I’ve been considering the question I asked at the end of my last blog, and I think that AVATAR is really the story of *two* heroes, their journeys inextricably woven together. Personally, I appreciate the fact that, in an action drama of this ilk, one of the heroes is a woman. It’s refreshing to see that men aren’t the only ones who can save the world.
Here’s my take on Neytiri’s journey as a hero.
Step 1: The hero is introduced in her ordinary world
We first see Neytiri as she hunts, moving silently through the Pandoran night. As she watches Jake in his avatar body, she is seriously tempted to kill him because he’s so clumsy, because he causes the deaths of Pandoran creatures simply through his ignorance.
Step 2: The hero receives her call to adventure
As Neytiri draws her bow to kill Jake, a graceful seed, looking much like a jellyfish floating through a crystal clear ocean, alights on the tip of her arrow. She realizes she is not meant to kill him—yet.
Step 3: The hero is reluctant at first or refuses the call
She saves Jake by killing several creatures herself, taking out those that threaten him. When he thanks her, though, she derides him as unworthy, clumsy, a baby. She is angered by her decision to save him, her sorrow for the deaths he has caused making her think again about killing him.
Step 4: The hero is encouraged by a mentor
As Jake follows Neytiri, wanting to learn from her, she turns and tells him to go back, to leave her. But as she castigates him, he is surrounded by, almost covered by, the same seeds as the one that had originally touched down at the tip of her arrow. We learn that they are seeds of The Sacred Tree and, despite Jake’s clumsiness and ignorance, Neytiri recognizes the sign that Jake is to be saved.
Step 5: The hero crosses the first threshold and enters the Special World
Neytiri’s choice to save Jake leaves her with another decision: what do to with him? Her best option, she decides, is to take him to Home Tree, to meet the leaders of the Omaticaya, to let them decide how to interpret the sign she has been given. When Jake makes himself a curiosity by declaring his status as a warrior, Neytiri’s mother Moat (pronounced, “Mow-aht”) gives her the task of teaching Jake the ways of the Na’vi—and with reluctant acceptance, Neytiri crosses the first threshold.
Step 6: She encounters, tests, allies and enemies
Neytiri faces opposition and trials as she teaches Jake the ways of her people. Enough said.
Step 7: She approaches the inmost cave and crosses the second threshold
Eventually Jake’s human counterparts reach the neighborhood of Home Tree with their giant earth-gouging machinery, and Jake has to admit he has known, all along, that the humans would be coming, that the humans had counted on him to convince the Na’vi to move away from Home Tree and its rich deposits of unobtanium. Neytiri, feeling betrayed by the man she loves, approaches her inmost cave and rejects Jake.
Step 8: She endures the Ordeal
Home Tree is destroyed and Neytiri’s father is killed.
Step 9: She takes possession of the reward
Jake reappears, riding a dragon, and Neytiri reunites with him to lead Pandora’s people in a quest to rid the planet of humans. Jake, a former Marine, possesses not only a thorough knowledge of the Na’vi (or Omaticaya), but he knows both the plans the humans have for Pandora and their military strategy. His knowledge is the reward.
Step 10: She is pursued on the road back to the Ordinary World
The entire planet of Pandora wars on the humans, and Neytiri narrowly escapes.
Step 11: She crosses the third threshold, experiences a resurrection, and is transformed by the experience
Neytiri battles with Colonel Quaritch, and does not hesitate to kill him. Before she does, though, Quaritch breaches the station where the human Jake lies in his chamber making connection with avatar Jake. Neytiri saves him by placing an oxygen mask over his face. At that moment, she realizes she truly loves this human and says, “I see you, Jake.”
Step 12: She returns with the elixir, a boon or treasure to benefit the Ordinary World
Neytiri brings Jake, who has helped to save her people and her planet, back to the Omaticaya, where they all work to unite him completely with them.
This film is truly a classic adventure story told in the tradition of the hero’s journey. I’d love to hear your comments on it, and on how it fits the universal hero’s paradigm.