Main Story Beats Analysis by Shari Goodhartz
- JAKE SULLY is a paraplegic marine whose identical twin brother Tom recently died while working as a scientist on the atmospherically toxic-to-humans planet Pandora (actually the moon of a gas giant).
- A mining company offers Jake a fresh start and great pay if he takes his Tom’s place in a neuro-psychic link-tank that allows him to “drive” an avatar-body that incorporated Tom’s DNA, which only Jake can now use.
Set Up Character & Story
- Gruff COLONEL, head of security, explains the hostility of Pandora beyond their safety wall. Indigenous people called Na’vi use neuro-poison-tipped arrows; they’re very hard to kill.
- Scientist NORM went through avatar training with Tom. The Na’vi-sized bodies are huge relative to humans. Jake has to keep a video log documenting all internal observations and feelings within his avatar – for science.
- Lead botanist GRACE comes out of an avatar-link. She’s upset when corporate lackey PARKER insists Jake join her security escort, but now she has to train Jake. Her mission to win the hearts and minds of the Na’vi is failing because the military rather use machine guns to gain access to Unobtanium (20 mil a kilo). They’re on the brink of war and need a diplomatic solution.
- Jake’s first avatar-link is a disaster – he can’t control his tail – but also a success when he’s able to run around freely. However, he stops to really feel the dirt beneath his feet. “Grace” is impressed by “Jake’s” motor control and spirit. He wonders about the “freaky” ends of his braid. “Grace” quips: Don’t play with that. You’ll go blind. When Jake’s avatar falls asleep, he wakes up in the link-tank. He climbs out, gets into his wheelchair.
- Meet HELO PILOT 16 and her team; she’ll need him on the door gun.
- Colonel climbs into an exo-suit, reveals his contempt for scientists to Jake. He wants to force the Na’vi into submission by using their weaknesses against them. The Colonel promises Jake the surgery he needs to restore the use of his legs. Jake agrees spy on the Na’vi.
Plot Point I
- Despite Grace’s aid, Jake’s avatar gets stuck overnight in Pandora’s alien forest, alone.
Confrontations and Complications
- “Jake” stumbles into trouble with native animals, causing a Na’vi female, NEYTIRI, to rescue him, but also blame him for the animal’s deaths. Surprisingly, she speaks English. He realizes he’s in a bioluminescent wonderland, and takes it all in with awe.
- He asks her to teach him, but she replies no one can teach another to truly see. She runs across high branches, he follows until he slips and almost falls. Again, she saves him. He’s like a baby. She continues to reject him, until she receives a clear “sign” from the local plant-life that he’s important.
- A hostile group of Na’vi tie up Jake’s legs insisting the human are forbidden here. She insists that the Tsahik must decide. Though Neytiri’s father seems to be the chief, her mother is the spiritual leader and she wants to know why Jake’s here. He’s not a scientist, just an ignorant warrior. He’s here to learn from them. They’ve never met a warrior “dreamwalker” (human/Na’vi avatar) before. She orders Neytiri to teach him.
- That night, when Jake’s avatar falls asleep, Jake awakens to find Grace and Norm hovering over his link-tank. Is his avatar safe? Yeah, and they’re not going to believe where it is. The Colonel is thrilled with Jake’s initiative and success.
- Parker reveals that Neytiri’s village lies above a massive deposit of Unobtanium. If Jake can’t get the Na’vi to move peacefully, the Colonel will attack.
- “Jake” trains and learns to fly a Na’vi dragon, a Banshee, by organically linking their braids.
- Jake is ritually accepted into Neytiri’s clan.
Action Amps Up
- Jake and Neytiri become bonded life-partners. Parker has the Na’vi Tree of Voices bull-dozed while Jake’s avatar is asleep. Neytiri can’t wake it up. In the human lab, a red button is revealed that can immediately sever the avatar-link.
- Jake gets back in his link-tank, only to find Neytiri screaming at him to wake up. He jumps onto a ‘dozer and knocks out its antenna. Human soldiers fire at Jake’s avatar, which runs into the forest with Neytiri. The Colonel and Parker realize that “Jake” attacked their ‘dozer.
- “Grace” tries to stop a Na’vi war party. “Jake” and Neytiri arrive holding hands, revealing to all that they’re mated. “Jake” also tries to talk the Na’vi out of attacking the humans.
- Meanwhile, Marines storm Grace’s remote operations base. Despite Norm’s resistance, the Colonel hits the red buttons. In the forest, “Jake” and “Grace” collapse mid-sentence.
- Jake sits up in his link-tank, and is punched in the face by the Colonel. Grace tells Parker she’s discovered brain-like interactions within Pandora’s global tree-root system. The Na’vi can access this network, which contains vast amounts of data and memories. The true wealth of Pandora isn’t Unobtanium; it’s wisdom. Parker laughs at her.
- Later, Parker orders the strike on the Home Tree. Jake believes he can talk the Na’vi into leaving peacefully. As Jake climbs into his link-tank, Parker gives him one hour. After that, Neytiri will die with the rest of her clan.
Plot Point II
- At the Home Tree, “Grace” and “Jake” get back up. He tells the Na’vi they have to evacuate or die. Neytiri asks if he’s known about this military plan all along. Yes, but everything changed when he fell in love… with the forest, the clan, and her.
- Neytiri she rejects “Jake,” and revokes his clan membership. “Jake” and “Grace” are tied up.
