Monday, January 11, 2010

Thoughts on Cameron's "Avatar"

(warning: spoilers)

I've seen Avatar twice, both times in 3-D. I enjoyed it as a story--I thought it did its storytelling pretty well, moved along, and kept one engaged. The first time I saw it, my general response was "Well, nice to see the little guy win in the movies, since that hardly ever happens in the real world (to wit: native Americans, native Australians etc. etc. etc.)"

The second time I saw it, I went straight from the movie to Sunday dinner with not one but TWO Australian Anglican priests (NOT Episcopalian, but honest-to-God Anglicans). The younger of the two said, in response to a question about his opinion of the movie, that it was "the same old American tale rehashed yet again" and that "Hollywood has a limited number of narratives". He went on to say the Americans are just retelling their own story of the little guys standing up against the overwhelmingly superior military power and somehow (miraculously) winning out against all odds--the whole Revolutionary War/War for Independence.

This fascinated me and I found myself mentally casting the movie in a new light. I realized that while on the surface it seems to be very clearly castigating W. (with his whole Bush doctrine/preemptive strike against the people who are (arguably justifiably) pissed off at us) and the whole American military/industrial complex (to wit: the U.S. represents 5% of the world's population but spends 55% of the world's budget for guns/bombs/miltary aircraft et. al.), underneath the movie is really just perpetuating the myth of redemptive violence which leads (more or less directly) to the *existence* of the military/industrial complex, 100,000 extant nuclear warheads, etc. etc. etc.

Which is to say that it would have been way kewler and way more heartfelt, somehow, if Cameron had done something more interesting like have all the natives lie down in front of the bulldozers with their babies (see: Rachel Corrie) or all show up at the physical location of the humans factory/compound and simply wait to be let in, totally unarmed, until they starved or were helped, after their home tree had been destroyed. Something more Ghandi/MLK Jr.esque.

Instead what we have is Sully convincing himself of the idea that he is no longer one of the humans--to the extent that he calls them aliens at the end of the movie--in the same way that Americans have more-or-less convinced ourselves that we are no longer one of the Brits/leaders of the most-powerful-and-thus-necessarily-increasingly-Machiavellian empire. Thus *we*, unlike those evil humans/Brits/what-have-you, can now exercise violence for the good, rather than for something far-less-than-the-good (which is what "they" were using it for).

I'm not convinced. In the real world, the Native Americans commit fewer atrocities than the Americans of European descent not because they have a better religion and thus can exercise violence more benignly, but rather because they simply got their butts royally kicked. In the real world, the Na'vi, having gotten a taste for butt-kicking, would have done exactly what we Americans have done--emulated, more-or-less, the worldview (oh dear FSM, I've used that word) of the seemingly more powerful culture whose butt they just kicked, and built bigger starships to go take over earth and export their morally superior Na'vi ways to the humans, with only the very best of intentions. This would have led to humans being 'accidentally' tortured to death in prisons on earth by a few "bad Na'vi apples". etc. etc.

There's my 2 cents.

Still, for the kewl 3-D thing and the pure swashbuckling adventure, and even just to climb on the increasingly large bandwagon, I'd recommend going to see it in the theatre, in 3-D--preferably in IMAX 3-D. Go on--you can afford the $15-$20. I mean if you're reading this, you're probably not one of the 2 billion people living on $2/day or less.

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