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James Cameron's Avatar is not a critique on violence

On the surface it appears that Avatar (the one with the blue people, not the Last Airbender) is a critique on imperialist violence, one long overdue in our culture. But the movie falls short not just once but several times, changing from a thoughtful social commentary to just another feel-good, white-savior blockbuster. I’m not here to critique the writing, though god knows it needs it.

I’m here to talk about how Jake, the wounded soldier, still endorses violence as the only option to take down the Colonel. "I was hoping you’d say that?" And then the film’s narrative dances around having Jake kill the Bad Guy, because oh my god can’t have your hero kill someone on screen. Though apparently Jake’s killed lots of people before.

On the surface, the final battle is won (with Eywa’s help) to preserve the balance of the land. This is undermined by the blatant glorying in death the film takes – the battle is framed as heart-stopping, glorious, something to revel in when you are winning and to dread when you are not.

In the end, the day is won with more violence, endorsed by a deity. There is no even stopping to think on the harm done after the battle – the casualties are swept under the film’s rug, because they died for a good cause right? Oh, and some of the ‘good’ humans get to stay. Even though there’ll be no funding for their equipment to be maintained and it’s likely they’ll NEVER get back to Earth. Oh well, they can live on a planet with floating rocks and air that’s poisonous to them, right?

  • I have NO idea what the hype for Avatar was. (Not Airbender as he's awesome.) My personal opinion is that not much what put into the plot and script. I think the director/producer whatever you call those people had this new "medium" they wanted to work with. They had an idea of what they wanted the movie to look like and they wanted it to showcase their new shiny tech tools, but they didn't actually have a story or plot. So they just sorta slapped things onto some paper and filled in the blanks later. I also feel like it went something like this: "Hey, guys do you remember that movie Ferngully? No? Good hopefully no one else will either, because I intend on using the exact same plot." In fact, maybe after this I'll write an article on how Avatar is basically Ferngully 3. I say 3, because I think there actually was a Ferngully 2... – Tatijana 9 years ago
  • I mean, I think it could still be a critique on imperialist violence/conquest, without actually saying that violence is bad in all situations... Clearly the materialistic, war for the sake of money kind of violence is disgusting, but perhaps war to defend your people and your homeland isn't? Avatar wasn't the most nuanced movie ever, but I think it still has a more nuanced approach to violence than you give it credit for. – thekellyfornian 9 years ago
  • Despite what it looks like, Tatijana, Director James Cameron had early drafts of this script floating around for decades. So he probably wrote the original idea around when things like "Ferngully," "Pocahontas," and "Dances With Wolves" were released back in the mid-90s. But he had to wait for technology to catch up to his immense vision for how the film would look. So while the film is still clearly derivative of all three of those films, and others, it was not something slapped together. It took decades before the motion capture and CGI technology was good enough for what James wanted. It took years to perfect the set-up for everything so that the 3D would function properly. It took years to render every single thing in the film because of how dense and rich the visuals were, especially the plants. And despite how rough and awkward it is, it took decades before the script was where James Cameron wanted it. So it actually took more effort to make than it appears. And I think the reason why we still haven't seen anything on Avatar 2 yet is because Cameron wants to impress everyone again with another big leap in visuals and technology. And I don't blame him. – Jonathan Leiter 9 years ago
  • @thekellyfornian, I think it was definitely /meant/ as a critique on imperialism, it just doesn't follow through on the deepest narrative levels. My counter example is Mad Max: Fury Road, which is certainly a very violent movie, but the framing of the narrative treats that violence differently. Avatar treats violence as something good, something to be excited about and glory in. Fury Road treats it as harmful, even/especially to the heroes of the story inflicting it. – Winterling 9 years ago