Resolution of Dramatic Premise
- Since Jake’s diplomacy failed, the Colonel’s forces set fire to the Home Tree. Neytiri abandons Jake and Grace’s bound avatars, but her mother frees them. Neytiri’s father dies.
- Parker orders the red buttons pushed, and again Jake and Grace’s avatars drop like stones. The Na’vi retreat to the Tree of Souls; taking “Grace’s” still form with them. Meanwhile, Helo Pilot 16 knocks out a guard and frees Jake, Grace and Norm from the brig.
- When the Colonel sees Helo 16 taking off, he runs outside without a breathing mask to fire his gun at them. They get away, but Grace has been shot in the gut.
- “Norm” helps Helo 16 fly off with the trailer containing their link-tanks. They head to the Flux Vortex, where the Colonel’s tracking instruments won’t work. Though Norm reports Jake has been exiled from Neytiri’s clan, Jake still has to try to convince them to help Grace.
- “Jake” wakes up, alone in the Home Tree’s ashes. His Banshee arrives and they fly off in search of the biggest, most sacred dragon – the Maktow. “Jake” jumps onto the massive creature’s back and establishes a link.
- At the Tree of Souls, the Na’vi’s mourning is interrupted by the arrival of the Maktow. Jake jumps off and de-bonds with it. Stunned, the Na’vi let him pass. He approaches Neytiri. She greets him with wide eyes and “I see you.” All is forgiven.
- “Jake” says Grace’s human body is dying. In an elaborate ritual, Grace’s tiny breathing-masked body is laid near her huge lifeless avatar. The goddess Eywa may enable Grace to transfer permanently into her Na’vi avatar. The Tree of Souls connects Grace to “Grace,” but the transfer of consciousness fails. However, there is no time to mourn.
- “Jake” instructs the Na’vi to gather the distant clans. Together they can stop the humans. “Jake” and Neytiri fly off on the Maktow. The Na’vi disperse to the corners of their world.
- The Colonel declares the Na’vi an existential threat, as satellite images show aboriginals massing to breech their safety wall. He orders a pre-emptive attack on the Tree of Souls. The troops are mostly enthusiastic. But Jake has his own spy, who spills the Colonel’s plans.
- Helo Pilot 16 worries that the Na’vi are technologically inferior, but Jake explains that the Flux Vortex will block all computerized systems.
- “Jake” visits the Tree of Souls, hoping access Grace’s memories. He links his braid to a vine that reveals the Earth is dead; more humans are coming to Pandora. He asks Eywa to save the Na’vi. Neytiri explains Eywa doesn’t take sides; she only protects life’s patterns.
- The Colonel’s air fleet enters the Flux Vortex, switching all systems to manual. He expects this fight to be fast and easy. He deploys exo-suit teams into the forest. Battles in the sky and on the ground. Armed with a machine gun, “Jake” flies the Maktow, surrounded by Na’vi on Banshees. Helo 16, fighting alongside the Na’vi, goes down and explodes. Neytiri’s Banshee is killed. “Norm” gets hit, returns to his link-tank.
- Then, on all fronts, the native animals of Pandora arrive to rally along with the Na’vi. Neytiri realizes Eywa has chosen a side after all. The tide of battle turns.
- His ship is grounded and the Tree of Souls spared, the Colonel nevertheless climbs into his exo-suit and heads for the link-tank trailer.
- Riding a huge Pandoran dog, Neytiri comes at the exo-suit, but the Colonel drops her mount with a massive knife. While Neytiri is pinned under the dog, the Colonel raises his knife to kill her. “Jake” leaps out and breaks the exo-suit’s cockpit glass. The Colonel takes a deep breath of fresh air and turns towards the trailer containing Jake’s vulnerable human body.
- “Jake” pursues as the Colonel blows his suit’s canopy and puts on a breathing mask. The exo-suit breaches the trailer’s window, and thus its airtight seal. As Jake’s body struggles to breathe, the avatar-link is broken. “Jake” falls.
- Neytiri finally frees herself from under the dog. The Colonel is about to cut “Jake’s” throat when Neytiri shoots a poisoned arrow into the Colonel’s exposed chest. As he’s about to pull out the arrow, Neytiri lands another one right next to it. The Colonel is stopped for good.
- Neytiri hovers over “Jake’s” still form, trying to wake it. Inside the trailer, human Jake pops the lid on his link-tank and gasps for air. He efforts towards an emergency re-breather, falls.
- Neytiri, still trying to wake “Jake,” realizes Jake can’t breathe inside the ruptured trailer. She leaps to it, spots his much smaller, human form. She cradles Jake in her arms, puts the re-breather over his face, but she doesn’t know to turn it on. He hits the power switch and inhales deeply. He touches her huge face with a tiny finger; her massive hand covers his. Their gazes lock as they both see each other with their own eyes for the first time.
- In voice-over, we learn that the humans who came to plunder Pandora had to return to their dying world. Only a few, like Norm, were chosen to stay. We spot Parker in a long line of humiliated marines, scientists and administrators.
- Jake records his last video-log in the master link-tank room: “Whatever happens tonight, I’m not coming back to this place.”
- At the Tree of Souls, many Na’vi are plugged in and swaying. Neytiri, her mother, tiny Jake in his breathing mask, and huge lifeless “Jake” are at the tree’s roots. Neytiri removes Jake’s mask, kisses his eyes one last time. Glowing seeds move from Jake to “Jake,” who opens his eyes, reborn…