Avatar: A Sunglass Wearer’s ReviewDecember 23, 2009 at 9:01 am | Posted in Entertainment Review | Leave a comment
In the 1988 film They Live, “Rowdy” Roddy Pipper discovers he is living in a society which has been overrun by a malevolent alien presence. The invaders, disguised as humans, have infiltrated every nook and cranny of society, controlling government and other institutions. They propagate their will through subliminal messages dispensed in media. Special sunglasses enable the wearer to see through the alien illusion, revealing both the content of subliminal messaging and the identity of the aliens themselves. It is with homage to this film that Fightin Words presents entertainment reviews intended to look beneath the surface and decode the messages and influences within. As this objective is substantially different from the typical entertainment review, the reader should expect spoilers.
Human beings are a disease, a cancerous infection which will kill this planet before moving out into the galaxy to kill others. Such is the apparent thesis of Avatar, a landmark film which has been in the works for many years.
The author of Avatar is James Cameron, director of Titanic, Aliens, and the better Terminator films. Cameron has long been a trailblazer in the craft of filmmaking, leveraging state-of-the-art technology to produce imagery unlike anything seen before. Seeing Avatar in a format other than IMAX 3D would be like going back to the middle of the last century and watching a Technicolor film in black and white. It would not be the intended experience. Just as early adopter’s of color sometimes chose outrageous palates (the Star Trek and Batman television shows come to mind), an early adopter of 3D might be tempted to throw objects in the viewer’s face. Cameron avoids such gratuitous gimmickry. Instead, his use of 3D serves only to immerse the audience further into the world portrayed on screen. After the first five minutes, one’s awareness of the third-dimension becomes minimal, much as one’s awareness of lighting, color, or other aspects of film typically fade to the background while remaining essential to the overall experience.
Aside from 3D, the other technology fully realized is computer animation. Motion capture techniques have allowed filmmakers to transfer actors’ performances to computer generated characters for several years. However, none have done so on the scale of Avatar, or with as much success. This film proves that literally anything is possible. There may be no limit to what can be portrayed on screen. With perhaps only a few years of development, directors may be able to bring back actors from the dead to reprise old roles; and the performances alongside others will be thoroughly convincing. Whether such a capacity will lead to anything good is yet to be seen. But it is certainly amazing to behold.
It is unfortunate Cameron wastes this impressive technology on the craft of blatant propaganda. Vulnerable viewers , particularly children, will likely come away convinced Earth is a living conscious organism being maliciously murdered by corporations and consumers. Previous films have attempted to carry this water. Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening come to mind. But none have been as effective. Cameron is a master of weaving character and narrative. Although the story of Avatar is fairly cookie-cutter and predictable, its execution is sublime, making it a potent delivery system for the political and social messages within.
The most creative aspect of the story is reflected in the title. Protagonist Jake Sully, played ably by relative newcomer Sam Worthington, is a marine turned corporate mercenary who utilizes technology to project his consciousness into a genetically engineered alien body. In this avatar form, Sully is able to interact with the natives of Pandora, a planet which contains many natural wonders, including a rare mineral valuable to human enterprise. Sully’s mission is to convince the natives, called Na’vi, to relocate from their village atop a rich deposit of the mineral his employer seeks. As Sully learns the Na’vi ways, and cozies up to the chieftain’s daughter, it becomes increasingly clear that violent conflict is inevitable. You can imagine how it goes from there, and you would be right.
The science fiction set pieces thinly veil analogs of Western military powers, capitalism, and aboriginal peoples. The story primarily serves to protest Western institutions and promote the New Age religion of environmentalism, human inferiority to nature, and accountability to a collective consciousness. Here are a few examples: The facility from which the human corporation operates on Pandora has a pentagon-shaped perimeter. The Na’vi are referred to as terrorists after defending their homes. The dress and grooming of the Na’vi is lifted directly from Native American culture. The term “shock and awe” is used. The term “preemptive strike” is used. The term “tree-hugger” is repeatedly used in a derogatory manner by the villains. The Na’vi have the ability to physically link with the plants and animals of their planet and share their consciousness. Dead Na’vi are said to return to the “Mother,” a pantheistic consciousness composed of Pandora’s collective lifeforce. Pseudo-scientific explanations lend credence to this native religion; at one point Signorney Weaver tries to explain to her corporate master that the planet’s trees share neurological connections similar too and more numerous than the human brain. Pandora is alive, you are meant to infer, and the humans are killing Her.
At no point is any distinction made between Pandora’s nature and Earth’s. In fact, in a prayer to the Na’vi nature god which occurs late in the film, Jake Sully says of his fellow humans, “There is no green [on Earth]. They killed their mother.” The implication is Earth too is a kind of pantheistic entity superior to its inhabitants. If the resolution of Avatar is meant to suggest a real world solution to environmental problems, Cameron’s prescription is the elimination of humanity. The timing of this film’s release with the end of the climate convention in Copenhagen and the emerging debate over cap-and-trade seems as intentional as the two-dimensional portrayal of its human villains. One may note much of the rhetoric surrounding Copenhagen, and the environmental movement in general, calls for much of humanity to be wiped from the earth. Despite Copenhagen’s apparent failure, if its real life villains get their way, increased food prices will surely lead to a thinning of the Third World herd. It will not be the 75% to 90% reduction in human population some have called for. But, as Hitler would likely agree, a few million is a good start.