A 3-D CGI cinema experience, $300 billion dollar budget, and 3 hours of “revolutionary, Hollywood-blockbuster, visual eye-candy…” well, here are three reasons why I think Avatar was a bad movie. (And further, that it was deceptively bad, because it looked so good):

1. It is anti-human. (forget mere claims of anti-American, anti-military)
2. It offers no avenue or inspiration of hope, and instead offers a cynical, sparkly, appeal-to-the emotions message that we are doomed
3. It is artistically and creatively irresponsible

If anyone reading this has talked to me in the past two weeks, you have probably witnessed my bizarrely indignant, and deeply disturbed reaction to James Cameron’s Avatar. I have read my fill of reviews out there of the movie, trying to synthesize what about it troubled me so much. If you haven’t seen the movie, I encourage you to read some reviews (good and bad) to get a sense of the plot. (Spoiler alert)

Perhaps what I am angry about is a bigger issue of the movie industry in general, but stories have a profound impact on us as people. Those who write stories should be held accountable for the messages that they send and the commentary that they make about the human condition. Many have argued that Jake Sully is just choosing a different life– one that is more suitable in his eyes than the way the humans in the movie are living–and that when he becomes his Na’vi avatar-self, it could be likened to someone embracing a new culture or race’s lifestyle.

Even if that is true – the metaphor is a poor one and one that will be missed by most people. Reality and fantasy are too intertwined to actually send the message of embracing a “new lifestye.” We will constantly be asking ourselves what is the best way to be humans–and this is a good thing–yet the movie is offering that the best way is a way completely other than our own.

I disagree. The movie is a projection of human life as we know it, and his disowns his human self. He completely renounces his humanity. I argue that this is fundamentally different than our struggle to discover the best way to live as humans and has a tragically hopeless and irresponsible undertone. I know that it is fantasy, but you cannot separate your human understanding of a fantasy world. This allegory about two cultures will have an impact on people viewing the movie, whether you want to admit it or not, and the human being in the story disowns his people, changing his essence. (and here I am not even going to go into the tree worshiping religious aspect that completely plays on people’s spiritually emotional side…but I encourage someone else to take it up)

The movie is not merely an attempt to discover a better way to be human, it is offering the solution that this alien people have life figured out better than we do. This offers no hope for the current state we are in, because we are human and cannot renounce that. Again, maybe I am being too ideal, but our stories–even ones for entertainment–need to offer hope or commentary that leads us to something better and this movie does neither.

Artistically irresponsible? James Cameron has drawn upon some of the most creative minds and sources of human ingenuity to make a piece of widely acclaimed eye-candy, that cynically comments on the way we are treating the earth, (how much better off we would be if the creative ingenuity had been directed towards a productive innovation that serves society) and offers no solution for harmony or hope, so leaves the viewer 3-Dimensionally delighted and… uninspired.

Please friends, comment!

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2 Responses
  1. Michael Horan says:

    Chelsea, I certainly understand your frustration. However, I felt that Jake Sully's character was compellingly human. I apologize that I won't be able to give a good and ordered defense of my opinion. I'm too tired to turn the engines on, but here are a few ideas.

    First, the Navi are far more human than the humans in the movie. All these critics that are talking about "embracing a new culture" are full of it. Fantasy is compelling because it brings humanity to a new environment. Here's the kicker: it brings humanity to a new environment through the human imagination. The Navi are human in all my estimations. They are highly spiritual etc etc etc etc. It is the humans in the movie who try to reduce the Navi's spirituality to a neural network.

    Yes, the spiritual ground of the movie is hyper-greenyism. But, surprise, love for the Earth renews the human spirit. The greenies are onto something. The vibrant colors of the movie were just great if you ask me. (read To Earthward by Frost)

    Yet more compelling was the dynamic of liminality that Sully experiences. The Navi weren't presented as a alien race really. At least that wasn't emphasized. They were creatures of imagination: intangible. Sully encountered them in his mind. And he bonded with them. And he was transformed by them. I think he became more human. We become more human when we allow the imagination to take the reigns. Don't we allow ourselves to be elves and all other sorts of "inhuman" creatures in the boundaries of our imagination? And don't we become more human in all our imaginings? It sounds corny but it's true. Imagination has a transformative power. It really is a great tool we have to combat our fallen nature.

  2. John says:

    Hey guys. Great to see such stimulating UD discussion happening here.
    I agree with Michael that those Navi are essentially just spiritually "perfected" humans. I would even say that they are too humanoid to be considered a different race. Jake Sully's character resonates with so many people because he has to make the difficult decision to leave his culture for a better one.
    At first I was disappointed with the blatant, political message of the film and the "anti-human" choice that Jake Sully made. But those blue people are more "human" than the flat corporate villain character.
    Either way, those blue cat-like bodies were distracting. I would prefer a story that is more clearly about being human. Thumbs up to James Cameron for pushing the fx limits. Now let's put those fx into the production of a GOOD script!

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