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, a half billion in revenue. With its popularity and mass appeal, it has also incurred a considerable amount of criticism from a variety of sources, targeting a variety of topics of the film, from its presentation of alien natives and a colonial corporate military, to race issues and a depiction of cigarette use. This essay attempts to explore main threads of the film, analyzing criticism, and offering its own critique and deconstruction. It will employ diagnostic critique, as well, in order to analyze how Avatar is equally a reflection of and an active influence on contemporary culture. Avatar takes place in the virtual world of Pandora, created by Cameron with digital technology and colonized with fantastic creatures and an indigenous race of tall blue aliens called the Na'vi. The film is presented in three-dimensions, a technology that has been around for some time but this is the first time it seems to be used without reference to novelty. In this way Cameron and Twentieth Century Fox made a film, or rather an experience, that cannot be pirated; a considerable amount of its revenue is from viewers paying extra to watch it in three dimensions, undoubtedly multiple times, on a monolithic IMAX screen. The virtual world within Avatar is closely reminiscent of virtual spaces like Second Life; in both environments, individuals use avatars to plug into the space, roam around, and act in pure virtuality. Cameron's avatar takes a step further, and is able to fully transfer his consciousness into his secondary being, getting rid of his fragile and disabled body in the last moments of the film. This nexus between body and avatar, real and virtual spaces, is present in Avatar despite the fact avatars and humans, the fantastic and the technological, occupy the same plane of existence. Avatar adopts and reinterprets a variety of film genres and styles. One of them is the cowboys versus Indians narrative, although it is ideologically similar to John Ford's The Searchers than the classical Western. Avatar is undeniably a product of post-colonialism: it casts the Na'vi as the relatively harmless yet environmentally respectful indigenous population, while the humans are a corporate military who left their dying planet to mine the resources of Pandora. The film presents an anti-militarism narrative, portraying the soldiers as cruel, violent, and brainless brutes, intent in only chasing the company dollar and perpetuating the myth of the resolute warrior. All of them are males, except for a female helicopter pilot, who ultimately defects to the good side after rejecting violent action against the native population. Gender in Avatar is a topic fairly unmentioned by critiques, but it deserves mention. The main character, Jake Sully, is a male Marine; due to his status as a protagonist, and his avatar, he is able to negotiate between the masculine militaristic and corporate structure and the more feminine sphere of science and nature. The main scientist is played by Sigourney Weaver; it is her cigarette which is the subject of some of the less relevant attacks on the film. As a biologist, she is more interested in gaining samples from Pandora and interacting with its natives in a pedagogical role than Sully approaches the world in naive wonderment, playfully touching and punching his way through. In a way, he is the avatar of the audience, guiding them through the world, and learning about it as they do. His guide within the film is a female Na'vi; Sully enacts macho antagonism with the male Na'vi, which are presented as militaristic, vengeful, and quick to action. Not only is Sully and his avatar initiated into the tribe, but he quickly becomes the most capable of them. This narrative is reminiscent of the films The Last Samurai and Dances with Wolves, and is often described as the "white savior" theme, where a member of the dominant race, often rejected by his own kind, proves to be the best subaltern. At one point the Marine commander asks Sully (who are both white men): "How does it feel to betray your own race?" In the end, as mentioned before, Sully chooses to permanently change species, which is epitomized by a more conservative critique as the myth of being able to change races within a
context of white guilt. It only adds to this critique that the Na'vi, despite being digital characters, are performed and voiced by African and African-American actors. The film's liberal viewpoint, characterized by a pro-environmental and antitechnology viewpoint embodied in the depiction of the humans and the Na'vi. The technology is employed by the humans in ultimately violent and destructive means; even the avatars are used to communicate with and subdue the indigenous aliens so mining crews can extract valuable resources from underneath them. The Na'vi, on the other hand, have a spiritual, as well as psychic, connection with nature; they are able to physically and mentally bond with creatures, plants, and, presumptively, each other. Cameron is able to take environmentalist rhetoric and give it a biological basis in his virtual world: the Na'vi are able to cognitively tap into a network of sacred trees, which forms a type of neural network which can store memories, thoughts, and experiences. This revelation not only portrays the indigenous tribe as in threat, but the entire planetary ecosystem as well. In one of the major setbacks in the film, a giant tree, home to the Na'vi tribe, is firebombed by human ships in order to construct a mine in its place. The first time I saw Avatar, I thought it was strikingly similar to an animated movie that I grew up with, FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1994). In it, a race of fairies saves their forest from a logging company; the protagonist is a young logger who is magically shrunk to fairy-size, and learns to appreciate the beauty of nature from that vantage point. I remember that at the time, FernGully was the object of a fairly aggressive critique for its thinly-veiled environmentalist message. Fifteen years later, James Cameron was able to rearticulate this message, and made the highest grossing film of all time; this shows that the cultural conditions have changed, and a general acceptance of basic environmental ideology has become mainstream: backlash against FernGully seemed to come from a variety of sources, while criticism of Avatar's environmentalism is voiced by a fairly isolated conservative base. I want to briefly address the technology/civilization and ecology/spirituality dichotomy in relation to Weber's theory of disenchantment. Through and beyond modernity, nature and human relations has become the extensive object of rational analysis: science and related disciplines have attempted to describe the universe through experimentation, logic, and rationalization. As people have become disconnected from their mythic and religious roots, there has, according to Weber, been a general sense of disenchantment of nature and experience. It can be argued that the message of Avatar, in its advocacy of a return to nature and primitive spiritualism, represents a re-enchantment possible even for the most rational and technologically reliant beings. This concept is not unique to the film, and is structured within the New Age movement, which is generally focused on middle-class white urbanites adopting the spiritual, philosophical, and/or medical practices of distant or ancient cultures. While New Agers sometimes adopt Eastern practices which are of repute within their origin country - yoga, tai chi, Chinese medicine - much of their methodology is heavily adapted, or, in the case of crystal healing and Dianetics, totally contrived. It is ironic that Avatar, perhaps the most technologically reliant film to date, contains a message which is fundamentally anti-industrial. It does not offer its characters a route to harmonize their technology with nature; the film presents an epic battle scene where helicopters and automated weapons are opposed to bows, arrows, and natives riding winged and legged creatures. At the point where Nature itself takes a side, sending droves of wild creatures to annihilate the industrialized colonizers, it is clear what the message of Avatar is: the perfect virtual world is one which exists without any mediation of technology.
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