I found this on the website of a Texs news station, trying to pick this year’s Academy Award winners: “Best Picture – “The Hurt Locker” – It should be very close between “The Hurt Locker” and “Avatar,” but I think the social relevance of “The Hurt Locker” should sway more voters.”
Erm, wait a second. Did this guy get lost in the theater and wind up seeing “Tooth Fairy” or something? Did he see the same AVATAR that I did? Because the one I saw was like, one of the most important films ever (after Star Wars and The Matrix—both of which simply repackaged the same deep-rooted “hero’s journey” archetype that people have been telling since before Gilgamesh, except that Lucas based his on swashbuckling serials and Vietnam-era politics, and the Wachowskis drew upon postmodern anti-civilization philosophy and cyberpunk).
It’s funny, because The Hurt Locker and AVATAR are both ‘socially relevant’, except Bigelow’s film is specifically about the Iraq War, while Cameron’s is big-picture and about the Iraq War only to the extent that that conflict is simply the most current and visible example of Our Culture’s insatiable need to expand and devour natural resources.
Yes, AVATAR is Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, The New World, Zulu, Fern Gully, 1492, or any other story where advanced imperialists have a run-in with the indigs. And this is exactly the point; this is what Cameron wanted. It seems that his plan with AVATAR was to repackage the same old story that we’ve seen countless times before, dress it up in his “gimmicky” 3D technology to get people into the theaters (because “You couldn’t get them to come… and watch a film about the conquest of New Spain…”), and show them how Our Culture has been exploiting the planet for transient, monetary gain—and otherwise generally fucking things up—for untold generations.
But apparently, it didn’t seem too terribly effective, because all people could see was a “groundbreaking film with dazzling 3d effects and breathtaking landscapes.” Ugh.
In the 11 Dec 2009 issue of Vanity Fair, James Cameron explicitly states:
“What I was doing with Avatar…was more in response to the history of the human race (that) has been written in blood by technically or militarily superior people taking from those who are less capable.
I think it’s important for people to see the patterns in history…I think science fiction is a way of making history exciting by putting it in the future and taking you to a new planet and showing you exactly the same shit that’s been happening for the last 2,000 years…”
“Science fiction is excellent for that because if you make a comment about the Iraq war and American imperialism in the Middle East, you’re going to get a lot of people pissed off at you in this country, but if you do it in a science-fiction context, where you do it at a metaphorical level, people get swept in by the story and they get to the end of the movie before they realize they’ve been rooting for the Iraqis.”
After the film was over, I left the theater in high spirits: it wasn’t just me—finally, somebody who seemed to abhor “civilization” as much as I. On the interweb, I hoped to see if there were others who thought the same. But if you go to the IMDB’s AVATAR message board, you won’t find people debating the merits of industrial sabotage, or the ethics of armed vs. nonviolent resistance; no, you’ll find arguments over whether or not AVATAR is an animated film, or how much the final budget was, or yet another 15-page thread repeating the same petty comments we’ve been hearing since before the film came out: “It’s just Dances With Wolves in space!” No shit, Sherlock. Grow up, get over it. Look past the 3D, look past the surface story—see AVATAR for what it is: a metaphor, a message—and wake up.