Avatar, the most expensive movie ever made, has, before it even premiered in theaters, become a turning point for cinema. Critics, film producers and cinemaphiles have recognized that unless the movie was a complete plop, it would change movie making forever, and with the movie premiering at number 1, it seems their predictions were accurate. I saw the movie opening night, and it does look incredible. The 3-D added depth to the film without being a cheesy gimmick. The high definition motion capture set a new standard for realism in computer generated animation. The movie is sure to become a science-fiction/fantasy classic along with movies like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Terminator, and Batman.
However, what exactly are the repercussion Avatar's success will have on the film industry and American consciousness? What do the plot, the new movie making technology and America's obsession with being someone else mean for where we are and where we are going?
The world of Avatar is a science fiction version of Iraq. Humans occupy parts of the world of Pandorum, and seek to drill for a mineral called 'unobtonium.' We are never told what the mineral is used for, but it apparently sells for quite a bit of money back on earth. The Na'vi are the native people on Pandorum and these 10 foot tall blue warrior hippies are not friendly to the mining operation. Played by an ensemble of Black actors, the Na'vi represent a number of forces opposed to American imperialism.
The movie follows Jake Sully played by Sam Worthington as he is hired by a blackwater inspired corporate military operation to protect the mining operation. Worthington's character is paralyzed from the waist down and is hired to be a part of the “Avatar” program to place his mind in the body of a Na'vi in an attempt to convince the Na'vi to leave their home and allow the miners to drill it.
Through the course of the movie, Sully further identifies with the Na'vi and come to turn against the corporate operation. By the end of the movie he has switched sides and leads the Na'vi as they attack the mining operation in a high-tech vision of a jungle based Lawrence of Arabia, or Avatar – Dune in a jungle.
Avatar openly encourages anti-war and anti-corporate themes, it encourages armed rebellion and mutiny against the metaphorical US corporate powers. The metaphors in the movie have a left wing and progressive perspective.
Avatar explores racism between humans and the na'vi, who while an intelligent life form are certainly not human. It's a theme that's being explored in other movies, such as District 9 and the kids movie planet 51. While District 9 was disappointing in that for a movie that was a thinly disguised metaphor for apartheid in South Africa, it depicted Africans in a negative light, these movies raise interesting questions about a rapidly approaching post-human society. What rights would humanity extend to extra-terrestrials? In past film history, it is always the aliens who conquer humanity, but this string of films has been suggesting that perhaps we should fear humanity conquering the aliens? Is this a metaphor for how we should fear Western imperialist conquering the third world?
While some critics have chastised Avatar's plot for being predictable action movie fare, Annalee Newitz (http://io9.com/5422666/when-will-white-people-stop-making-movies-like-avatar?skyline=true&s=x) has commented on a white messiah complex in the movie. The way the movie presents one of the white conquerors becoming the leader for the indigenous people and leading them to victory has raised shadows of Dances with Wolves, the Last Samurai, Lawrence of Arabia and others. She comments that a movie industry dominated by white directors will continue to assume that the audience is white and need a white character to bridge the gap in order to understand the non-white characters. Consider how many white journalists where in Ghandi, or the fact that the Indian pacifist leader was played by a British actor, or that the film being produced about Mao will be filtered through the lens of a white journalist (http://www.cinematical.com/2007/07/16/robert-de-niro-making-mao-zedong-film/).
What aggravates me is the messiah complex in film period. How many times do we have to see this tired Christ parable play out? A chosen one, prophesied to lead the people to glorious new horizons, even if it costs his his life. In Avatar, Ewa, the goddess mother nature of Pandorum, picks Jack Sully by having it's seeds float around him, a prophesy that the Na'vi interpret as a sign that he will play an important role in their future.
I've seen this before, with Neo “the One” in the Matrix, Anakin Skywalker being prophesied to bring 'balance to the Force' in the Star Wars Prequels, John Conner leading humans to victory over the machines in the future of the Terminator, the fetus in Legion “the only hope humanity has of surviving' an onslaught of murderous angels and even Jebus himself in in Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. There are probably a thousand other big budget movies with this same messianic plot.
Why is it that we look to fiction for heroes to save us instead of saving ourselves? Since these movies are myth, they are all vying for which messiah story will replace that aged myth of western civilization- Christianity. Most American's probably know less about Christianity than they do the pantheon of gods we have created from Superman and Wonder Woman to the Terminator and Rambo. There is a lot of money riding on such a paradigm shift in myth belief. The more money people spend on 'entertainment' the less they spend at Church. Capitalism's myths come to replace feudalism's myths.
Avatar does more than just comment on the real world through metaphor, it has a physical relationship with the material world. The movie cost close to ½ billion dollars. Funding from Fox Studios and James Cameron made Avatar a major business enterprise employing thousands including the actors, animators, and camera-crew.
We should consider what avatar means in a world where millions of people spend days living their fantasy's through avatars in games like World of Warcraft, movies like Harry Potter and tv shows in general. Why is it that entertainment for Americans amounts to escaping the real world and pretending to be someone else? We are living through the height of the worst economic crises since the 1930's and escaping into fantasy is easier than facing a life without guaranteed health care and possible foreclosure. What will it take for Americans to live their own lives instead of living vicariously through fiction?
The left has praised the film. On the Maoist blog Kasama, both Mike Ely and Eric Ribellarsi have praised the fact that a movie so militantly opposed to current US military operations is the number one film in the country at the moment. However are they living their own fantasies of rebellion and race traitorism through the movie? At what point does the American Left stop critiquing movies and start a true rebellion?
Consider the race this movie has already set off to go 3-D in theaters and soon home entertainment systems. When Microsoft released Windows Vista, it raised the bar on the basic computer hardware needed to operate the operating system, making it necessary for many consumers to buy newer computers, and creating more toxic digital waste.
This has a real impact in the places where all the toys Americans dispose of originate from. Many human rights groups have pointed out the horrific conditions in mining operations in the Congo, where Coltan is mined. Coltan is a mineral needed for liquid crystal displays used in laptops, cellphones, and flat screen tv's.
The irony of Avatar is that despite its metaphorical criticisms of imperialism, the movie may spark the need for the entertainment industry to have a higher demand for mineral mined in blood diamond type conditions.
While the Left may understand the message the movie is trying to send, to many Americans seek to ignore such messages. Whether it be the movie studio producers who don't care what message a movie has as long as it makes money, or regular people who seek any kind of opium to avoid facing the real world.
What I wonder is how long until US marines in Iraq or Afghanistan claim the Na'vi warriors for themselves? How long until US soldiers occupying a foreign country name their squads after the Na'vi, paint Na'vi icons on their bombs and boost each other before a battle by quoting from Avatar?