"Post-Apocalypse Now: Though flawed as an eco-pic, Avatar deserves Best Picture award"
James Cameron: “We need to mobilize like we did during World War II” to fight global warming. The threat to our country and children is “that severe.”
I’m very interested in your thoughts on Avatar.
Here are mine on the must-see movie — but flawed eco-pic — and the controversies surrounding it:
[Mild spoiler alert, I suppose, but then if you can’t figure out how this movie is going to end, well, you have led a very sheltered life.]
1. I would give it the Best Picture award, simply for its staggering visual achievement. And if you haven’t seen it in 3-D, well, all I can say is, that’s like have sex wearing a…. Okay, maybe I can’t say that. Anyway, Avatar is why you go to the movies. That said, the script wasn’t great nor were the characters especially memorable, so I’d have no problem with “Hurt Locker” (directed by his ex-wife!) winning. And newly adopted preferential balloting may favor the latter, as many voters might not put Avatar as a second or third choice because they don’t like Cameron or the movie’s perceived message. The best script and best acted movie, however, IMHO, was Up In The Air.
2. The movie is an odd post-apocalyptic pro-environment movie. Environmentalist and producer Harold Linde writing on mnn.com asserts:
Avatar is without a doubt the most epic piece of environmental advocacy ever captured on celluloid, and it only very thinly veils its message which, on the heels of a failed Copenhagen summit, is more timely now than ever “¦ Nature will always win.
The film hits all the important environmental talking-points “” virgin rain forests threatened by wanton exploitation, indigenous peoples who have much to teach the developed world, a planet which functions as a collective, interconnected Gaia-istic organism, and evil corporate interests that are trying to destroy it all.
Sort of. The fact is “Nature” (whatever that means) doesn’t always win. Quite the reverse. Indeed, in the real world clash of cultures, I think the historical score of battles where technologically-advanced invaders are pitted against indigenous people is about 1000 to 0.
Most indigenous people don’t have the equivalent of magic to save them against superior firepower. So in that sense the movie doesn’t actually offer any plausible, positive vision, any viable take-home message. What should we do about the corporate interests trying to destroy the planet — plug our hair into a tree? Well, that isn’t much of an option for some of us! The fact is that humanity left the path of the blue-skinned Na’vi a long time ago (if we were ever on it at all, a subject of some controversy by itself) and we’re not going back.
I guess this is the best people can do to spin the movie into some sort of a rallying cry:
3. Cameron gets global warming (click here) and sees himself as uber-green (see Grist’s “James Cameron: I’m the greenest director of all time!“). He has said:
I wanted to do a film that had a deeply embedded environmental message … but do it in the form of a science fiction action adventure. My feeling was if we have to go four light years away to another planet to appreciate what we have here on earth, that’s okay.
But if it were going to be a genuine movement eco-movie, I think it would have to offer a direct critique of our unsustainable lifestyle, which it does not. It is only post-apocalyptic in the sense that Jake Sully, a Marine/Avatar who “becomes” a Na’vi says
There is no green anymore on our planet, we killed our mother.
How very Oedipal of us. At the end he narrates:
The humans went back to their dying planet.
That message has its flaws, as I’ve said many times. We should worry about what we’re doing to green things, yes, but it’s the direct impact on billions of human lives that make unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions such a dangerous threat, not the “dying planet,” whatever that mean.
As an eco-movie, I’d rank Disney/Pixar’s Wall-E higher (see “Wall-E is an eco-dystopian gem “” an anti-consumption movie (from Disney!)”
Interestingly, the movie is mostly pro-science while still being anti-technology, which is quite different from the message of, say, Cameron’s Terminator movies, in which scientific pursuit leads to humanity’s (near) self-destruction.
I agree with the New Yorker film critic David Denby who noted “the irony that this anti-technology message is delivered by an example of advanced technology that cost nearly two hundred and fifty million dollars to produce; or that this anti-imperialist spectacle will invade every available theatre in the world.” Wall-E had a similar problem: The movie is a brutal satire on “self-involved consumption,” but but if we are looking at who in the world is responsible for self-involved consumption, for the global homogenization of mass consumerism, for instigating the shop-until-you-drop culture at an early age, surely Disney itself would be on the short list.
Still, any movie that both grosses more money than any other film in history and pisses off the right wing — “it is a deep expression of anti-Americanism” says John Podhoretz, the Weekly Standard‘s film critic — must be doing something right.
4. Some have attacked the movie claiming it shows that the natives need a white man to save them:
The Blue’s savior, Jake Sully, like Tarzan … before him, is a White man, a “White messiah” from a technological civilization who leads the natives to victory.
That seems a bit much. First off, he’s handicapped. Second off, he ultimately becomes one of them and wins their way.
And that all goes to show that perhaps this isn’t so much a “message” film as it as a derivative film, story-wise. Indeed, I do think the film lacks the overall greatness of, say, the original Star Wars or Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but it is lushly memorable in a way very few films are, as Denby writes:
The movie’s story may be a little trite, and the big battle at the end between ugly mechanical force and the gorgeous natural world goes on forever, but what a show Cameron puts on! The continuity of dynamized space that he has achieved with 3-D gloriously supports his trippy belief that all living things are one. Zahelu!
What do you think?