01 February 2010

Avatar and Waking up from Dreams

I've been meaning to write something about Avatar ever since I saw it at the beginning of January. Luckily, I didn't get around to it until now, and Mark Morford has done an incredible job of saying pretty much everything I had hoped to say, but funnier.

My favorite part of his piece:

...in this movie, you don't merely get to fantasize about the Other from afar or even just indulge in interspecies sex. You get to literally become one of them. You enter into their bodies and actually move and hunt and breathe and fight and screw and kiss and talk like them, fuse your DNA to theirs forever and ever....Behold, the ultimate in guilty colonialist fetish fantasy epic porn filmmaking, ever.
The one thing I want to add to Morford's awesome analysis is to point out the one line that offered a hope of redemption for the film. Right before the Great Epic Fantasy Battle of Manliness, Our Hero is pulled abruptly out of his dream world with his hot alien girlfriend and says in voice over, "I was a warrior fighting for peace, but sooner or later you have to wake up."

Cameron actually cuts to black right after that insightful line, and when I was watching the film, I thought (oh, what a fool!) that that was actually the end. Imagine how different the film becomes if it ends with the message that sooner or later one has to wake up from idealist fantasies about escaping one's own situation?

My reading of the film departs from that line, and even the epic battle scene at the end can be perversely read as an element of a metaphor that compares how we watch films, desiring to project ourselves into and "Other" and truly understand her/him, to the white guilt fantasy porn of being able to literally inhabit the body of the Other. We're reminded briefly that "sooner or later you have to wake up" ... the film will end, fantasies are unrealizable ... but then Cameron plunges immediately into one of the most epic fantasy-realization sequences ever. We breathe a sigh of relief -- the film can have a happy ending!

However, this happy ending is marred by how utterly implausible the script becomes, as alien populations we never knew about magically appear, as the Sky People decamp never to return again (really?!?!), and the ultimate magic of becoming one of the Na'vi allows Jake to utterly escape all responsibility for his own situation and his own contributions to colonization. The fact that the end is so fantastical, so full of wish-fulfillment fantasies, just underscores the fact that sooner or later we have to wake up from this dream.

But sadly, I know that wasn't Cameron's intention. And sadly, most theater goers seem to have left the theater still deep in the dream that is Avatar. The film is about environmentalism? What?!?! It's a protest against colonialism? Really?!?!

No comments:

Post a Comment