Below is a grammatically corrected version of a Gchat I had with Jacob S. Knabb, editor of Another Chicago Magazine, which is, right now, reading for its all-Chicago issue (so if you’re a Chicago writer, click that link and send ’em your best).
me: Hey, seen Avatar?
jacob: Nope. You?
me: I’m writing a criticism and need help. Seen the trailer?
jacob: Can I be honest?
me: http://www.apple.com/trailers/fox/avatar/index.html Of course.
jacob: It looks like a shit film to me.
jacob: I don’t like James Cameron.
me: Its environmental message is all kinds of fucked.
jacob: I have zero interest in paying to see that. Of course.
me: I need help focusing “all kinds of fucked” into “fucked in the following ways.”
jacob: People have been justifying it by saying that at least it’s left-leaning.
me: There are these “natives” that can “become one” with the animals around them by fusing the ends of their ponytails into the ends of the ponytails of the animals and then they can think and move as one. So there are these natives, first of all. You know, like, that’s enough, but then the human who becomes a native and joins them . . .
jacob: Ok . . .
me: . . . can only become one with them by totally assimilating,
me: actually becoming one of them. Somehow his body / mind are spiritually conducted into his avatar body at the end. Spoiler alert! Sorry! And the humans have to return home to their own ruined planet.
jacob: No sweat. Go on. Ah.
me: The mineral is called “unobtainium,”
jacob: Bitter justice.
me: as in “unobtainable.”
jacob: Oh Jesus. That’s bad.
me: Okay, so the humans ruin pretty much like 90% of the natives’ land, and only when it comes down to their most precious land do the natives fight back and bring it hard core.
jacob: Yes. Ok.
me: So they do this massive war.
jacob: Of course.
me: The spirits have heard the prayers of the human / avatar character, and then all the animals and plants get into the fight, too.
jacob: Mmhm. Wow. Plants?
me: Well, not so much.
jacob: That James Cameron. Tricky.
me: There’s nothing in the environmental message about preservation, reduction, conservation.
me: And the humans die at the end because they’re sent home to their dead planet.
me: I’m not sure that’s part of the story, actually, the humans’ dead planet, but the unobtainium is a resource on this other planet that goes for major $ on earth, so they just need it, but I don’t understand the environmental message.
jacob: This sounds perfectly horrible.
me: The good guys are the “natives” who have a relationship with nature,
jacob: Wait, why must you write about this again?
me: but the only way they can preserve it is by banishing humans altogether.
jacob: Yes. Of course. Remove the parasite.
me: And even the human /avatar must become all avatar to remain.
jacob: Genocide. A clean removal. Why are you writing about this?
me: So I don’t know what to criticize, where to start.
jacob: It’s something of a horse apple . . .
me: It’s a blog post for Big Other. I’m a lousy contributor though. Was hoping to redeem myself with this one. Maybe I’ll just post our chat.
jacob: Well, can’t you just sort of puzzle it out in the piece?
me: Not that interested in actually writing something up, formally. Would rather be reading. I’m almost finished with Carole Maso’s AVA, would like to get back to that.
jacob: I received a host of awesome books for Christmas this year.
me: Oh yeah? Hey, I think I am going to post it. How do you feel about that?
jacob: Bolano (who I have yet to red), Javier Marias. A novel called Crum that I’ve been dying to read. Fine by me.
me: Crum. Reminds me of Cruddy.
me: No, no, the book Cruddy.
12 thoughts on “Gchat about James Cameron’s Avatar (with spoiler alert).”
Haha, this is great. Ava is unbelievable, is it now? Ava, Avatar. Oh.
Plus, you have to consider Avatar’s racist/colonialist portrait of natives. Will we never get past this primitivist bullshit?
I don’t know why I said “is it now?” I meant to say “isn’t it?”
Yes, yes! See, the topic is huge, and I’m out of my element. I can’t wait to see how this thread develops, though.
Thank you for publishing this. I was beginning to feel like the world was going crazy as people whose opinions I normally valued were now posting praises of “Avatar” &/or desires to go see it. Posting a link to this has become my retaliation of choice. I effing detest James Cameron!
I saw it. Pretty boring. Like ten minutes in, you realize “oh yeah, John Smith and Pocahontas in outer space” What’s funny is that the same people who thought this movie was “awesome” would detest Malick’s THE NEW WORLD, and call THAT boring. Whatever. I despise movies that use video game storytelling, which is becoming increasingly frequent.
