“Avatar”: An old fairy tale in a new world

    03 Jun 2021

    A moment later I emerged entirely from the cloud bank, but though I searched in all directions, I saw nothing but foliage, above, around, below me, yet I could see far down into that abyss of leaves. In the soft light I could not determine the color of the foliage, but I was sure that it was not green; it was some light, delicate shade of another color.

    Edgar Rice Burroughs, Pirates of Venus

    There’s the ridiculous aftermath of emerging from a pandemic: James Cameron’s “Avatar” regained the title of the highest grossing film of all time. The blockbuster was reissued in China, which became the most lucrative movie market during the COVID-19 crisis.

    The total sales of the movie over just one weekend in March, 2021, exceeded the mark of $ 2.8 billion.

    The sci-fi epic movie debuted in 2009 and held the world box office title for ten years until it was overtaken by Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” in 2019.

    China has become the most efficient film market since the beginning of the pandemic, BBC reports.

    During the first rental in China in early 2010, “Avatar” managed to raise $203 million, which is a very high figure for the rental of American films in this country. The re-release was expected to bring the movie distributors another $50 million.

    When the “Avengers” bypassed “Avatar” in 2019, Cameron posted on Twitter an image of Iron Man from the “Avengers” in the fictional Pandora’s universe from “Avatar” along with a welcome text.

    Currently, the director is working on four sequels to “Avatar”. The next film, which has been delayed several times, is currently scheduled for release in December 2022.

    On the eve of its re-release in China, “Avatar” earned about $760 million in the United States and just over $2 billion internationally.

    Ironically, I analyze this million-dollar grossing film as an example of eco-propaganda and protest against the colonialist policy of the “white man”. Yes, the thoroughly commercial and “shooting-killing” movies can also carry a moralizing and humanistic message.

    So, let’s go back 12 years ago – to the era when humanity was worried about the H1N1 virus. But then the forces of nature luckily did’nt turn this disease into a factor of world lockdown.

    “Avatar is a new world!” – this is how James Cameron’s long-awaited film, the first art project by the venerable director since the premiere of “Titanic” in 1997, was advertised. During the coincidence, many epigones and copyists managed to slander a number of “Aliens” (with and without Sigourney Weaver) and “Terminators” (with and without “Iron Arnie”) of various kinds. The living classic of American cinema, meanwhile, refused to direct sequels that no longer claimed originality, and confidently created something completely new.

    The movie “Avatar”, however, didn’t become a new word in science fiction. Connoisseurs of the genre will immediately notice the script borrowings from several art works of different times and peoples. Here you you’ve got Harry Harrison, who created the saga of the Deathworld, the Strugatsky brothers, who invented the jungle-covered planet of Pandora, and the “sci-fi feminist” Ursula le Guin, the creator of the environmental masterpiece “The Word for World is Forest” and the “Planet of Exile”. And also “father” of American adventure SF Edgar Rice Burroughs (“Pirates of Venus”). The viewer will find direct analogies with the cartoons “FernGully: The Last Rainforest” (USA-Australia) and “Enchanted Forest” (Yugoslavia-USA), and with the French cartoon “Fantastic Planet” by Rene Lalu, as well as with 2009 year’s sensational debut of Neil Blomkamp “District 9” (although the shooting of the latter went in parallel – the idea of ​​films, rather, just hovered in the air).

    Cameron did not ignore all the modern theories about the “living and intelligent planet” and “natural balance”. For example, Na’vi’s statements clearly show the views of the English ecologist, forerunner of technological collapse, James Lovelock, the author of the famous Gaia-Earth hypothesis.

    In fact, there are so many analogies, primarily because the idea of ​​a dramatic choice of mediator between the warring parties, and even of varying degrees of development, is not new. To mention at least Kevin Costner’s “Dancing with Wolves” describes the same situation. Of course, the ideas of “Avatar” were present in the mainstream sci-fi books. All that was left was to creatively process them and invest millions of dollars in special effects and a pentabyte (1000 terabytes) of computer memory for editing. That’s exactly what Cameron did – and now all the science fiction writers mentioned have actually popularized their ideas through Hollywood.

    Get enough humans here, build machines and robots, make farms and cities, and nobody would need the creechies any more. And a good thing too. For this world, New Tahiti, was literally made for men. Cleaned up and cleaned out, the dark forests cut down for open fields of grain, the primeval murk and savagery and ignorance wiped out, it would be a paradise, a real Eden. A better world than worn-out Earth.

    Ursula le Guin, “The word for world is forest”

    The plot is simple: the protagonist arrives in 4.3 light years on the planet Pandora, a satellite of the gas giant Polyphemus in the Alpha Centauri system, where corporations extract the expensive mineral unobtanium. In the film, it was a room-temperature superconductor; its engineering value allowed for viable interstellar space travel.

    But there are already inhabitants on the planet. And one of the tribes lives just above the Unobtanium deposit. The protagonist is sent in a rather cunning way by a spy and a kind of ambassador to the natives. But the natives don’t need any benefits of civilization in exchange for resettlement.

    This is how wars begin.

    As always, Cameron skillfully presents in a pop-entertainment package a set of humanistic and environmental ideas:

    that you should not steal someone else’s (on the scale of entire planets and races);

    that you should not deplete invaluable resources for the sake of market growth, which, after all, one should not follow the path of modern Western civilization at all.

