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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Why I Now Love Avatar Because I Hate It

Some time back I talked about why Avatar would suck, and yet it would still be one of the biggest movies in years. Thus far, it seems to be exactly that. Most of the people who love the movie point out that the story is horribly cliché, but that the visuals are stunning; those who dislike it point out that it’s either a crazy liberal fantasy (it probably is) or a visual stunt (considering that it’s in 3D, that’s not far off the mark). Probably the worst part of this is that I've seen Avatar recommended not for being a good movie, per se, but because one can't miss the visual revolution it will likely start.

And now, having seen all that is said about the movie, good and bad, I have come to love it. No, I haven't seen the movie (I don't have to in order to understand what the film entails), but I have come to love the film for the same reasons that I and others "hate" it. Here are a few of those reasons:
  • It comments upon numerous American fantasies, particularly a nostalgic desire for an unattainable British-style empire (fueled, perhaps, by what Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr. refers to as the “British imperial nostalgia displaced onto the American heirs” in his essay “Cyberpunk and Empire”) in an exceptionally obvious and unrelenting way. This makes for interesting analysis when one tries to consider how the vision Avatar gives us comments upon both the creators and the world we live in.
  • What can only be said to be a remarkable ability on the part of the writers to reduce racial or ethnic subjects (or, for the purposes of this discussion, the “Other,” or the more apt term, “Subaltern”) to caricature, thinly veiled and served with a side of American-guilt masqueraded as White-guilt (I refuse to reduce problems of genocide to racial stereotypes when we live in a world beset with the perpetuation of this practice by people of all races).
  • A uniquely anti-capitalist, anti-military, and anti-imperialist fictionalization that is and probably always will be mistaken for something it is not (i.e. some liberal critique of the U.S. militaristic state in need of refutation via indefensible positions. Such positions are, unfortunately, taken as legitimate critiques in this world--to put it more plainly, the use of the “this is an evil liberal movie” argument to reduce the term “liberal” into something derogatory while both ignoring and inviting others to ignore the truth underneath whatever is being said; we might call this the “head in the sand” mentality, which exist in all stripes of politics, no matter how right or left leaning).
I'm sure there's much more I could add to this, but these seem to be the three most important points to make. Avatar’s story is still trite; it’s character are still cardboard cutouts; it’s ideas are still representative of yesterday’s greatest hits; and no matter how hard you try, you can’t make it into anything more than a technology stunt worthy of the praise it has received (namely, that it is visually stunning, and nothing else). Whatever revolutionary power it will have will, thus, be reduced to the technological. I don’t think fans of the film, however, should be put off by this, because many great movies have influenced filmmaking while being terrible or mediocre or “just okay.” Influence is influence.

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  1. The film is too stupid for it to be fair to analyse it and too pretty to miss. I loved it.

  2. I disagree. Yes, it's stupid, but the messages it is portraying and its political and economic contexts are certainly worth examining. Whether or not it is pretty is irrelevant to me.

  3. Anonymous2:41 AM

    So ... are you not seeing it on principle? Seriously, just do it. You can still love/hate it, just with the benefit of the experience.

    I just saw it for the second time, and still loved it. Yes, the baddies are one dimensional, yes the story has been done before, and yes, the visuals make it worth seeing in 3D.

    (And thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog. Your take on the issue was interesting, and much appreciated!)

  4. Paul: Why would I go see a movie that has an overly cliche story and one-dimensional characters? I get that visually it's nice, but I don't see a point in paying $10 to see a movie that is only appealing because it's pretty.

    And you're welcome for the comment :)