Sunday, May 16, 2010

Wolves in green clothing

So, I finally saw Avatar in IMAX 3D. By this point, after all the awards season hoopla, I thought I knew what it was about. Nature loving aliens make a marine have a change of heart all Pocahontas style.

Insetad, I caught onto a disturbing subtext that I'm not entirely sure was intentional.

But I'll get into that in a moment. Visually, this movie is fantastic. Pretty blue aliens in a gorgeous CGI world full of wondrous flora and fauna.
If you're looking for great performances and brilliant dialogue- go elsewhere. Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi and Zoe Saldana are the only bearable actors. I have concluded that Sam Worthington has sold his soul to the devil in exchange for otherwise inexplicable success in Hollywood. That, or he's a cyborg. Either way, he always looks dead in the eyes and is entirely incapable of inhabiting a character believably.

Okay- now for the disturbing subtext: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW

You see, the plot is that the military has been employed by a corporation to subdue the natives so that the corporation can better access the valuable material found underneath their land.

The natives consider much of their land holy, and these intruders corrupting it for the sake of money is deplorable to them.

The corporation has tried to reach out to the natives and give them technology and education, but the natives are not interested in that. They have their religion and their way of life. That is all that matters to them.

So, the corporation funds an avatar program. They genetically engineer a native's body and make it so that a human can control its nervous system. (The moral ramifications of creating such shell organisms is never covered, and that was troubling to me. How could they possibly not have minds and personalities of their own? But, I'll suspend my disbelief.)

After infiltrating and living amongst the natives, the main character Jake Sully converts and turns against the corporation. Prior to being an avatar, Jake was a crippled marine. His brother was murdered, and he was lost and depressed. A young, unmarried man who believes in nothing and has nothing to lose. This is exactly the kind of person who is most prone to being seduced by an exotic religion with a strict sense of right and wrong. A religion that will give him direction in life. And that direction is holy war against his infidel race.

Bear with me here.

Replace the forest with a desert. Replace the unobtanium with oil. Replace the natives' goddess Eywa with Allah.

Basically, the natives have decided that the only way to stop the non-believers from disgracing their holy land in the name of a valuable material is to start a holy war. Their holy war is successful because Jake converts and Eywa turns out to be real and joins in on the war.

This was extremely disturbing to me. If Allah turns out to be real and listens to the Jihadists engaged in holy war, America is screwed. If all the nations that have issues with us band together and decide to do something about it, goodbye USA.

I'm as liberal as the next guy. I voted for Hillary. I'm not saying I didn't like this movie because it sympathized with people defending their holy land. I thought it was a really interesting perspective. In fact, my only issue was the whole "The army is bad and full of sadists" thing. I don't think we have any business being in the Middle East.

But I don't endorse holy war. I really don't think religion is a great reason to kill people. I'm all about religious understanding and being sensitive to sacred sites and all that. I just couldn't root along for the Na'vi (the natives) while they will killing a bunch of soldiers who were only carrying out orders.

I know that the radical Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan are just trying to defend their home. I know that it's their religion. I know that they believe to their cores that it's the right thing to do and that God is on their side. I know we really have no business being there because we're not a DemocracyMart that delivers fair and functional governments to other people, whether they want it or not. But I don't think the men and women who are serving over there have any say in the matter. I don't think they deserve to die. Not even if a morally devoid Giovanni Ribissi and a maniacal general are giving the orders. Not even if the only reason they're there is to tap an underground resource.

If this one marine could have a change of heart after only 3 months, couldn't they have changed more hearts and minds?

It just doesn't sit right with me. It also didn't sit right with me that Jake Sully never accepted and adapted to losing the use of his legs. He was either fixated on getting surgery to repair them or going into an alien body to escape his disability. I wonder how that made any wheelchair-bound viewers feel? "Hey, not being able to use your legs sucks so bad that any self-respecting person would rather die or live vicariously through another body!"

If James Cameron wanted to make a film about valuing nature, I think making the army the bad guy and hiding behind religion is a lousy way to do it.

Also, science and religion are unlikely allies in this film. The seemingly supernatural way the environment Pandora is interconnected is explained as electro-magnetic pulses, much like our nervous system or brain neurons. Yet, the head scientist, Sigourney Weaver, whispers to Jake that Eywa is real- wait, what? Real as in explainable by science, or real as in supernatural? Because if Eywa is supernatural, then how is the way the Na'vi communicate with her completely explicable? If they are exchanging information via a synapse-like interface, and all their memories and other data is stored in some unseen database, then wouldn't Eywa just be the metaphorical OS of Pandora? Like Master Control Program in TRON? Or is she a long-deceased spiritual leader, like Jesus or Eve who is preserved via the data system like everyone else? Since it was never explained, I'll assume I wasn't supposed to think about it.

I just can't buy science as the ally of religion and an army being the enemy of religion. Historically it's been the other way 'round.

Overall, Avatar is worth seeing. Just don't think too hard about it. Shut your brain off and let the Hollywood glow wash over you.

1 comment:

modernhamlet said...

Ok, we're definitely gonna have to talk about this (over dan's objections no doubt) the next time I'm over...