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The Billionth Avatar Post: The Movie Sells What It Opposes

Yeah, I’m showing up really late to the party.  Yet I have the benefit of knowing every criticism of the the movie that has come out from the ultra-left Nativists to the Wiccan-worried Vatican.  I think they are all off-base, but if I didn’t, what would be the point of this post?

Avatar follows in a long science-fiction tradition of man vs. machine vs. nature.  The movie came off to me as more Star Wars than Terminator or Matrix, but all are valid as comparisons for meditations on man’s place in the universe.  While the moral of the movie eschews violence and greed, it still cannot break free from them as a paradigm.   This is not a movie about nonviolence as an answer to violence.  Nonviolence is not even in its vocabulary.

Sure, Avatar sets us up to see the violence of one side as morally justified and the other side’s violence as completely immoral/amoral.  The problem is that every side that uses violence always believes that they are morally just.

Reagan thought he was morally justified in supporting Saddam Hussein and Al-QaedaGeorge HW Bush thought he was morally justified in green lighting the Iraqi attack on Kuwait, and then defending Kuwait.  Clinton thought he was morally justified in killing 1 million Iraqis.  George W Bush thought he was morally justified in attacking Afghanistan and Iraq.  Obama believes he’s morally justified in expanding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  Heck, the British in WWI even thought they were morally justified in paying Benito Mussolini to intimidate Italian anti-war protesters.

Gandhi said he was working to save Britain, not India.  In Avatar, Sully was merely trying to fix his own karma of all the damage he had done, and the Goddess still had to step in and save his butt.  Several times.  He didn’t save anyone.  He rained the violence of his world down upon Pandor.

As Gandhi said:

Violence breeds violence…Pure goals can never justify impure or violent action…They say the means are after all just means.  I would say means are after all everything.  As the means, so the end….If we take care of the means we are bound to reach the end sooner or later.

7 Responses

  1. Just saw it today. I thought it was a good movie. Kind of like “The Last Samurai” meets “Dances With Wolves” directed by Ed Bagley, Jr.

    The underlying message seemed to be “violence doesn’t change anything.” But like you essentially said, the “good guys” had to use violence in order to get their message of non-violence to stick.

    • IW: You said much earlier and much clearer:

      For an ostensibly progressive ‘message’ film – and it’s for this that conservative reviewers hate it – its message is disconcertingly, militarily violent, with the goodies just as prone as the baddies to resort to traditional warfare, Yank style. Stifle yawns. The aboriginal people of the fictional heavenly body, Pandora, rise up against the American imperialist army, with the help of lovely and heroic turncoats within the US military itself (one of whom is a woman who wears a pretty singlet that is not US Army issue), but do so in a classic Hollywood way, with the goodies beating the baddies with superior military tactics (plus some help from a ridiculously romanticized Mother Nature). Ugh! American heroes (albeit with blue skin) thrash the crude Snidely Whiplash American soldiers. American fight scenes every which way but true. They just can’t help themselves, can they?

      A splendid opportunity to present NVD (non-violent defence) was sadly missed by the Canadian-cum-American director, who methinks protests too much that he had something new to say. There is nothing new here apart from brilliant special effects, thanks to a reported budget somewhere in the vicinity of the GNP of a struggling nation.

  2. I just finished watching the movie on DVD. I agree– not non-violent at all. I was so hopeful that we could, even in a 3-hour movie, explore another way other than fighting violence with more violence. I thought that it was going to happen when Jake was trying to deal with Grace being shot and he came to the realization that he needed the help of the indigenous people. I was really hoping that we could go down a path to explore that a bit more– that we could maybe realize that we needed each other. The “humans” could have learned to see the gifts of the indigenous people. Maybe the indigenous people could have learned to widen their sphere of interdependency as well. I had hoped that it could help model other ways of dealing with things like violence. Praying, before Jake’s Avatar led the people into battle, doesn’t help the cause at all– actually makes it worse in my opinion– moving it now into the realm of “sacred violence.” I disagreed with my wife around this when she said that it supported some kind of balance. I don’t think God supports any kind of violence. As an ordained minister and student of the Judeo/Christian Bible, I think that even in the parts of the Bible where it seems to suggest that one side won over another because God was on their side, needs to be re-read with different eyes. For those interested in theology, Rene Girard has a great perspective on this. When we fight violence with violence, a never ending cycle is created. In the movie, the “humans” were escorted out under gun and arrow point– can’t we imagine that they will eventually regroup with bigger guns and just try again? Jesus, along with our other non-violent heroes did not play that non-ending game. Our hope is that the cross was a way to expose the brokenness in us and our enemies all the same– and thus, breaking us out of that non-ending cycle. Thanks for your post– I think a great opportunity was missed here.

  3. Organized, out of thin air, this new and virtual experience of being in a strange dream-land filled me with awe and respect for my fellow humans. Avatar. Wow! Never thought it would be so enjoyable. The power of true love made manifest. I appreciated even the violent and scary parts confident that Hollywood would reign with a satisfying ending. Life and death in a movie is a sensation that is at best pretend. What fun! Only in the movies! Written and directed by James Cameron the simple formulaic fairy tale was completed by the amazing harmony by hundreds of skillful artists, technicians, musicians, mathematicians, engineers, actors, athletes, and the list goes on … who worked together to give form to a new and harmonious piece. Pure magic. The good and guiltless, abused by the immoral, greedy, and ugly corporate entity won the horrible battle. Good. Nude in the woods there would be no way to avoid violence turned against those blood-suckers. The mosquitoes that had been attacking me and my family for no apparent reason have been vanquished. We put up screens.

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