Monday, 27 December 2010
Should an Eco-warrior like Avatar?
Having refused to succumb to the hype and see it in the cinema, it's taken me a year to watch Avatar, but thanks to a cheap one month trial with Sky Movies I've finally managed to see it.
I doubt I'll watch it again.
However as the bad guys have giant bulldozers and hate trees it does suggest it should be the sort of film eco-warriors ought to like, but then the same was said of Steven Seagal's On Deadly Ground, and that was just a load of juvenile rubbish.
However Avatar is certainly a phenomena, so it deserves analysis. Millions of otherwise sane people paid good money to view it and, although they mainly went for the special effects, they certainly didn't complain too much about a plot that seemingly takes to pieces the culture they come from and spits it back at them.
Appearances though can be deceptive, and Avatar I suspect is not what it at first appears.
Firstly it's not that contemporary. Despite the reference to Shock and Awe, we're not in the War on Terror here, we're in Vietnam. We have a jungle, we have helicopters, we have a mad colonel, we have something resembling napalm. Nobody says "Charlie don't surf", but pretty much all the other cliches are there.
Secondly it's not that liberal. Sigourney Weaver's character makes the case for a rational study of the forest but she is brushed aside, first by the Na'vi and then by the military to eventually, like the Headmaster in If, die pointlessly for her trouble. Liberals are clearly loosers.
Instead the Na'vi befriend Sully, an ex-marine who can shoot, fight and perform outlandish macho stunts with the best of them, and eventually leads The People to a Battle of Omdurman style slaughter in the best Hollywood tradition.
I originally called it Aliens meets Fern Gully, but really it's Apocalypse Now meets Dances With Wolves (or rather A Man Called Horse, the film that kick started the genre).
Not that we can blame America too much for this. Imperial England always preferred natives primitive and warlike to the cultured and peaceful. Scottish Highlanders, Zulus and Afghans have of course very interesting cultures, but the Victorians saw them as simple warriors who, despite their intransigence, were far preferable to the peaceful but complex Irishman, Hausa or Hindu.
This is of course a highly reactionary view, and one with a few disturbing parallels that Cameron probably didn't intend.
The corporation with it's giant bulldozers and utter disregard for anything except money is clearly meant to represent Capitalism. However Cameron also appears to lump in science and anything resembling human society as the 'bad stuff' that must be opposed.
The idea that the excesses of Neoliberalism can only be tamed by a rejection of science and a return to a simpler society is one that attracts a few on the fringes of the environment movement, but they generally steer clear of fetishising the violence of the archetypal warrior. New Agers and Primitivists are usually peaceful people.
However the Neoconservative movement in America, of which George W Bush was the puppet, were heavily into the idea. True, they hated trees as much as anyone, but they want to replace reason with the Bible and loved wars. They also idealise a make-believe past, in their case a 1950s America of the white, the straight and the middle class, which is just as anachronistic in the modern world as the society of Na'vi.
Looking further back you can even see similarities to the Nazis, who banned 'Jewish' science, hated Capitalists , dabbled in magic, idolised ancient pagan warriors and supposedly loved their native oak forests.
The sleep of reason brings forth monsters.
So should eco-warriors like Avatar?
The special effects are good though.
p.s. in case anyone things I'm the sort of boring old git who hates all modern films I should add I watched District 9 last week and loved it!