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Cinema and technology: Avatar (2009)

Zafar Anjum | Jan. 7, 2010
The geek shall inherit the earth. I mean the good geek. That is one of the principal messages of the James Cameron film.

After colonising our own, humans move out to colonise the creatures of Pandora in this 21st century myth by Cameron. Some see it as a left wing propaganda, taking it as an allegory for the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan: US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan (for their oil and poppy fields respectively), destroyed its cities and killed people in these countries. Daisy cutters, education, Englishthe gifts of the colonisershave been mentioned in the film. The allusions are unmistakable.

But what is unsettling for me is this: a leftist film attacking greedy businessmen and the government army doing their businessmen masters bidding (government armies fighting as if they were mercenaries) coming from an ultra-right Hollywoods studio (Rupert Murdochs 20th Century Fox in this case). I dont think Murdochs studio is behind this film for any ideological reasons but this being a James Cameroon film, it means huge profits on the box office.

Despite its performance on the box office, the context of heroism shown in this movie troubles methat one has to turn against ones own people (the greedy human race here) to protect innocent people (Navis of Pandora, a moon of the planet of Polyphemus, some 4.3 light years from Earth) only under extraordinary circumstances. The Navis become the target of the greedy humans because they happen to sit atop a rich source of highly sought-after fuel source, unobtanium. The massive military build up, the huge piles of explosives and bombs, a trigger happy Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), the intentions of Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi)dont they all signal to the scientific team (Dr. Grace Augustine, Norm Spellman, Dr. Max Patel and Jake Sully) that they are not on a morally noble mission?

What is disturbing in this films moral setup is the implication that rising against injustice is a superhuman task, something only for the consideration of extraordinary heroes and messiahsthis may not be Cameroons intention but I am afraid lazy interpretations are far too common now among dumbed-down audiences. What about the sense of shame and anger against injustice and the everyday heroism that is required of us to qualify as humans? It is one of the tragedies of our civilisation that we have lost our moral compassand for our material needs (a fresh pair of legs for the protagonist, the paraplegic ex-marine Jack Sully, played by Sam Worthington), we lose sight of universal values of truth and justice. Jack, using an artificially developed body of a Navi, made from a Navi and his own DNAs, is deployed for a mission to learn about the dwellers of Pandora. It is only when he falls in love with a Navi named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) that his moral compass is activated.

 

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