Jessica's Blog

Avatar: Evaluating The Themes

There’s a lot in this movie for it to be considered a masterpiece.  For, yes, its story line might be simplistic but, remember, the story is an allegory.  This simple story is meant to symbolize the much more complex real world.  It is a reflection of theories concerning Colonialism and ecology.  One can even tell that the director, James Cameron, referenced anthropologists to try to take the authenticity level up in other areas…

related article links:

David Price: Hollywood’s Human Terrain Avatars

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Avatar: Multi Billion Dollar Colonialism, Occupation, and Oppression Dialogues in 3D

There is more to talk about concerning this topic than I can cover in just one post.  Right now, I will talk about the story’s main themes concerning colonialism and ecology.

To truly understand the colonialism theory one has to go back to the beginning of European mercantilism.  This period began when the European countries began the process of exploring the foreign seas.  In actuality, this was an arms race between the European nations for foreign spices and other materialistic goods.  The competition between one-another drove their technology—specifically weapons and armor–to new heights faster than any other area in the world.  Soon after the Europeans had conquered their own seas they began the outward process of colonization in the New World and Asia.  Native American exploitation is best known.  Few people consider the fact that the Opium Wars of China are due to Western demand for fine foreign goods; a demand so high that merchants where trading opium for silks and fine china.  The Western world has a long history of exploiting peoples who sit on resources considered valuable to the westerner: land, oil, minerals, and water are just a few examples.  Consider the developing world and its problems.  Consider the true source of their misfortune.  Is it the fact that they aren’t as technologically advanced the makes them so much worse off.  Consider instead that it is the Western world’s greed that has caused them such trouble; good the phrase: development of the underdeveloped.  In the movie Avatar, the western merchants are symbolized by our species invading the world of Pandora; humans coming for our precious fuel source, “Unobtonium”, to a world where its people live in perfect harmony with the land around them.  It doesn’t matter that someone else already holds claim to the land; the people are dumb “blue monkeys”.  What right do we have to even touch this Planet’s resources in the first place?  All the land belongs to the Na’vi and should be treated as such; and yet we believe we can walk into the place and take what we need.  I find the fact that the story line is so simplistic refreshing.  Oftentimes, a good allegory is just a simple is a story where the message is universal and applicable to many events.

This story isn’t just a message concerning colonialism but also an ecological message dealing with the naturalist myth (Pouchepadass 1995: 2060) and the concept of primitive people.  The myth basically lays out the concept that there is truly no such thing as untouched jungle:  “… the societies which lived in and from the forest when the Europeans arrived were not isolated communities preserved from all outside influence from the beginnings of History” (Pouchepadass 1995: 2060).  This movie takes the concept of an untouched people to new heights.  The Na’vi had never known another race of similar intelligence before humans came to their world (as far as we know).  They are portrayed has a hunter gatherer tribal unite.  In which they do not agriculturally work the land but gather its resources and hunt its prey.  They are portrayed as primitives that get exploited because they do not have the technology to combat the outsider’s technology.   I think this view-point screws the facts; one must first consider how to define primitive.  The only way I can think of to define this world is in terms of relativity to another.  In this case, to be primitive is to be less technologically advanced than another.  The problem with this definition is that the Na’vi do not consider themselves to be primitive.  In fact, they call Jack Sully primitive or “like a baby” for not understanding how to live in the environment.  To them, to be primitive is a totally different concept than to us.  They are able to interact with their environment of a very advanced level; they tap into it by a means we do not even fully understand.  A point that Dr. Grace Augustine continually reminds us of as she talks about the trees, animals, and people of past and present being connected by a chemical-electrical network.

For much of this piece I consulted much of my own memory in past classes concerning Globalism and the Environment.  Please feel free to correct me if you notice any wrong facts.   I am only an amateur on topics such as this and very capable of making mistakes.


Pouchepadass, Jacques
1995 Colonialism and Environment in India: Comparative Perspective. Economic and Political Weekly 30(33):2059-2067.


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