Avatar, Reviewed

I should begin by saying, wow, it was a pain to see this movie. Husband and I tried to go to the last matinee today and it was sold out even though we were there 20 minutes before the showing. Proves what we know. We bought tickets for the 7 o’clock and got back to the theater by 6. We we still about 25th in line.

This is serious business, folks.

I should begin by disclosing my positionality on such films. I have, to quote a dear friend, “a sensitive psyche.” I don’t like watching people or animals get killed, tortured, or injured. It brings me no pleasure. I understand that if I avoided such content completely, I would be left with How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days and the Winnie the Pooh series, and I like both of those options, but sometimes I just want a little more. So, I am willing to tolerate some things that I find abominable in order to, you know, complicate the story and make the redemption all the more significant or something like that.

This movie was hard on me. I felt sweaty and exhausted when I left,without any cardiovascular benefits. I was tense for nearly the entire 2 hours and 40 minutes of the film’s run time. So. Much. Stress. And. Violence.

End disclosure.

I thought the movie was, as everyone is repeating, visually stunning. The 3-D was marvelously employed and the set design and cinematics worthy of applause. It was a joy to watch the forest scenes, despite their unavoidable resonances with Fern Gully, Pocahontas, and The Lion King. Which brings me to my next point.

I’ve been having lots of conversations recently about our culture’s tendency to eroticize, obsess over, and commercialize difference. And the people groups we as white North Americans most assign difference to, and extrapolate our white guilt from, are Native Americans (proximity–geographically and historically) and Africans (visibility and convenience). The defining characteristics of the Na’vi are obviously derived from these two people groups.

The film breaks no new ground in exploring ideas of difference or power structures. Instead, it relies on old tropes (see Disney films above) and codes to fill in any narrative gaps. This is a major weakness of the film. Simply reconstructing and emphasizing the binaries of good and evil, raced and non-raced, naturalized and alien, colonizer and colonized, further no important discussions and just reify the powers inherent in such structures of identity and understanding present from the start.

I wish the story had been more complicated. I wish the central romance had not just been sort of a Simba/Nala rip-off (even the main “mating” scene is THE SAME). I wish I hadn’t left the theater feeling slightly skeeved out. I wish I hadn’t had to pay an extra $3.50 just for the stupid plastic 3-D glasses (but, like I said, the visuals were great). I wish there had been more nuance and more play with the concept of “the avatar,” especially considering today’s undeniable cultural correlation with MMOs such as World of Warcraft and Half Life. I wish James Cameron had taken a bit more initiative and been bolder in the politics of the film because the tired, old, military man versus the cool, young, scorned soldier (even the way in which he refers to himself over and over as “a warrior” is laughable and pitiable) feels stale. I wish the film had taken more risks.

I’m still processing the movie and may have more to say later, so I reserve the right to edit my initial opinions, but I do think they are important just because they are my initial opinions. Thoughts?

Image via Reel Movie News


6 responses to “Avatar, Reviewed

  1. I can’t stand the violence to man nor beast, so, thanks for going for me;)

  2. You’re welcome!

  3. I was thinking about the language in Avatar– thanks to the impact of Ovalle’s “aurality” and I came across this article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/8408245.stm

    It’s interesting that the inventor of the language wanted it to sound Polynesian, Japanese, or German. All places touched by the American military and colonialism.

  4. I’m so torn on this film…I’m sort of convinced its awful without ever seeing it.

  5. Sarah: That’s so interesting and Ovalle would be so proud. It’s especially interesting when you consider the blatantly obvious overtones of Native Americanness and Africanness present in the visual construction of the characters.

    Rebecca: I think you should see it just to experience the 3-D, but yeah, it’s not good. If you do see it, let me know what you think.

  6. Pingback: Flowers « With a Twist of Dynamite

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