    The primitive tribes (which we proudly called as such) are much wiser than us: they don’t kill animals unnecessarily, they apologize if they have to kill, they don’t need beer, TVs and asphalt. They don’t need all the things that zombie us, the inhabitants of the semi-artificial Earth.

    “Just what I said. Pyrrus is fighting you — actively and consciously. Get far enough out from this city and you can feel the waves of hatred that are directed at it. There is a message of war being beamed against you constantly. The life forms of this planet are psi-sensitive, and respond to that order. They attack and change and mutate for your destruction. And they’ll keep on doing so until you are all dead. Unless you can stop the war.”

    Harry Harrison, ” Deathworld”

    As it should be for a Hollywood  blockbuster, “Avatar” features a fair amount of killing and shooting and beautiful and carefully drawn graphics. In terms of special effects, the film surpassed its “ideological predecessor” “District 9” by several goals (because $230 million budget against $30 million – it’s no joke). However, the messages of young South African and mature American directors are the same. Who are we, people, if we destroy nature and brothers in mind for the sake of some ore (insert the necessary – oil, gas, weapons…)?

    We are murderers. And, as Agent Smith, the protagonist of another mascot movie masterpiece, said, “I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.”

    Ironically, the Wachowskis actually quote a prominent nature conservationist who stands far from the “dream factory” – Dave Foreman. And the continuation of the thought is: “white blood cells fight and overcome aggressive pathogens. Perhaps these antibodies are the defenders of nature” (“Confession of an Eco-Warrior”).

    Undoubtedly, watching “Avatar” will cause a thinking person only hatred of technocracy and the Western, consumerist way of life. The first minutes after the final you feel what the citizen lacks – forests and clean air around, beautiful landscapes, not obscured by skyscrapers, food not from the package and without preservatives and GMOs, the freedom to get food and create songs, not going to the supermarket and listening to dead electronics.

    The United States’ desire to obtain gold, coal, oil, copper, tin, minerals, and land in the Indian territories ran into unforeseen difficulties. The traditional forms of government of the Indians were invariably governed by natural laws: the earth was considered a Being or a Spirit and, therefore, it could not be sold or exchanged for anything.

    Jerry Mander, “In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations”

    Cameron, intentionally or not, embodied a complex of American society. Those White people killed indigenous Native American culture a hundred years ago, destroyed forests on all sides of the compass. At first, forests were completely destroyed in the United States (after they suddenly “ended” in the Old World). And now the descendants of the proud cowboys, who “victoriously” shot the buffalo in the prairies, are finishing their work in the Amazon. Therefore, the picture shown in “Avatar” does not give the impression of something fantastic – the same thing we can see right now, looking at Brazil and other Latin American countries.

    The movie also perfectly describes the causes of nationalism as a phenomenon (“We will not give away what belongs to us!”). This is how all the wars and enmities between the tribes began: when some savages came to the territory of others with sticks and took their property from the weak. All that changed is that the sticks were given way to tanks, looting, rape and murder are called “peacekeeping”, “anti-terrorist” and sometimes “defensive” operations. Apparently, it’s not by chance that the film also shows the constant banter about the military (“you’re all stupid!” – Grace constantly repeats, played by Sigourney Weaver).

    Another nuance – “you cannot fill a bowl that is already filled.” It’s about Earth scientists. Blindness often occurs not only from ignorance, but also from brainwashing with academic words. Grace is a great example of how a scientist is not responsible for what happens as a result of her discoveries and against the background of her scientific euphoria. The scientist is busy only with a thirst for discoveries and cannot change anything when the carnage begins. Interestingly, the massacre, i.e. the operation to “pacify” the Pandorians, contains an allusion to modern events – its code name is “Shock and awe”. This was the name of the military doctrine of the American contingent in the Middle East, designed specifically for the invasion of Iraq.

    The Indians tell us that uranium must remain in the earth – but their voice is lost in the noise of the wind. They have kept knowledge that can help us heal and restore the Earth – but their views run counter to the nuclear, neocolonial world of corporations. Resisting the constant attacks of industrial society, they heroically defend their worldview, at the center of which is the principle of the sanctity of the earth. It’s time to listen to them.

    Klaus Biegert

    However, we see on the screen not a senseless massacre (as in “Starship Troopers”) and not the heroic resistance of the rebels against the Empire in some fantasy world (as in “Star Wars”), but a war where it’s clear who is right and who is to blame. Cameron made a masterful self-parody of Western civilization at great expense. This is probably what the genocide of the aboriginal population by the imperialists, armed with the first tanks and machine guns, looked like in the early twentieth century. 

    The author of environmental bestsellers Jerry Mander was right: “The most important rule of corporate work – the corporation must make a profit and must grow. All other values ​​are secondary: the well-being of society, the satisfaction of workers, the health of the planet and even the general well-being of the country. Corporations are never charged with murder, and the corporations themselves do not plead guilty.”

    As a result of such a policy, extrapolated by the director for the next 150 years, there are no more plants on the Earth of the XXII century. There is only the war for resources, the massacre in Nigeria and Venezuela, and humanity that has not dealt with crime on the streets, but has already gone into outer space and is “conquering” it.

    It’s a pity that two hours of screen time failed to contain at least some details of Na’vi culture – only excerpts from legends and basic information about alien people who have found harmony with nature. And the finale of the film is open. It is noticeable that the victory of cartoon characters over a high-tech opponent is only temporary. So let’s wait for the promised trilogy “Avatar”, which we hope will develop the ideas laid down in the first part.

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