Thursday, March 25, 2010

Feliz Navi, Dah? Nah.

Spoiler alert: plot points will be revealed during this blog post.  On the plus side, it isn’t the plot that is going to make you like/love this movie anyway.  Oh, and keep in mind that this isn’t a review of the movie as a whole, just a discussion of one of its themes.

Last week I talked about how INGLOURIOUS had a negative “we’re just like them!” message.  Today I’m going to talk about the other Oscar nominee that also had a negative twist on this popular theme.

However, where it is debatable whether Tarantino meant to say what he did, it’s a fair certainty that James Cameron had no clue as to what he was saying.

AVATAR sets up two diverse people groups: the money-grubbing, corporate greed-mongers who will destroy anything for personal gain (the bad guys); and the “others” – the land-loving, respect your environment, take-only-what-you-need blue people (the good guys). 

And then there are those in between, who must choose which side to be on.

I wasn’t bothered, as many were, by the first two thirds of the movie as these worlds were set up. 

Sure, the Navi live in a hippy-skippy dream world with no dark underbelly, and toy with a religion that can’t decide whether it has a personal deity (that can choose sides – which they say she can’t, but she does) or just a “force” made up of all living things and microchloridians or somesuch. 

Like I said, hippy-skippy, but, for the record, not satanic. 

[And, as long as I’ve digressed there, let me also say for the record, “That any individual who claims to understand story could watch that movie seeing the conclusions that Driscoll comes to about cultural mandate is beyond me.”  Cameron is neutral on the idea of progress and technology – he is neither praising nor razing the notion.  Jake does not give up his gun when he becomes Navi, nor does he dis the technology that allows him to be Navi to begin with.  Cameron is not concerned in this film with whether technology is good or bad, but rather how it is used.]

All that to say – for the thinking mind, within all the hippy-skippy set up (I just love saying hippy-skippy), there are some clearly positive takeaways and some negative takeaways.  And for those who don’t like their intellectual diet to be over-simplification, a whole lot that can just be ignored.

No, it’s not the two hours of set up where I think Cameron missed the boat; it’s in the third act of payoff.

Two thirds of this movie is used to set up how different these two cultural mindsets are; but when push comes to shove, are the Navi any different than the greed mongers?

According to Cameron:  nope.

If anything, the Navi choose to become just like their enemy.  When not under pressure, they are role models or peace and love.  But when under pressure:

They fight just like their enemy – charge straight ahead in a slash and burn manner (they inexplicably choose not to use any of that “we know the terrain” wisdom to their advantage).

They revel in the same level of “rah rah” excitement before, during and after the battle.

And they have the same respect for human life as the human’s have for Navi life.

When Neytiri kills the wild beasts – to protect another – she mourns the need to kill, and prays over the bodies of the dead.  

When Jake and the Navi kill humans – to protect themselves – they do not mourn the need to kill, and there is no scene of them praying over the fallen bodies of their enemy.

(Ezekial’s God says, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked…)

The Navi, in essence, say, “Because we are in tune with god and/or nature, therefore, when tested, we are no different than those who are not in tune with god and/or nature.”

Saint Paul suggests that the pressure of suffering could lead to character, which leads to hope.

With a little creativity from their makers, the Navi’s suffering could have lead to greater character, to a higher exemplar, to an ideal that would match their idealistic setting.

But instead, they’re just like us.

Just my thoughts,



David Goulet said...

If James Cameron had consulted me on Avatar I'd have given him this advice. Don't make this Pocahontas/Dances With Wolves in space. Make it The Mission in space. You'll end up with a much richer story.

Alas, he must have deleted my address (accidently) from his Blackberry.

Linds said...

I'm always shocked by how much attention Cameron gives to filmmaking, and how little of it he spends on storytelling.

I really couldn't believe how he managed to tick off people on both sides of this story at once. On the one hand, many people saw it as a 'white man is always evil' thinly-veiled reference to US efforts in the Middle East. On the other, many saw it as 'the white man must save the naive indigenous people' thinly-veiled reference to the myth of the great white savior of native peoples.

And both were valid interpretations of the film. That's just crazy.