Posted by: bmeverett | January 4, 2010

Avatar: “Star Wars” meets “Dances with Wolves.”

I have never done a movie review, but I feel compelled to comment on James Cameron’s new blockbuster AVATAR, which I saw last week. [Warning: Plot details coming!] This movie is like a hot fudge sundae full of little pebbles. Most of the film is sweet and delicious, but every few minutes you bite down on something painful and inedible. It’s really hard to enjoy.
As anyone who’s been awake at any time in the past few weeks knows, the film concerns a greedy Earth corporation which has established a base on another planet called Pandora, populated by a race of primitive beings called the Navi. The corporation discovers that under the Navi’s massive tree house lie huge deposits of a mineral called “unobtainium.” (Yes, that name actually came from the mind of some writer and passed through several layers of editing without being replaced by something less stupid.) The Navi unreasonably refuse to vacate the tree house, so are of course attacked with high-tech weapons by security forces of the evil corporation. The Navi have nothing but arrows and spears, but prevail in the end with the help of Mother Nature and a few misfits from EvilCorp.
The visuals are stunning, and I didn’t even see the movie in 3-D. To enjoy this beauty, however, here’s what you have to swallow.
First, the entire movie is based on the “noble savage” myth. In 1672, playwright John Dryden introduced the idea of “nature’s gentleman” – a pure individual uncorrupted by civilization. Many Americans continue to see 19th century American Indians in this way, and the parallels between Indians and the Navi are less than subtle. The “noble savage” is peaceful, wise, spiritual, stoic and utterly in tune with nature. His folk wisdom includes magical healing powers and insights beyond the comprehension of the morons who live in the civilized world. This view is and has always been nothing more than a conceit of western civilization. In reality, pre-industrial people are just dirt poor. Their life expectancy is short, and they are plagued with ill-health, infant mortality, violence, long hours of back-breaking labor and few if any comforts. Note that we don’t see many American “progressives” or environmentalists emigrating to Haiti or Sub-Saharan Africa to enjoy this “ennobling” lifestyle.
Second, the movie is deeply anti-American. The Earthlings in this film are not some multicultural mix, like the crews of the Star Trek series. They look and talk like Americans but, unlike actual Americans, are aggressive, crass and racist. They call the Navi “blue monkeys.” The military men are ex-marines in the service of nasty corporate interests, and their commander is a violent psychopath – a left-wing caricature of the US military. Cameron clearly believes that the American military ought to be a source of shame, not pride.
Cameron, like others of his ilk, sees the United States as the world’s villain, even though the US is an open, tolerant and democratic society which has allowed its own people plus millions of immigrants to become wealthy from their own labor and spent most of the 20th century saving the world first from German militarism, then from fascism and finally from communism. The left has no criticism for The People’s Republic of China, an oppressive and undemocratic government which has murdered millions of its own people and subjugated Tibet, and which continues to kill and imprison dissidents, suppress religion, execute common criminals by the thousands, build a powerful military machine, threaten democratic neighbors like Taiwan, pollute its cities and spew more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere than any other country.
Third, the movie accepts another major premise of the left – corporations are completely amoral and would kill you for a buck. The head honcho of the corporation in “Avatar” – a young smart-ass – decides to attack the Navi because his “shareholders will accept some bad press before they’ll accept poor quarterly results.”
If we combine these premises, you can see the real point of the movie. The American military, in the service of corporate interests, invades someone else’s land to steal their valuable mineral wealth. When the locals object, the powers-that-be make an insincere diplomatic offer, then engage in a campaign described in the film as “shock and awe.” When the local people organize to fight back, the corporation calls them terrorists and claims the right to a “preemptive strike.” Any of this sound familiar?
Even though the audience will find the Americans brutal and frightening, everyone can take comfort in the inevitable victory of the people over the American war machine. What tips the balance? A revolt by nature itself, which sends Pandora’s equivalent of vicious dogs, rhinos and dragons to dispatch the wicked American foe. Jake, one of the four Americans who ultimately side with the Navi, prays to Pandora’s spirit for help, confessing the mortal sin of American society: “The Earth has no green left. They killed their mother.” Luckily for us (oops, I mean them) the Navi are merciful winners and simply send us (oops, sorry, them) back to their “dead planet.”
Perhaps in the sequel, Americans will repent and resurrect Al Gore to rule over us as “noble savages.” I can hardly wait.



  1. Your daughter thinks its a great Movie

    • My daughter could not have enjoyed the movie, since she was too busy complaining about her Irish boss.

  2. Honestly, I could not understand the point of the movie except for fascinating technology demonstrated in the theater. The ‘firework show’, from my point of view apparently takes advantage of the heat of environmental issues without making its own views but receives good fortune from it. Sounds familiar?

  3. Haha, I haven’t seen it yet and the various confirmations of “zero plot, good but probably headache-inducing effects” make me reluctant to do so. Have you read Brooks’ take on it? Interesting stuff:

  4. What i find difficult is to find a blog that can capture me for a minute but i think you offer something different. Keep it like this.

  5. Your daughter actually liked dancing with wolves – true quote

    • I’m sure she liked the film. Not so sure about the politics.

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