Avatar Presses Political Buttons

Mar 25, 2011 No Comments

By Derik Ohanian

James Cameron probably never has to worry about Social Security checks or welfare handouts. Because of his success, the man can comfortably rest on his own laurels. The critically acclaimed filmmaker is responsible for titanic (no pun intended) motion pictures such as The Terminator, The Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Aliens, True Lies, and of course…Titanic. His most recent venture into the cosmos entails a dramatic love-story dealing with speciesism, consciousness transcendence, and ornate botany. Yes, I’m talking about Avatar. The film surpassed all critics’ and skeptics’ expectations and became the highest grossing film of all time; even trumping Cameron’s earlier work of Titanic. I’d theorize that probably a minute percentage of fantasy film advocates haven’t witnessed the dazzling, eye spectacle that is Avatar. On top of its exorbitant profit margins, the film has worked well as a reference for current issues. Sociologists and analysts have contended that the film acts as a societal critique and highlights discrepancies between environmentalists and depletists (a pseudonym for those who exhibit reckless and negligible tendencies towards the environment) as well as emphasizing the United States’ Imperialist nature. But did Cameron and his colleagues really instill a political agenda into the film? To help answer this question, a modest synopsis of the film is required.

Situated on the lush, picturesque moon of Pandora is a fictitious species of humanoids known as the Na’avi people. The Na’avi, a native population that inhabits the skyscraping trees of Pandora, stand close to ten feet tall and are extraordinarily fit. Their shimmering blue complexion complements the heavy forestation encapsulating their sprawling villages. Compassion for the surrounding wildlife and valor in the face of danger are just a few of their virtues. They are a peaceful race but virulent if provoked. Their domain is located above a mine filled with a rare element known as “Unobtanium”.

A long story short, an intrusive group of humans infiltrate the harmonious community of the Na’avi people in order to acquire this valuable mineral. Along the way, a bunch of sentient beings die and the chief protagonist, who was part of the obliterating military in the story, has a change of heart and falls in love with the alien culture and becomes an ardent supporter of their habitat’s survival.

The demarcating line between the blatant and the allusive [references] is found in the portrayal of the thieving excursionists (they’re understood to be the American military although it is never explicit). The name of the corporation that is mining for the “Unobtanium” is the RDA and what’s most compelling is their resemblance to the preceding Presidential administration. No names will be used but let’s just say it rhymes with “push”. Anyways the RDA, along with a military faction, exploits Pandora’s resources and pillages the environment in hopes of capitalizing their gains. Their destructive nature escalates into the dissipation of much of the Na’vi homeland as they scurry to obtain as much of the Pandoran element as possible. This notion seems correlative to many skeptics’ interpretations of the reason for the Iraqi War. There is a considerable consensus that agrees the United States initially engaged in conflict with Iraq in order to extract their oil and hid under the guise of fighting terrorism to justify their actions. Although the RDA’s intentions here are obvious, the elements of destroying an environment and its inhabitants don’t go unnoticed. The military faction disregarded all sense of Na’vi culture in their pursuit for prosperity. Another international issue that holds weight in this film is the idea of sheer environmental destructiveness. Cameron and his crew meticulously crafted the scenes in the film where we witnessed the most catastrophes to the plant life. This was most probably done to show the ramifications of our actions in our global industrial efforts. In fact, Cameron vocalized his contempt in an interview with the UK Sun,in December of last year, in which he stated, “We are destroying species faster than we can classify them…We are destroying the food chain faster than we can understand it.” He also told Today’s Meredith Viera, “And here they (the human militants) are doing the same thing on another pristine planet that we’ve done here on earth. So it’s a way, sort of looking back at ourselves from this other world and seeing what we’re doing here.” Our efforts to advance technology and business might be resulting in the depleting of natural resources. The allusions to early American colonialism aren’t neglected either as the portrayal of the Na’vi to be unintelligent primitives are well documented. The dominant military faction assumes the inferiority of the alien race is attributed by their savage nature and their differing lifestyles. This becomes quite apparent toward the end of the film as the RDA and the Na’vi engage in a violent battle. The corporatist military employs heavy guns and artillery against the native’s archaic bow and arrows. Cameron might’ve tried to invoke empathy in viewers by embellishing the disparities between the weapons’ technologies. With the film remaining parallel with history, many scholars have chastised the early colonial settlers’ decisions to decimate the Native Americans with their industrialized arsenal of death. As noted in Avatar, the Na’vi were disadvantaged in regards to their technology, much like the early Natives.

Whether Cameron’s emphatic opinion appeases you or wretches your conscience, it’s tough to contend with the fact that the man knows how to make a political statement. And for all of you fanboys out there…rumor has it there’s a sequel in the works.

Spring 2010

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