Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cameron's "Avatar" (2009) and Dali's "The Burning Giraffe"(1937)

A few hours after watching "Avatar" (review to follow in a day or so) I went to a favorite Costa Rican Cafe for supper. I was seated at a small table near the door that faced a wall. As I waited to order, I noticed directly in front of me a Salvador Dali print with two long figures in the foreground and off in the background a smaller figure. It was of an animal on fire.

This strange and striking image took me back to "Avatar," in which is a short scene of a running horse on fire. It was a picture of pure horror resulting from the cruelties inflicted upon the living beings in the film's Pandora. Was James Cameron making a reference to Salvador Dali?

In the foreground of the Dali print are two long, blue women. The women of Pandora in "Avatar" are long and blue. Dali called his women in the print before me "tail bone woman" and the Pandora creatures did have tails! Coincidence? The collective unconscious at work in the artistic imagination?

Dali used the image of the burning giraffe in his 1930 film, "L'Age d' Or" (The Golden Age) and again in his 1937 "The Invention of Monsters." He apparently saw this as a premonition of World War II, and his burning giraffe is an image of “the masculine cosmic apocalyptic monster.” See my source and a look at the print here. The "monsters" of war in "Avatar" are steel helicopters, the large mother ship-plane, and the massive robotic "soldiers" piloted by individuals inside these walking structures.

Cameron's Colonel Quaritch embodies this "masculine cosmic apocalyptic monster" in the film. This makes him, too, an "avatar" of sorts.

I've been unable as of yet to locate any confirmation by Cameron of this reference to Dali's work. It may be I am stretching this a bit much, but the parallels are very striking.

The juxtaposition of the Dali image with the scene of the burning horse in the film would be an excellent starting point for a discussion or sermon about some of the issues raised in film. An additional image suggestion would be Picasso's "Guernica" from the same time period, and the terrified horse in the center of the painting.

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