I See You
Interspecies Empathy and 'Avatar'
Keywords:empathy, environmental studies, hature religions, Avatar
I explore empathic dimensions of James Cameron’s film Avatar’s central metaphor of seeing others, and the uses of empathy and empathic bonding throughout the film, both between humans and the Na’vi, and between the Na’vi and the animals that inhabit their world. Empathy entails an ability to see and feel the world from another’s perspective—feeling with rather than feeling for. Jake Sully’s identity as shifting, and boundary-crossing, makes him an especially good candidate for empathic cultivation. Sully assumes an avatar identity, stepping into a Na’vi form but also trying on a range of different perspectives, as part of his education in empathy and his spiritual transformation. The film sheds light on the complexity, fragility, and dangers of empathy, as well as its potential as an environmental and humanitarian value. Avatar suggests empathy’s perils, but also illustrates that empathy, properly oriented and cultivated, is an important environmental disposition encouraging appreciation of otherness.
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