- December 22nd, 2009
So, I saw Avatar on Saturday. I will probably see it again, just to take in all the little bits and pieces that one tends to miss when watching a grand movie of this scope.
Now,before I tell you that it is good, that if you have the spare money you run and go see it, that if you have the spare cash and are near a 3-d movie theatre that you simply must see it, let us talk about the issues that are with Avatar- and the fact the issues do illuminate problems in our Western world.
1) The White Guy: Yes, there is a white guy, Jake Sully, who serves as our own Avatar into this rich and complex world, inhabited by those who called themselves the N'Avi. He does get absorbed into the culture- but this is not Dances with Wolves. Not at all. Cameron shows that actually, this White Guy does not have much privilege at all. He is a ex-Marine, crippled as a result of war, and whose spine is not fixed because of stingy VA benefits and an economy that sounds like ours, only worse. That an Avatar- a bioengineered N'Avi- can be constructed for use on a mining world yet a veteran of war- a fellow Human being- can be left paralyzed is something that stuck with me. In this vision of the future, while it may be nice to be white, it's so much better to have money- and even then, that's dangerous, for Jake's brother, for who he acts as a replacement, was mugged and murdered for the money in his pocket.
2) The N'Avi: These are not Noble Savages, even though at first they come off that way. Because Jake serves as our Avatar, we get to know them in bits and pieces. What we do know, is that the N'Avi have their own warriors- not just against the natural elements on the planet ( and what natural elements they are!) but against other tribes as well. Their Great Home Tree serves as a sort of U.N., and a repository of the culture ( you have to see the film to find out how.) Suffice to say, these are not savages, but a sophisticated people with an understanding of their world and themselves.
What Cameron does is that he performs a trick on the audience: We think that the N'Avi are savages, and so does the trading company that wants to get rid of them, by nature of their nudity. This is not the case.
3) The need for bosoms: a cop out, actually. Because the N'Avi are based on some easily recognizable Earth Tribes (Amerindian Brazilians, The Ma'asii) Jake's companion, Nyteri, would have most likely been a male, one whom Jake would be invited to sleep with. ( I will have post some time about how African sexuality was corrupted by Western influences- and that includes homosexuality, but that's for another time.) And since these weren't supposed to be placental mammals anyway- then where's the harm in having Jake fall in love with a blue, prehensile tailed male?
4) Humanity: The whole underlying issue in Avatar is the problem of being Human. In the future, it seems that Humans are incredibly resourceful. It also seems that we still have a money based economy and a everlasting taste for war and death ( There are three conflicts listed- Nigeria, Columbia and China- and guys, it's completely believable). Earth is literally killing itself, and in our exploration of the stars, we have constructed a new version of the East India Company, ready to exploit- if not murder and enslave inconvienent natives if they do not give us what WE Humans want.
We greedy, angry, shitty, violent Humans, whose only reason for being on this world is to dig it up and start killing it the way we are killing our own planet.
That's the real crux of Avatar: not the problem of The White Guy, but the literally the problem of Humanity. Avatar is about one man's assertion of and rejection of his own very humanity in order to pursue a greater moral truth. This is not so much a anti war, pro green movie as it is a movie about humanity, connection to our world and recognition of our violent, stupid greed.
Cameron does not propose that we all stop and go be like XYZ tribe- that's privilege writ large. What he does do, however, is question our humanity and ask a very important question: Who are we, and what do we want? Shall we go native, and assert our humanity and take care of each other, or do we continue to serve a machine?
In short, go see Avatar.