Friday, 26 February 2010
See the elephant, Cut up didoes, Crazy as a lion. These are phrases that were widely used in the United States 150 years ago when New York was Gotham and long before it was The Big Apple.
Since then, figures of speech have vanished and been replaced, words have been contracted and terms have evolved.
Avatar is set in the year 2154, 150 years from now. Rockets have developed into spaceships, man can physically become one with machine, and his mind can be king in a foreign body and yet...we speak as we always did. Or should I say, as we do.
It is easy to extrapolate the present into a mechanised future and it is a simple step to imagine earthly beings with a twist of the exotic. In all sorts of ways more attention is lavished on Pandora than on us. Humankind may not have learnt its moral lessons in Avatar but the film-making fails to rise to or acknowledge the challenge of communicating the cultural leap from now to then through the linguistic footprints of an intervening century and a half. A culture exposed to extraterrestrial influence, no less.
Things change, especially in times of war and struggle. Screwing us, Death from Above. The film talks to us in our language throughout with, what should be for them, archaic words and anachronistic references.
Blade Runner unveils a world grown smaller, with the shards of other languages embedded in our own. There is a mix but the ingredients of each language are not altered by the other. New words for new objects and new concepts but no progression and no fruition. New languages for newly discovered peoples in Avatar, Star Trek and hundreds of other films but, all the while, English remains untouched. Perfected and polished.
This is not a criticism of Avatar in particular. I don't think any film has succeeded in this aspect. The vast majority do not try. It is a very difficult task, to subtly and intelligently sculpt a new English. It is an undertaking, no doubt, open to ridicule. But wouldn't it be wonderful to make tangible that we have gone forward in time and not just outward in space? Wouldn't it be rousing to feel how our future is their past, how disease and triumph and invention have shaped them.
Our language is as close a telling of our history as the artefacts in our museums. Why, then, do we never realise the incongruity of a way of communicating locked in a cryo capsule and released at journey's end?