By David Brooks
This is the oft-repeated story about a manly young adventurer who goes into the wilderness in search of thrills and profit. But, once there, he meets the native people and finds that they are noble and spiritual and pure. And so he emerges as their Messiah, leading them on a righteous crusade against his own rotten civilization.
Avid moviegoers will remember “A Man Called Horse,” which began to establish the pattern, and “At Play in the Fields of the Lord.” More people will have seen “Dances With Wolves” or “The Last Samurai.”
Kids have been given their own pure versions of the fable, like “Pocahontas” and “FernGully.”
It’s a pretty serviceable formula. Once a director selects the White Messiah fable, he or she doesn’t have to waste time explaining the plot because everybody knows roughly what’s going to happen.
Avatar and other hits like New Moon and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel show that you don't need a sophisticated concept for a hit movie. In fact, simpler may be better: Spacemen vs. natives! Teenage vampire romance! Singing chipmunks!
They also offer further proof of the fallacy of the big-name actor. Anyone who thinks Hollywood has to cast someone like Johnny Depp in a movie like The Lone Ranger and Tonto isn't thinking.
For more on the subject, see White Guilt in Avatar and The Best Indian Movies.