Well, as Nathaniel West said, “California (i.e. Hollywood) is where dreams go to die.”
Sorry, I was logged in wrong. I was the “ltmarlborough” comment
I thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle and was happy to pay the money to have my eyeballs blown in 3d.
The story was unsubtle and cliche and a lot of the acting was overdone and silly. Asking AVATAR to walk a finer line with regards to “capitalism. bad. natives. good” is like asking a Star Wars movie to have good dialogue. You miss out on the lightsaber battles and end up sad and unfulfilled. I don’t think I heard a single person say “Go, see AVATAR—because the love story is poignant.” It’s a singular film in terms of its CGI techniques. That’s why people are paying to see it.
Ben, you have a point, but the movie wants to be viewed as a political metaphor, and part of its politics involves natural resources and, therefore, the environment . . .
I’ll buy that. I found the points discussed in the gchat interesting, because when I talked about the movie with friends, we came to focus on the idea that the movie is anti-capitalist, anti-greed, anti-war-as-a-solution. While the natives may have been caricatured to an extent, the message of the movie I thought was that culture has value and that not understanding the ways of others (i.e. savages) doesn’t make exploitation okay.
I don’t think environmentalism as such was really the major point of the film at all, except in the sense that destroying things is bad and destroying them+genocide is worse. Peaceful coexistence and respect for others is the Kool-Aid we’re being asked to drink.
These points are painted with a big, crude brush, but they’re the points I see.
Good points, Ben. I like, first of all, that talk with friends includes the larger discussion(s) of capitalism, greed, and war. I’d like to commend the movie — a movie that is, as you say, concerned perhaps first and foremost with its visual topography — for its ability to get people talking about its politics at all. We go for one reason, and we come out talking about its other reason(s for existing). That is worth praise, indeed.
I believe the movie does have an environmental stance, that environmentalism is fundamental to its “message,” especially given the natives’ way of life. Their relationship to their natural environment is one that Sully has to both learn to appreciate and learn to “live.”
One area where I see the metaphor failing to complete itself is in Sully’s dominance over the red bird. The blue one seems to have been a mutual respect sort of thing. The red one, on the other hand, grants him (re- or true) entry into the “world of the natives” while it also allows him to achieve a higher status position.
I like very much that environmentalism (as it’s defined in the world of this movie) can be learned — and has been learned by Sigourney Weaver’s character, her scientists, and Sully. That’s a powerful message for the movie to put out there: it’s not too late for any of us; open mind, open heart, etc.
However, I want to know what happened to the blue bird after it’s traded in for the red. No longer needed, Sully discards him for a better model. This wastefulness is part of our environmental problem (conservation, reduction, etc., as I mentioned in the body of the post). Rather than cradle to cradle, this simple plot necessity (dominance over the biggest, baddest bird in the sky) ends up perpetuating our cradle-to-grave mentality . . . .
Interesting. I thought Sully says near at the end that after the red bird is no longer needed, he is freed to return to the sky (and I assume Sully is to return to his blue, if it survived the battle in which seemingly all blue birds fight). The thing is, to me, that the very nature of the creatures in AVATAR, there is very little consumption at all. Everything is connected to the big tree. Everything, even Sigourney Weaver’s characters is absorbed into the greater consciousness. The idea that grand gestures are needed to override grand mistakes is as cliche as Kobe buying his wife a $5 million diamond ring during his rape trial, but I really don’t see a very strong connection between wastefulness and Sully’s domination of the red bird. Even if he leaves the blue bird, it is not a resource–it’s an animal that can do perfectly well on its own.
The female character (name escapes me) rides one of those panther-thingies, which is also bigger and stronger than her usual horse-thing. The idea to me is that everything is so interconnected that people can (and perhaps should) respect and partner with all sorts of creatures in order to accomplish the tasks that benefit the planet.
that’s how i saw it, too. live in communion/connection with nature and the planet will benefit, everybody will. nice enough. the movie was ridiculously cliched and easy to predict, but had some fun. and the glow-forest is cool to look at. i can see people having problems with evil-human-army-guy, but then there were also reasonable-human-scientist-people. and i know this is science fiction and we’re on another planet with tall blue natives and floaty mountains, but i just don’t buy those waterfalls falling from the floaty mountains. i spent way too much time thinking about those waterfalls.