Avatar: Giving Environmentalists Around the World a Good Night's Rest

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

After a year of restless sleep and nightmares that involve the state of the planet, I slept with a sense of ease and comfort of an innocent child after seeing Avatar. Added bonus, and I didn't even after to pay extra. (If you haven't seen the movie~ stop now. Open a new page on your browser and buy yourself a ticket to the next showing (in 3D of course).

I've been trying to put my finger on what shifted in my nervous system since being exposed to that story. The journey of the wounded warrior? The vision of a world that lives in balance and in appreciation of life? The connection to land told in an authentic voice? Or the sheer thrill of watching a storyteller speak the truths of two society's at once? Because when I wake from my own dreams to find news like It's manatee vs. military in pending habitat ruling and Namibia's landmark trees dying from climate change it feels like we are in the nightmare of the Pandora's attack, no?

Was it that the good guys won against all possible odds? It wasn't all good or easy, and after all, it sucked seeing myself in both parts of the story -- as both the good and the evil-doer (hats off Cameron).

I think the truth lies somewhere between. My friend Dara said it best: "Isn't it kind of amazing that this is the story that is getting out to the masses?" I'm not a movie buff, so before going to see the movie, all I knew about it (and what drove me to see it) is that they developed a new technology that reinvented movie making. Cameron could have used any story and a lot of people would have bought tickets. But they used this story, and people are going back multiple times (someone on the fan site attended 5 times). So that inspires me, that this is the story that served as the vehicle for this radical new technology. And then of course, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I fully fell in love with the world Cameron created.

But there is another piece to this story which inspires and is part of the metanarrative. James Cameron's almost ridiculous story of how he got into film making. I'm sure there are plenty of pieces missing from Wired's account of Cameron's plight, but at the end of the day I love the image that a truck driver saw Star Wars and knew that he could (and should) do better. It's just more of the same, the little guy rising up against the big societal systems that seem impossible to permeate and succeeding against all odds.

There has been plenty of criticism about it's lack of originality, but at the end of the day, there are just a few stories told over and over, it's all about how you tell the story. One of my favorite sayings in writing is to show, don't tell, and Cameron and team accomplished that over and over again in the way they showed the power of connection between various species and the planet. I think that is what I found exciting -- to see this technology used in a way that wasn't just about fight scenes, but dedicated mostly to the details of what it can mean to connect to the natural world (the irony that it is these technological advances spreading the message of connection to nature is... well, delicious).

But maybe a piece of the power of this story is that it just has good timing. For instance, I remember this time last year; I don't know about you, but that was a tough time for me. It felt like the world was going to hell in a bucket, and then came the plane that survived the goose attack in the Hudson and we were given a story about a hero who saved the lives of everyone on his plane against all odds. I needed that story of victory, our country needed a hero (or at least I did), and to see that good things were still happening in the world.

Perhaps part of the power in this story is it's timing. After all, it arrived on the coattails of Copenhagen, a gathering that broke the hearts of many as it shed light on the back door deals between the powerful countries on our planet, and the negligence of the UN. But even as I write that, I realize that most of the people seeing this film probably didn't bother with Copenhagen, and are finding connection and inspiration for their own reasons.

So at the end of the day, I went to see the technological innovation, I'll go back for the story. After all, it's just thrilling to see a powerful movie about the state of the environment that isn't made or marketed for environmentalists. Perhaps that's why I can sleep at night, because the chapter of feeling like environmentalists need to sound the alarm is truly over: the message has permeated the mainstream.