Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Review: Avatar

Just how good is "Avatar?" During the banshee-hunting scene, when Jake Sully leapt from the floating mountain to a trailing vine, my acrophobia kicked in momentarily and I had to clutch my seat's armrest. From a technical filmmaking perspective, "Avatar" is that good.

However...I have a problem with the story.

For all its high-tech veneer, "Avatar" is an environmental anti-imperialist nativist/primitivist fantasy, translating everything that's politically correct into a scifi morality play. The film doesn't try to hide that. It thrusts it in your face. But as is the case with projects like this, the film simplifies way too much, and I'm not sure I like the underlying messages underneath it.

On the surface, "Avatar" seems to side with indigenous peoples, represented in the movie by the Navi. As presented, the primitive natives are morally superior to the rapacious earthmen, seen here to stand for today's corporations. If you want to take that stance, then fine. But if we use our history as template, the different Navi tribes would actually be at each others' throats, with the rapacious earthmen goading one side against another while mining the planet for the resources.

Oh, all right, it's a movie set on an alien world: so let's admit the myth of the alien monoculture (again). Who knows, right? But really, my first beef against "Avatar" is:

It is always some effin' enlightened WHITE DUDE who has to come and save the natives.

Can't we have natives who are capable of rising up and defeating their conquerors by themselves? How many times do we have to be fed this condescending crap? We've seen it in "Dances with Wolves." We've seen it in "The Last Samurai." If this is the message, I'll take superior firepower over moral superiority any day.

Another problem with "Avatar" is the pantheistic / immanentistic spirituality it promotes. Obviously this is the source of the Navi's morally superior (but tactically inferior) position. I'll let GK Chesteron argue against the principle of the Inner Light. My second beef with "Avatar" is:

Mysticism is fine so long as you can measure it.

Not only are the Navi morally superior, but the earth scientists have the measurements to show it! And this comes in the form of biological activity and the number of interconnections between the trees (much more than in the human brain!). Of course!

On one hand, "Avatar" admits mysticism for the Navi; but on the other hand, the mysticism becomes nothing more than physical phenomena. The Cameron giveth, the Cameron taketh away.

What if: what if anthropologists come across a tribe that worships trees? Is that a really valid worship? Or do the anthropologists smirk unless they find measurable proof that the trees really respond with biological signals? What if the tribe worships ancestors? Is that allowed? What if the tribe worships only one particular ancestor?

So in a nutshell, my problem with "Avatar" is that it's just another example of Hollywood hypocrisy, which is really just an extension of Western hypocrisy. It purports to show your native culture should be honored and respected, but only on its own terms.

Oh, and just one more problem with "Avatar:"

Avatar is a ripoff of "Fern Gully."

1 comment:

  1. Hi sir Dominic! This is Jad. You might remember me from when I submitted a piece to Dagmay not too long ago. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your review. I did one too! Best regards.