Did you know the script of James Cameron’s Avatar, the 3D blockbuster from 2009, originally called for a full-on psychedelic vision quest? The scene must have gotten cut fairly late in production, because it was filmed with live actors and animation had already begun. The CGI renders were left in a blocky, unfinished state, but it’s easy to tell what’s going on.
Titled “The Dream Hunt,” the scene is a fascinating glimpse into the spirituality of Pandora’s native Na’vi culture. The main character, Jake Sulley, agrees to take part in the initiation ceremony, in which he must take potent psychedelics in order to become a man.
“The Na’vi say every person is born twice,” explains Jake. “The second time is when you earn your place among the people — forever.”
Mushrooms and mosses glow in every imaginable color, filling the night with pastel hues — I can only imagine what trippy molecules those organisms might churn out.
A communal and deeply spiritual ceremony, the scene reflects a clear influence from indigenous medicine ceremonies here on Earth. Led by a skilled shaman, the circle of Na’vi tribespeople chant, drum, and dance as the initiate is led further and further into the trance state. And much like ayahuasca, the journey is launched by a combination of two different organisms. Instead of chacruna leaves and thick vines of caapi, however, the Na’vi initiation employs more exotic species.
First, Jake eats a sacred glowing worm which is said to contain a mysterious “psychoactive alkaloid” and reward the seeker with “a true vision.” Then he is bitten by a scorpion-like insect, shouting out in pain. This is a jungle planet whose mushrooms and mosses glow in every imaginable color, filling the night with pastel hues — I can only imagine what trippy molecules those organisms might churn out.
Jake’s vision starts to blur, and time slows down. The music turns to dissonant wailing. He starts to lose his balance.
Before long, he is perceives the pure energy of the beings around him — instead of solid matter he sees filaments of light, suspended in space. Meanwhile, his physical form retches on the ground, curling in discomfort. Jake’s spirit ascends into the heavens, and his spirit animal is revealed to him.
For the rest — well, you just have to watch the scene. It’s really a shame it wound up on the cutting room floor.
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