All Energy Is Borrowed: A Review of Avatar
By Gary Westfahl
Cameron also conspicuously stacks the deck in arguing for the benefits of living naturally: when Sully first enters the Pandoran forest, the film acknowledges that nature is filled with both wonderful and terrible things when Sully is almost killed by two gigantic predators and by smaller dog-like animals. However, once the Na'vi resolve to teach Sully about their idyllic lives and benign philosophy, these dangerous animals completely vanish from sight, the forest is re-envisioned as a lush paradise, and the only perils involve the Pandoran habits of running madly along narrow tree branches and leaping across chasms (which would logically result in most natives dying from fatal falls well before they reached adulthood, but hey, this is a movie, and having them move with more reasonable caution would be much less exciting). Then, just when you have entirely forgotten that this wondrous forest was ever home to horrible monsters, all of them abruptly reappear—because it's revenge-of-nature time, and now they are the good guys since they are trying to kill humans instead of aliens.
Given a choice, most people would use "unnatural" devices and methods to make their lives easier. That includes Indians and other indigenous people. So again, there was no black-and-white rejection of the foreigners and the things they offered.
Avatar's liberal propaganda
When two cultures meet, a cultural exchange usually begins. Both sides learn from and adopt the best ways of the other. People who reject the "new ways" for the "old ways" eventually die out.
Why? Because societies are like people. A hybrid, multicultural society is generally stronger than a "pure," monocultural one. You can declare that you know best and avoid contact with others, or you can learn from others when their approach is better. Education and exposure to new things are how people and societies improve themselves.
It's a shame Cameron made the "noble savages" in Avatar too noble. That lets conservatives reject the movie's message as false or misleading. (Conservatives apparently are incapable of a nuanced thought such as: "Avatar went too far, but I agree with its basic message.") Even liberals are uneasy with the storyline, calling it formulaic, clichéd, or derivative.
I don't know whom Cameron was targeting: the same children who loved FernGully? If he was trying to send a message to adults, he should've used more depth and nuance. Avatar's message might've been a shocker 50 years ago, but these days, people are too sophisticated for poster-style propaganda.
For more on the subject, see White Guilt in Avatar and Army vs. Indians in Avatar.