The other day I was talking about aliens in fiction, which got me thinking about Avatar, which then brought to mind Stargate, and two other movies that feature tales of personal expansion in a new, unexplored world, and finding love there as a culmination of the journey. So in today’s exploration of alien tropes, we have Finding Love in an Alien World.
Finding love in an alien world: The energy of this trope is of a main character, usually a man, feeling called and pulled to a completely different and foreign, distant, alien land, world or country. I will also refer to the main character as the entity. We’re pulled into the mind of this entity, into his world and the dissatisfaction he feels, as his desire for expansion increases, and suddenly demands a better adventure for him to find fulfillment and satisfaction in this life: that is when he becomes the protagonist of the story. He wants to satisfy his calling, and a whole story spawns to fulfill that.
The foreign aspect of the land needs to be utterly non-visited to the global social group the main character belongs to, to the point that it’s a complete fracture away from the world that he knows. It is not about going abroad (a trope found in Midnight in Paris), because “abroad” implies that the place you’re going to, is, while beyond your frontiers, still known. The entity here is called to travel beyond the known.
So, that energy is usually represented with a whole new galaxy or planet.
In both Stargate and Avatar, the pull for this new and different world is so strong, it involves interstellar travel. Daniel is pulled to a different planet that’s located in an entirely different galaxy across the universe, and in Avatar, Jake satisfies himself with just traveling within the solar system.
In both cases however, the place is completely unknown to both of them. Jake has heard of Pandora growing up, but the idea to him is a myth. Abydos, while exploring potential genesis ideas of known Earth artifacts (the pyramids), is an utterly brand-new world unheard of by humans. We’ll see a little below why it needs to be unheard of by other humans.
Which brings me to my second point, the entity has to be and feel “stuck, back here on Earth”. Avatar‘s example is the best one, because Jake is physically paralyzed. His disability is both the reason he feels stuck, and a metaphor for him feeling stuck. He has heard of the wonders of some other, far away planet mainly occupied by the military, and he dreams of it to escape his life. His routine is unsatisfying, he is contained in an environment that’s repressing him.
In Stargate, Jackson just doesn’t belong. His feeling stuck comes from not having found the place for himself in any societies or human groups, because his nerdiness and interests make him a bit of an outcast.
Just like Daniel, Jake also hasn’t exactly found his place in his society, although in his case, it isn’t entirely innate: he’s become ostracized because of his disability, and lost his place in his world because of it. Pandora for him is the ideal world because it will allow him to find mobility again, which is his biggest dream. By traveling to this new world, he physically and literally returns to a state of non-stuckness. Pandora is what gets his life moving.
For Jackson, Abydos is his ideal world because that is where his skills shine, are useful and are the most recognized. Back on Earth, he was lucky that someone took a chance on him after he was seen for his potential. But on Abydos, his potential is sated and fulfilled, his potential leads the dance (he’s the one who communicates with the natives and his presence is essential to make anything work). Both of them expand dramatically when exporting themselves to their unknown world.
And that leads me to the final attribute of this world, the fact that it’s unexplored. Pandora is largely unexplored in that only certain groups have been “allowed” there: governmental groups, investors, and scientists. None which have left their mark on this world. These three groups are the main task force and mean that global human access to Pandora has been restricted, as it’s not energetically open to the public.
Since it’s not yet known to humanity, it’s not part of the map yet, which means it’s still of interest to the protagonist, because it has not yet been tapped into. That’s why I mentioned a bit earlier that the rest of humanity can’t know or have entered this place yet. The protagonist can’t feel that his potential is fulfilled in a place where other people have left an energetic imprint, their mark. In this sense, he is a pioneer, although that final point feels a bit like daydream to me, an idealization that not many people in the real world get to experience.
The military is also at a stalemate in Pandora: they are unable to establish any kind of sustainable long-term contact with the Na’vi (they’ve established their own base, but at the expense of Pandora itself).
That aspect means the planet has been unconquered, which means no other person has had the role of the pioneer, of leaving their mark behind. That is where the protagonist comes in. Jake is the one who “conquers” Pandora because he’s the first one to blend with it and immerse himself in it.
These two ideas are what’s important here: unexplored and untapped into, because that is where these protagonists feel that they can fulfill their own purpose. They accomplish something important (I’m sensing a wish fulfillment regarding a need to matter, here) that only they can do. They cannot have anyone else having already consumed the place with their energy. This untapped into energy is a match to the entity’s desire to tap into his own potential, and when the two meet, they can both explode forward.
Other galaxy or planet: my guess on the need for a literal new planet is that Earth has already been explored too much, removing the auspicious conditions for fulfillment. Earth in this sense is not fresh enough to enable this energy to be. On a side note, Disney’s Pocahontas which features the exact same trope, involves a “new world” through undiscovered parts of the globe. To the English settlers, the “new world” is a landmass they’ve never heard of before: it was an exercise in discovering the world. I didn’t want to mention Pocahontas because of the historical inaccuracies, which doesn’t sit well with me, but I’ll have a brief mention because of this trope. In the movie, John Smith is portrayed as a curious and avid explorer. He did belong in his previous life (his peer admire him), but, his connection to the other protagonists, he’s more blase about his life and is looking for something more. His exploring of other lands made yearn for something different.
Why is it their calling to do that?
I’m not really sure, so my guess on that is as good as anyone’s, so if you have any ideas yourself, feel free to write them down in the comments.
I mentioned above fulfillment of their purpose: in his original environment, the bearer of this energy doesn’t feel useful. And so he doesn’t belong.
Here’s a list:
- Feeling useful: in original environment, the entity doesn’t feel useful. He’s primarily unrecognized, so he doesn’t have a use, because of that, he doesn’t have a…
- Purpose: the point is for him to find a purpose. But he won’t find one where he lies because he’s unrecognized. And because he’s unrecognized, he doesn’t belong, and so…
- Belonging: he ultimately wants to belong. Somewhere. Feeling useful also leads to us…
- Importance: the protagonist wants to feel important and valued. The less he’s useful, the more his needs are “unmet”, the more he begins to hopelessly fantasize about a place where he can do something with that desire.
These three needs already spell out the need for some novelty. From then on we have:
- Novelty: around him everything’s already been done. The world’s been discovered, the tools to discover it have been created, the maps have been drawn, trade has started, yada yada. He needs to export himself somewhere that will need him. That’s where we get the idea of the foreign land.
Finding love in a foreign place
Mid-journey, the bearer of this energy enters a culmination point where they also find love.
An interesting trope to note is, often the protagonist falls in love with a female figure with a prominent role in her society. She’s prominent in that way because accessing her means accessing this new world in its entirety. Falling in love with her is then a natural part of this journey: she’s the representation of everything he wants.
That leads me to two other movies that I’ll briefly explore: Pocahontas and Atlantis. I wanted to note that Pocahontas, Avatar, Stargate and Atlantis all involve a female deuteragonist whose social standing allows the protagonist to cement himself in this new world. Pocahontas, like Neytiri, like Sha’uri, and like Kida, are all daughters of the clan leader or king. Furthermore, by entering into a relationship with the clan’s daughter, more often than not, the protagonist ensures he is either the next clan leader, or a prominent figure in his new society (need for importance and purpose, check and check).
It’s quite funny to me that Atlantis was inspired by Stargate, and Avatar by Pocahontas.
There’s not much to say about this part of the journey overall, since in this world, he finds his calling, he also finds his soulmate. It’s the culmination of the hero’s journey. On a final note, finding love in this new world is what makes this world into a permanent home. Entering into a relationship with this woman of high standing cements him into this place.
“Is this worth watching?“
We’ll answer that question.
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