Friday, January 29, 2010

Movie Review: Avatar

A movie review by Jason Kumar, a 2nd generation Malaysian in New
Zealand, for Thinking Matters.

"Cameron’s strongest messages in Avatar are about capitalism, technology and nature. However, these messages are paradoxical at best, and ultimately undone in their telling. Avatar’s assault on corporate exploitation and capitalist greed comes packaged in ironically one of the most costly, commercially bloated movies in history. The film’s criticism of technology too is problematic. Cameron (who is responsible for the ultimate inspiration of industrial terror, Skynet), extols the virtues of a simple, natural way of life and attacks technology, seen especially in the final (thrilling) battle between Jake and the exosuited Quaritch. Technology has created dehumanized, disembodied souls. But what is Cameron’s solution to this
hyper-technological unease?

Well, more technology, in fact. One of the central moral values in Avatar is the virtue of seeing through different eyes. And technology is the means of achieving this moral end. Compassion for ‘the other’ in Avatar only occurs via technological incarnation (much like another sci-fi film that came out last year, District 9). The mining corporation CEO, Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), and the SecFor
soldiers embody a kind of blindness as they view the Na’vi as nothing but savages and a hindrance to the extraction of the mineral ore. Jake himself is only able to undergo a conversion of understanding by taking on the body of an Avatar and living amidst the Na’Vi. This culminates in his relationship with Neytiri and in being able to meaningfully express the phrase “I see you”. And, of course, this is the point. With Avatar and its wonderland of technological tricks, Cameron has given the audience new eyes to see. At the close of the nineties, the Wachowskis’ The Matrix protested our Cartesian technological imprisonment, and it is interesting that this last decade has ended with Cameron’s promotion of deeper technological immersion.

Another paradox is also found in Cameron’s handling of spirituality. The deity of the Na’Vi is the “All Mother” or Eywa, who inhabits nature and connects all energy and life. Imbibing the New Age theosophy universal to Hollywood, Cameron presents us with a pantheistic god who is morally indifferent and who, as Neytiri tells Jake, will not “take sides”. But Cameron cannot hold true to this vision. In the climactic third act, when the characters are confronted with the horror and presence of evil, the pantheistic god is forgotten and Cameron must employ a very literal deus ex machina. He wants the amoral, quasi-mystical ecological god but knows he needs the moral judge of Christian theism who does in fact take sides. Like all stories, including the more real one we find ourselves in beyond the walls of our theater or cinemaplex, there can be no resolution unless God steps in to end evil.

Avatar is a sensory-action feat that deserves an audience. Cameron has delivered a ride that has taken the medium to new heights. But where the director’s goal isn’t just to gratify the senses or present an escapist experience, the film falls flat. With Avatar, Cameron has returned to his place at the top of the world – but we can be grateful that the throne of David is already occupied."

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Anonymous said...

I'd rather be blue.

Goldman said...
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