Avatar: Opening a Pandora’s box of issues

Watched James Cameron’s Avatar this weekend — it’s a brilliant movie!
The plot can essentially be summed up thus: Ex- marine Jake Sully manages to gain the trust of the indigenous Na’vi with the intent to double-cross them at the end. Along the way, though, he falls in love with cat woman Neytiri and with the philosophy and way of life of the cat people, finally leading an epic battle that will decide the fate of an entire world.

However, there is more to the movie than initially meets the eye. On one level, Avatar is a fantasy flick with stunning visual effects, but on another, it has a more shadowy subtext —a discussion about race, oppression and the annihilation of an indigenous people for access to natural resources. Cameron also draws heavily from Red Indian philosophy when characterizing the Na’vi people, be it their ritual of thanking the spirit of animals they kill for meat, their respect for nature, belief in the Ehwa (pure souls), or their gathering space under the Wisdom tree, where they can hear the voices of all the elders.

Dig a little deeper, and there’s a subtext on the length that developed countries are willing to go to secure oil or other natural resources (in the case of the movie, a rare mineral that can save the earth) —Col. Miles Quaritch giving orders to bomb the area that has the highest concentration of the mineral (right under the Na’vi’s wisdom tree). Makes you think back to the Gulf War and the battle against Iran.

Then there’s the colonizers creed — the indigenous people are always backward, even though they have a deeper understanding of nature and the environment, so give them western clothes, teach them the language, and get them to co-operate by any means possible. If that fails, use force. So what if their sacred spaces are destroyed?

Overall, Avatar scores because it caters to all kinds of viewers — those who just want to be entertained, and those who also want to think. Since there is no in-your-face preaching on the subtext of the movie, you can choose to ignore it and be amazed at the world of Pandora. Or you can have your cake and eat it too — enjoy the stunning visual effects while stimulating your mind. Either ways, you’re sure to love the movie!

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