A Quick Review of Avatar
The past week left me feeling like a man trapped in anachronism. My work environment, which is rarely more hospitable than “endurable,” seemed transported to a time when “servitude” was a more accurate description than “employment.” Physically, it took a week for doctors to find the correct eye drops to battle a progressive eye infection that, by Thursday night, had swollen one eye to a slit and found its way to the other. Until yesterday, the medical miracles we take for granted were less than miraculous, and a traveling doctor might have done just as well by advising a damp cloth for the face and an elixir with high alcohol content.
So, by the time Friday evening arrived like the break of the Twentieth Century, I could motivate myself to be no more productive than was required to prepare a snack before staring at a television screen for several hours. My wife and I watched Avatar.
I’d been forewarned, of course, to let the overt politicization of the film go in the name of simple enjoyment, and while the showing was in process, I was able to do so. But movies ought to be like wines that make a supplementary savor of aftertaste, and once the gush of aesthetic pleasure and emotional balm had passed, what remained of Avatar was bitter indeed.
It’s really a shame. I don’t give to much away, I don’t think, in explaining that the fantasy world of Pandora has coursing through it a sort of electrical current connecting all life on the planet and even retaining memories of the dead as if downloaded into the hardware of an organic computer. In other words, Director James Cameron had plenty of room to explore the parallels between computer science and physics, with the intriguing questions about God that thereby arise. He even could have pushed a heavy-handed environmentalism, on those grounds, without interfering with the appeal of the story.
That wasn’t, apparently, enough.
A scene from the 1996 Independence Day came to mind repeatedly. In that movie, a psychic link between a captured alien and President Bill Pullman (I believe) reveals that the alien species travels from planet to planet, using up the resources that it finds there and moving on. It doesn’t take but a modicum of cultural awareness to realize the insinuation that humankind bears some resemblance, in that respect. However, it’s just a path, perhaps a tendency, of our species, and as the entire world comes together, with cooperation between corporate types, military forces, and average folk joining forces against the common foe, Independence Day leaves the viewer with the feeling that, when it comes down to it, people will turn toward goodness.
That wasn’t good enough for Cameron. Almost in a direct reference to the earlier movie, the protagonist of Avatar, a human being whose consciousness has temporarily been transferred to a man-made alien body (the “avatar”), warns the native creatures that humanity used up every last bit of green on its native Earth and will do the same on Pandora. In other words, not only are the human beings who’ve traveled across the universe for a precious mineral evil, but their entire species is evil by its nature.
The message that humankind should resist those qualities that could fester into parasitical behavior has given way to the assertion that humankind is, in fact, a parasite, with only the rare dork, woman, minority, and cripple able to find redemption.
It seems to me that, in making such decisions, Cameron has turned his craft from the very possibility of creating art that seeks universal truth, because the film explicitly disclaims our specie’s interest therein.