Avatar. Not Just Dumb. Dangerously Dumb.Posted: December 30, 2009
James Cameron’s Titanic was stupid, but at least it didn’t hurt anybody. The writer-director’s Avatar, on the other hand, gives aid and comfort to America’s enemies and will win converts for their cause. Al Qaeda could not have made a better film for its purposes. Now it doesn’t have to.
In the tale (set 150 years into the future), an American corporate-military expeditionary force has established an outpost on the planet Pandora (get it? unexpected consequences in store!); they want to mine the planet for the mineral Unobtainium (yes, it’s really called that) which fetches $20 million an ounce back on Earth. But an indigenous population (the Na’vi) lives on the land, and stands in the way. Corporate American Imperialism will have its way, and the Na’vi can either stand clear or be clear-cut like the forest they live in. Of course, the Na’vi have mighty spiritworld-based defenses our Evil Empire can’t begin to comprehend — apparently, there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in the Americans’ decadent, cynical, greed-obsessed, results-oriented philosophy…
A sixth grader will comprehend that the Na’vi (who, in their resistance, are seen by the occupiers as terrorists) stand in for a casting call of past and present targets of American imperialism. The strongest and most persistent parallel in the movie is to the plight of American Indians forced off their land by the white man’s Manifest Destiny. But thrown into the mix are scarcely-veiled references to America’s thirst for oil and the wars we have fought for it, our trampling of the faiths of Muslims whose religion we don’t understand, Vietnam, and even (just to make sure the Europeans aren’t left off the hook) a dollop of African colonialism.
Nowhere in his unsubtle parallels does Cameron allow that the Western powers’ historical motivations have been more complicated than greed and blood-lust. Certainly one driver of America’s foreign policy has been our need to protect energy sources vital to the national interest, but is that all our war against radical fundamentalist Islam is about? Is it not also a worthwhile (and, for the survival of our ideals, necessary) fight to defend freedom and religious pluralism against religious fascism? When settlers came to America, was their only motivation to steal land from Indians and kill as many of them as possible — or was there at least, additionally, a trace of something magnificent in their quest to claim a life for themselves and their families at great personal sacrifice?
I have confidence that most in the American audience will dismiss the movie’s one-note propaganda for the pap that it is. It’s not Americans I’m worried about. This movie will play in every corner of the world, and its message will be welcomed in all the corners that hate us. In putting forth an unambiguous, unlayered parable of an America whose role in the world is rapacious, corrupt, and Satanic, an America-as-juggernaut that must be stopped for the sake of the world and of God, it embraces the jihadist’s Powerpoint; it might as well be a recruitment film. The ending, in particular, will be a motivational feel-good for all those who’d like to see American power brought to heel. I wish that, apart from its stupid ideas, Avatar were poorly made — but it isn’t. Avatar is stupendous filmmaking. Its visual imagination takes the breath away, and it carries significant emotional force. But Leni Riefenstahl was a good filmmaker, too.