” The reviewer should know, because Carol Kaesuk Yoon is in fact a biologist!
Yoon opens her essay, “Luminous 3-D Jungle Is a Biologist’s Dream” with these words:
“When watching a Hollywood movie that has robed itself in the themes and paraphernalia of science, a scientist expects to feel anything from annoyance to infuriation at facts misconstrued or processes misrepresented. What a scientist does not expect is to enter into a state of ecstatic wonderment, to have the urge to leap up and shout: ‘Yes! That’s exactly what it’s like!'”
She goes on to say:
“So it is time for all the biologists who have not yet done so to shut their laptops and run from their laboratories directly to the movie theaters, put on 3-D glasses and watch the film “Avatar.” In fact, anyone who loves a biologist or may want to be one, or better yet, anyone who hates a biologist — and certainly everyone who has ever sneered at a tree-hugger — should do the same. Because the director James Cameron’s otherworldly tale of romance and battle, aliens and armadas, has somehow managed to do what no other film has done. It has recreated what is the heart of biology: the naked, heart-stopping wonder of really seeing the living world.”
For this writer, “really seeing the living world” is what this blog is all about, and that’s why I’m talking about a science fiction movie at a blog devoted to “extreme” science. Clearly, the incredibly talented individuals who created the ecosystem of Pandora not only love nature, but are very familiar with the beautiful and exotic creatures and ecosystems of our own planet.
In scene after scene, anyone who knows and loves our planet and its amazing creatures will recognize echoes of and allusions to ecosystems and creatures that exist right here on Earth. From luminous fungi to lemurs to pack predators to tigers to rain forests to the pterodactyls of Earth’s prehistoric past, the imagined world of Pandora is an enhanced dream of our own beautiful world.
As Yoon says:
“….Mr. Cameron somehow has the audience seeing organisms in the tropical-forest-gone-mad of the planet Pandora just the way a biologist sees them. With each glance, we are reminded of organisms we already know, while marveling over the new and trying quickly to put this novelty into some kind of sensible place in the mind. It is a mental tickle, and wonderful confusion sparks the thought, ‘Oh, that looks like a horse, but wait, it has six legs and it’s blue, and whoa, that looks like a jellyfish but it’s floating in the air and glowing.’
If we have eyes to see, if we can tear ourselves away from our TV sets and computers and spend some time in nature, we can find wonders as close as our own backyards or nearest nature area. That’s what my Berkeley, Naturally! blog is all about.
We can find books at our libraries and bookstores filled with amazing facts and information about the ecosystems, plants, and animals, of our world. Imagine a planet that has this:
Our children in school can in fact become biologists and ecologists whose science is wedded to a great love of nature and its mysteries.
I read that some viewers were so moved by the aliveness and beauty of “Avatar” that they literally became depressed. Among other things, I think this was a kind of withdrawal symptom from an imagined world of breath-taking beauties, a world where the interconnectedness and interrelated of all life was just some “new age” theory, but a way of life—indeed, a matter of life and death!
Earth, this amazing planet of ours—this “pale blue dot,” as Carl Sagan famously called it—needs our love and deep appreciation of what a precious, rare place it is. Our planet needs people every bit as fiercely protective of our ecosystems as the Na’vi were of their beloved Pandora.
It’s never to late for people to rediscover their connection with the natural world and its beauties. It’s never too late to re-awaken our hearts to the beauties that still survive mankind’s onslaught again nature.
If movies like “Avatar” can inspire people to look at the natural world with greater appreciation or inspire a new generation of children to become scientists who study our planet and all its wonders, then it will done more than merely entertained us and made its creators a lot of money. It will have changed the world, the only world we’ll ever know, for the better.
People of Earth, the Na’vi have a message for us: Open your eyes! You too have a planet of wonders!