"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

déjà vu: a comparative analysis of James Cameron's Avatar

i watched Avatar with my fam last night. i enjoyed it, really, and maybe one of the most enjoyable facts was how my dad and i became really absorbed in the narrative, [spoiler alert:] cheering on the Na'vi, boo'ing the imperialists/capitalists/US foreign policy surrogates.

for those of you who haven't seen it yet, i would recommend seeing it soon, but mostly because i think the theatre surround sound and giant image add a lot to the experience. if you can, see it at a 3D iMax (which we did not, [my mom and i get motion-sick] but the whole time i wondered what it would be like [probly the closest to tripping on acid i will ever get]).

those of you who can't afford to see it in 3D iMax (esp those of you in CA, where those tickets can cost close to $20!), let me save you some of the suspense: my brother called it cliché, "it had the same gist as The Last Samurai and Dances with Wolves." (mm, not true? i believe in The Last Samurai the "natives," that is, the samurai, actually lose. and i haven't seen Dances, but at least it didn't distort or adulterate a historically significant theme [colonialism vs. "native" culture] with fantastical allegory, at least Dances was explicitly and unequivocally talking about Native Americans... right?)

despite its predictable story arch, Avatar does throw in some delightfully sharp jabs at recent foreign policy, mainly, US adminsitrations' predilection for forgoing diplomacy and resorting to force – quotes such as "fight terror with terror" and "shock and awe" were pulled right from Rumsfeld's mouth, generating huge snickers from me and my dad. (i wonder, too, about how uncomfortable the film might make staunch republicans, Bush fans, FoxNews junkies, Glenn Beck nutsacks, and jingoes, once they get past the colorful images and realize that the film is asking them to cheer against what they believe in. has Glenn Beck seen Avatar and/or done a review yet?)

Avatar, just like Lord of the Rings before it, uses the winsome conceit of fantasy to send us a much-needed message about how our modern lives are ruining the beauty of the world around us (indeed, the world without us). Avatar allows us to sink just deep enough into its fantasy to absorb its message, but i wonder if the message gets left behind as soon as we leave the world of Pandora and step out of the darkened movie theatre. as a kid watching the LOTR films, i eagerly took up where Peter Jackson left off, i wanted to be a hobbit and live in a Shire-like community, and i felt that meant we needed to protect our (Middle) Earth better. i started an environmental club at my high school, i got my family to recycle more and waste less. small actions probably, but illustrative. in contrast, leaving the theatre after Avatar made me feel exhilarated, but more in a "wow, what a really awesome movie" kind of way (residual spectacle). later, i felt bitter and angry as my thoughts turned to the surge in Afghanistan (no thoughts about the beauty of earth and nature).

i guess the significant difference between these two comparable films is this: while LOTR grounded its story in something fantastical, it still seemed plausible (warriors who looked like nothing stranger than medieval crusaders, trees who could walk and talk – this doesn't seem so strange if you accept the idea that the natural world is teeming with life and hidden beauty, which i do). Avatar, to use a phrase from the main character, was too "dream-like" to be real. and that's the problem, it is real. wars against native peoples and cultures happen all the time, thru brutal, irreverent force and extermination, and ppl don't see it or don't care. what good does it do for these things to be brought to the surface but to be forgotten in spectacle?

finally, a word about representation: i found it difficult to enjoy the movie for the first half an hour or so, because i was deeply disturbed by the way the "natives" were depicted. long braids, tall alien-like bodies and cat-like features, broken english, scarce clothing, hissing and animal-like agility... it was a biting reminder that our society often thinks of ethnic as "strange" or curious (disturbingly, something about the Na'vis faces, in addition to looking cat-like, suggested that the actors playing them were ethnic, which was what prickled me most ["native" = ethnic, colonialists = "white"] because it suggests that ethnic peoples are somehow wild or alien). for more on what i mean, see this article on what it means to wear "ethnic" fashion.
(update! this article from a really great website on representation, picks Avatar apart quite aptly. again, spoiler alert!)

and, for those still wanting to see the movie but without the means to do it, this video sums it up nicely as well:


edit! found this great image that sums it up pretty nicely:


Benjamin Kuebrich said...

great review, stef.

i was listening to NPR talk about the film and they mentioned that the navi have big eyes and other features that make them appear more baby-like, triggering the emotional response in humans to want to protect them. as i was watching the film, i was wondering if anyone watching the film could cheer against the navi, but i think that this conscious choice in facial features and other facts of imperial brutality and greed make it unlikely.

nice addition of the Pocahontas, by the way.

Aurora Borealis
The icy sky at night
Paddles cut the water
In a long and hurried flight
From the white man to the fields of green
And the homeland we've never seen

stephan!e lee said...

thanks, ben. that's interesting about the large eyes, i didn't think about that, just made the connection to ET and other stereotypical alien features.

and what are those words at the end? spontaneous poem, folk story?

Anonymous said...

AVATAR: Satanic Illuminati movie EXPOSED

The occultic meaning of the word "Avatar" is really Lucifer/Satan. -That alone should have raised eyebrows, but it didn't lol
-Think about that for a minute..what would happen if James Cameron just named the film -SATAN- ...would people then want to consider the real meaning behind the film?

The entire Movie/Entertainment industry is a well financed satanic psychological war operation being executed upon the public right before their eyes.

Just like all the other Illuminati controlled industry, the Movie/Entertainment industry is a tool designed to advance their agenda of a "New World Order" and the deceptions that come along with it.

In the satanic Illuminati occult dogma, the term "AVATAR" represents their coming Anti-christ, and is the Illuminati occult representation of Satan incarnate.

The Illuminati believe that through science they will be able to genetically produce a "Body" or "Host" that can then be possessed by the actual spirit of Lucifer/Satan.

This "host" that the spirit of Satan will inhabit is called the "AVATAR"

James Cameron has actually named his entire film project based around the satanic doctrines of demonic possession and modern DNA manipulation, in which the Illuminati seek to bring about the "New Age humanoid", or demonically possessed biological human entity.