The Natives Are Revolting
I took my children to see James Cameron’s new blockbuster ‘Avatar’ not long ago. I had some other things on my mind and only watched the film with half an eye but it seemed like harmless, cartoon-ish fun: noisy, colourful and simplistic. But something about the film bothered me, so I downloaded a copy and watched it again in the small hours; only this time, I paid attention.
The story, in a fast nutshell, concerns a planet–Pandora–that a space-faring mining corporation is intent on exploiting for a rare mineral. A mineral so rare, in fact, that it’s called ‘Unobtanium’ (the fact that it is obtainable kind of negates the name, but let it pass). “This stuff fetches $20 million a kilo” drools the corporate shit-weasel who runs the project and is one of the two main ‘bad guys’. The other ‘bad guy’ is the head of security, an ex-marine Colonel turned corporate mercenary who runs a small army, bulges with veins and muscles like a condom stuffed with hazelnuts and who appears to be in a constant state of ‘roid rage: the man’s positively pop-eyed with testosterone and aggression.
The good guys are of two species–the human scientists accompanying the mission, led by Sigourney Weaver (whose experience of aliens made her a cinch for the role) and the natives of Pandora–the Na’vi: blue, nine-foot super-models with prehensile ears and a taste for Mohican haircuts.
The ‘avatars’ of the title are lab-bred or grown simulacra of the native people. These are controlled by human ‘operators’ whose mind or consciousness is transfered into the avatar. Thus they can move amongst the native peoples, gain their trust, learn their ways, etc etc.
The main storyline concerns a paraplegic former marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) recruited by the mining corporation to befriend a particular clan of the blue natives.
In the form of an ‘avatar’, Sully’s task is to persuade them to move off a valuable tract of land the company wants to mine, lest the head shit-weasel (played with a sort of callous, reptilian charm by Giovanni Ribisi) sends in the Colonel and his para-military security force to blast them out of the way with helicopter gunships.
To call the tale ‘simplistic’ is misleading: Little Red Riding Hood is a rigorously multi-layered morality play by comparison. All the characters are black or white, good guy/bad guy archetypes; the dialogue is a cringe-inducing mish-mash of sacchirine platitudes about the glory and beauty and innate wisdom of nature. It’s like the Bush Tucker Man and Black Elk Meet Buck Rogers.
Essentially, it’s a jungle-set fairytale written by some bean-sucking hippie. The Na’vi are noble savages with pure hearts . They live in a gigantic tree, ‘the Home Tree’ (shades of Tolkien’s elves). They literally ‘plug in’ to animals. Their sacred site is luminescent and has magical restorative powers. The forest is full of will ‘o’ the wisps that can judge a man’s nature and character. Everything on the planet is bound by a network of energy that flows through all living things. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Dalai Llama had put in an appearance.
To cut a long story short, our hero Sully goes native in a big way, shacks up with a local girl and turns against his corporate masters. He makes a ‘stirring’ speech to an assembled host of local rowdies, all about ‘our land’ and ‘freedom’ and ‘fighting in a just cause’ etc etc. Battle is joined, the corporation is defeated and driven off planet and Sully stays on, fully transformed into a Na’vi by the power of erm..Gaia? Ayia? Something like that…
Now, here’s the really odd thing about all this: the film’s message is clear–oppressors must be fought by any means necessary. It is right and fitting that one should die driving invaders off your land. Violent insurrection is not only legitimate but absolutely required because evil corporations and governments can’t be reasoned with.
It’s a message that will resound with people the world over: natives of New Guinea whose land is being strip-mined and polluted by Rio Tinto Zinc; Amazonian tribes losing their habitat to loggers; Australian people whose sacred lands are despoiled by Broken Hill Properties in collusion with government; the Ogoni people of Nigeria fighting against the ruination of their Niger River wetlands by Shell and BP and last but not least, the Palestinians, whose people are killed and whose land is stolen from them on a daily basis.
In one scene, gigantic bulldozers plow through the lush forest, tearing down groves of ancient trees sacred to the Na’vi and I thought ‘Israeli army bulldozers/Palestinian olive groves’. Palestinians got the same message which is why a group of them made themselves up like Na’vi last week to protest against more Israeli land grabs.
Avatar is saying it loud and clear: fight or the land-rapers, the culture-destroyers, the corporate shit-weasels and their bought-and-paid-for governments will roll right over you. Take that, Israel. Take that, America and your corporate masters. Take that Rio Tinto Zinc.
This is The Clash asking:
When they kick in your front door
How you gonna come?
With your hands on your head
Or on the trigger of your gun?
…and Avatar answering: with your gun in your hands and, oh…don’t forget the grenades.
Compare this with the anodyne soft soap of John Lennon’s:
If you go carryin’ pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow:
Don’t you know it’s gonna be..alright
Don’t you know it’s gonna be-ee..alright.
Yeah? Alright for who, Jack? Some pampered multi-millionaire rock-star? Fuck that noise.
But the most curious aspect of all this, for me, is where this message of revolt and rebellion is coming from: 20th Century Fox, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, one of the most egregious, inhumane, anti-democratic and exploitative corporations on earth.
Rock music has turned inward or anecdotal, Art has become a dog and pony show about money and most film has become bubble-gum for the eyes. Things have reached a pretty pass when the most incendiary message of violent revolution comes from the very corporate world that a revolution would destroy. Strange days, indeed…