Monday, December 28, 2009

Defending Avatar

I recently had the pleasure of seeing the blockbuster film Avatar in 3D. Although it's difficult for me to sit through a 160-minute film, no matter how captivating it is, I really enjoyed this one, and not just because of the amazing visuals. Of course, it's impossible to see the film without noting the myriad political and social statements that James Cameron makes. Much of the film revolves around humans attempting to exploit the resources of a distant inhabited moon, to the detriment of the native humanoid population there. Earth has become war-torn and devoid of natural resources, so humanity is willing to kill the alien race in order to access the moon's precious minerals.

My friends have been vocal about how transparent these themes are. People seem insulted by the fact that the film hits you over the head with the white guilt concept. I don't mind that so much. What's the merit in making it more subtle? This goes so far as to suggest that James Cameron shouldn't be making movies, because he's white, and that he should step aside and let actual members of oppressed minorities make movies (because apparently they don't). Kind of ridiculous.

Another cool theme in the movie deals with the evils of capitalism. People on Earth were so obsessed with their stock dividends that they didn't care if the corporations they invested in were committing genocide to improve their bottom line.

I also liked the parallels between Avatar and American imperialism. The humans in Avatar used phrases like "stay the course" and "we'll fight terror with terror." In addition, they thought the solution to dealing with the people on the distant moon was to impose our own values and norms on them, when in reality they were perfectly fine with their own lifestyle.

I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from Avatar, some subtle and some not-so-subtle. It may not be a sophisticated art film filled with metaphors and symbolism, but it wasn't trying to be that. A lot of its social commentary is very valid, relevant and timely.

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