Fascinating interview with James Cameron about Avatar‘s message. He says: “The movie is designed to work as a straightforward adventure and a romance, and if that’s all you want from a movie, that’s fine, but the message isn’t going over people’s heads.”
I doubt this highly. The message is, as so many people have pointed out, not in the least bit original, nor can anyone claim it is even the best execution of this story. I knew how the whole thing would play out the minute I saw the ads. The only reason I saw the thing was to see what the special effects were like. I strongly suspect the same was true of most people. Furthermore, because of how radical the message is (at times, anyway) I strongly doubt most people fully get it.
Cameron, of course, can’t admit this, even to himself. If he did, it would mean he was simply a shallow magician, not an artist. He is merely making people ooh and ahh over pretty effects. He is in no way advancing any new ideas.
As for the idea that the movie is about something other than the Iraq war; this is partially true, but partially misleading. It is obvious that the “shock and awe” reference is supposed to evoke Iraq, but it is likewise obvious that I doubt his point about harming the environment relates to the Iraq war. Even if you think the Iraq war was entirely about oil, it’s hard to claim it ruined the pristine beauty of the country, since someone would drill for the stuff anyway. I assume the jungle setting for the story–which Cameron is said to have been thinking about since he was a teenager–is based on the Vietnam war; although no resources were involved in that war as far as I know.
Actually, for all the talk about environmentalism, the movie’s “message”, such as it is, has little to do with environmentalism. One of the central points about being environmentally friendly is that if you change one part of the ecosystem, it affects the whole planet. But this is not true once you are talking about affecting ecosystems on other planets.
The message of Avatar is not pro-environmentalism, but rather anti-colonialism. (This is, of course, an even older theme.)
As for the is-Avatar-pro-or-anti-military issue, I don’t think Cameron himself knows. I suspect his worldview is such that he can’t decide which is worse: the army or a private corporation. So he makes it a private mercenary army, so as to have it both ways. This, apart from any other considerations, doesn’t work dramatically because he never decides if he’s satirizing gung-ho militarism or private greed.
He also says that part of the message is “‘Listen to what your leaders are saying. Open your eyes. And understand what the run-up to war is like, so the next time it happens, you can question it.’ “
Alright, nice message. Except that the hero, Jake Sully, doesn’t actually ever question anything. I don’t believe he ever makes any attempt to discuss anything with the villainous Colonel. It would not be productive, of course, because the Colonel is a one-dimensional character; but that is no excuse. If Cameron can’t even write a scenario in which his own message can be put across properly, it means he needs to brush up on his writing.
What Avatar represents is a mish-mash of vague leftist ideas masquerading as a satire. It’s a satire of Iraq when it wants to be, then lurches into being a morality play about the treatment of Native Americans, and from there into something about environmentalism. These issues are different, of course, but what does Cameron care? When Cameron was told the movie “seemed like the story of the Taliban told from the movement’s point of view,” the article says that Cameron “finds that kind of literalism ‘egregious’ and ‘willfully ignorant of the power of allegorical storytelling.'”
Actually, it is very cognizant of the power of allegorical storytelling. But because Cameron’s script is wide and its targets constantly changing, he can always say “Well, that bit wasn’t about the Taliban.”
To be continued…
Thanks to Big Hollywood for discussing this interview.