Avatar – Great film or a history lesson?

I went to see the long awaited and highly anticipated film, Avatar, by James Cameron the other day. I wasn’t going to. I have never been one to jump on the bandwagon of a so called must-see movie since watching the 3rd, and weakest, instalment of the Matrix trilogy many moons ago. Anyway, I succumbed to the temptation of a theatrical treat when my daughter, son, brothers, various friends, various newspapers and even Jonathan Ross went on and on about how good it was. I bought my ticket, smuggled in popcorn, drinks and a packet of Minstrels, (have you seen the prices of cinema food!), and eagerly awaited the opening credits, along with the rest of the people in the packed auditorium.

When I left, I was very impressed.

I finally understood what all the hype was about and realised that like Jurassic Park, Matrix (the 1st one), and Terminator before it, this was a film that would change the way we viewed films in the future. The special effects were amazing, the attention to detail so specific as to be unbelievable, (in fact at times I forgot I was watching a ‘cartoon’). I was amazed.

About an hour later the effect wore of. There was something else lying behind the whole thing that troubled me. A few years ago I probably wouldn’t have noticed but now, as I near my fortieth year on this earth and am infinitely wiser than I used to be, it hit me like a slap from an angry ex!

The story was a piss take!

A beautiful world full of wonderful but strange characters; the immense material wealth that these people were ‘unknowingly’ sitting on, angering a ‘race’ of people who ‘knew’ better; the lack of respect these people had for the natural order of things; the heavy handed tactics they employed to get what they really believed was theirs to have; the infiltration of these people by people pretending to be friends, with an ulterior motive; the great white chosen one who was to be the saviour of this ‘new’ world. It all amounted to a story that we had all seen, heard about and witnessed before.

Show me the difference between Pandora and any country in Africa when the settlers came. Show me the difference between the antagonists in this film and the colonialists from back in the day. In fact, show me the difference between the white hero of this movie, Jake, and Tarzan!

Pandora looked different in black and white!

This is a film that ‘white’ people will love because it excuses all of the bullshit they did in the past to indigenous populations in Tasmania, Australia, Sierra Leone, America and countless other countries. The pursuit of diamonds, oil, sugar and whatever else was valuable led to the loss of countless lives and hushed up atrocities. The lessons that should have been learnt then were not learnt and it still goes on today in places like Nigeria and Afghanistan. A lack of respect for the people of these countries is compounded by the heavy handed tactics that are used to acquire what is wanted by any means necessary. Instead of being lauded as a great technological marvel, Avatar could instead have been used as a teaching instrument to show what happens when Western desires outweigh everyone else’s sensibilities.

In watching this film I was left with the image of a race of people who look on all the shit they have done in the past as par for the course, and now, so comfortable are they in the fact that they have buried the past, they recreate the story for the big screen. The antagonists in the film are both the heroes and the villains. Do you get the imbalance or am I standing on a slope? Those first missionaries that went to these countries, perhaps with the best intentions, were in no doubt villains and the worse thing that could have happened to those vastly more superior and intelligent people.

The big problem with this film for me was that the story was simply a rehash of other racist Hollywood fodder from yesteryear. The Navari people needed the help from the ‘great white man’ who not only knew how to fight better, but also got the best girl in the village, was the bravest of them all, saved an entire species from harm, and then in the ultimate act of leniency, didn’t execute the people behind the atrocities, but simply let them go home, their lesson surely learnt! Pass me the sick bag, please!! It was the Lone ranger all over again and I was 7 years old! Question – why would a race of people who have been victimised, murdered, looted and disrespected, be so fuckin’ understanding? – answers on a postcard please!

So I am left divided.

I give props where props are due, the film is something special, an amazing achievement in sound and film technology, but the story, which was really a history lesson on the origins of racism and genocide, instead ended up being a ‘white’ Western re-imagining of their ‘perfect’ world. The only plus point was the strategy used to defeat the colonialisation threat, the element of surprise, after all, who does watch the watcher? Africa, take note.

Avatar 2?

I don’t think so, mate.


4 Responses to “Avatar – Great film or a history lesson?”

  1. Dad Seriously… your so incredibly one sided in this argument it is ridiculous… how you managed to watch this film and create such a twisted opinion from it is beyond me and quite disturbing.

    The Protagonist in this story is a guy who chose to be a marine for reasons unknown to him, fighting for things he never really believed in fighting for, always the underdog and somewhat the disappointment he never seemed to match up to his brother. He gets a chance to go to this new world and start a fresh, doing something that his brother worked hard for and never got the chance to finish.

    ‘Infiltrate’ I think not. The whole reason why they created the Avatar bodies is so they could fit in with the alien people, learn from them and their world, research into their network and learn how all is connected.
    If you were to travel to Africa and aimed to learn from those there.. would you not dress how they dress, take part in the ceremonies they hold most important to them? Of course you would.

    The Story is seperated into to two parts… there are those who come from a world they have destroyed due to the greed and ignorance they have been subjected to.. The ‘unobtanium’ that they have travelled there to collect they believe to be the answer to all problems that may lie on their planet.. with wealth comes happiness and due to their ignorance they believe the Na’vi live at what they call ‘Home Tree’ because it is lying on the largest amount of this ‘Mineral’.

    It is about the lengths some people will go for the material things in life… a metaphor for how people are blinded by all disposable assets and will go to damaging and monstrous measures to get more of it.

    Then you have Jake who on Earth was fighting for a world that is pretty much self destructive, nothing really left to fight for; who comes to a place so beautiful and astonishing as he learns to speak the language of Omaticaya, see all that is important to them… as it is said in the film… He falls in love with everything.. the land, the people.. he realises what is most important and all that he took for granted on Earth is what the Na’vi most appreciate. The indigeanous people teach all those who haven’t been completely corrupted what is most important and what is worth living for.

    At the end the guy becomes one of them for god sake!! It is not a film made to make ‘white’ people feel better.. and to be honest that really offends me! Just because the actors who play the Na’vi characters happen to be black or ‘non-white’ at least… does not been it is basically a dig at black people.

    My heads hurting now, and its as if this is real life which it isn’t. Bottom line the film was amazing and although fantasy it gave me somethng to think about – that we shouldn’t our world for granted, that there are all so many beautiful things that we have destroyed, its sad… I’m guessin if anything James Cameron aimed to get people to enjoy the movie, be amazed by the effects and also maybe come out thinking ‘shit! We have ruined our world… i wana go live on pandora!’ definitely what i thought. It has F’ all to do with race… if the role was played by a black guy then non of this would have been brought up. Period!

    Anyways it was the best film i have ever seen and definitely best film of 2009! You need to stop reading into things so much.

  2. chris jackson Says:

    i doubt i would go and see avatar 2 either.I didnt like any of the matrix follow ups i must say but terminator 2 was of course better than the first so you never know

  3. chris jackson Says:

    Well while i hear your complaint i dont think it is fair portrait of the story which is just a fairy tale of course.
    Yes we all know in reality if we look at history on this planet what happens . the tribal people would have been obliterated slowly by war and disease subdued , integrated and sent to reservations.
    It was dances with wolves with a happy ending.
    I dont think it lauded western society at all as it we who were and are clearly the bad guys with the exception of one or two who are awakend by the indigenous people to what really matters.
    Do you mean we are getting to feel better about ourselves by rewriting our history with the native americans winning aided by one or two white americans who have been educated by the native americans?
    Of course the hero who becomes indigenous was white american maybe the story could have been told with him as black american or as a native american or why not chinese or indian or god forbid being a black gay man who has a love affair with the male leader of the tribe?
    I am afraid this particular bit probably has nothing much to do with racism or anti gay prejudice but just commercialism and business although i like the idea of the hero being a balck gay man.
    of course the film was about just business form the baddies point of view but business a t all costs. the film is ultimately baout business but not a t all costs.
    there was a profound message about the relatedness the indigenous tribal people have with nature in this case surely more about the tribes in the amazon and the native americans philospshy and way of being .
    anyway it was still a visulally beautiful movie and fun .

    Just as most movies have a heterosexual point of view which i can comment about!

  4. Good points, I think I will definitely subscribe! I’ll go and read some more! What do you see the future of this being?

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