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Avatar - film review

Avatar is a remarkable movie, about a fabulous world and an old story with some great new twists and perspectives. This is an exciting and skilled 3D graphics state of the art creation which puts the viewer on a new planet in the skin of an alien tribe. We discuss this experience and the political message of the movie.

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Avatar is a remarkable movie.
It is remarkable for its art and special effects and its ability to make the audience feel a part of the movie and identify viscerally with an alien population of hunters and gatherers. It is remarkable for its creation of a beautiful planet with no machines and a strangely sculpted pastel menagerie.

Most remarkable, perhaps, is how a 20th Century Fox blockbuster exposes the colonial ideology that all undeveloped peoples are crying out to have their environments transformed by 'progress and development' and the capitalist brand of 'democracy'. It tells the truth about deforestation and why it occurs.

Forest warriors, take heart!

Colonisation - the theme

The Masai, the Australian Aborigines, the American Indians, the South American Indians, the Maori, the Zulus, the Fijians, the Hawaiians, the Irish, the Irian Jayans - all these tribal people resisted being 'civilised' by colonials who wanted to expand their empires. Was there ever a people that still had land which was happy to hand it over to the historical waves of expansion by Romans, Normans, Muslims, Hispanic, French, German, British, Indonesian, American, Chinese, Indian colonists?

And yet, to this day, we of the 'developed world' are told that we are paying for the expansion of capitalism to bring 'democracy' to the 'undeveloped' or 'unfree' world. And when everywhere is 'developed', the story goes, there won't be any overpopulation or poverty or injustice ... Unfortunately this isn't true. Development is what starts problems in steady state economies and populations. You wonder why more foreign aid people don't wake up to this.[1] Perhaps many stay in the business to try to make the process less awful or simply because, like most of us, they have no land and therefore need their jobs, however awful.

In this film the indigenous are humanoid and their appearance and rituals are perhaps most reminiscent of Africa - a land of immense abundance and variety with fantastically varied peoples, economies and fauna - attacked mercilessly by colonial processes from the industrial revolution of the 1750s. (Viewers might be interested to know that currently, on Earth, Africa is being subjected - along with other lands - including, possibly, Australia - to yet new waves of colonisation - by Chinese and Indian agricultural corporations this time - which are taking over remaining tribal land and 'remanaging' it. We hear so little of this.) [2]

Resettlement of the indigenous in special areas, where they were put to work, was practised by the Romans and the approach is the same today. Move the indigenous, get rid of their leaders, disorganise them, and make them work in the new economy. The business excuse (typically used against the Arabs by the British who displaced them for the Zionist diaspora) is that the people being displaced don't use the land efficiently, because they don't mine it or farm it. Or, if they do mine and farm it, they don't do it efficiently enough. Or if they do it efficiently, they aren't putting their goods on the international open market, and they have to be made to do so. Mess up a country badly enough and soon you can go in and save the starving and place a military presence there to protect your international charities. Coincidentally the country next door usually turns out to have oil or rare minerals or presents a corridor to oil and rare minerals (Somalia).

Avatar is a story about this process in the future, reaching out now into outer space.

In 3D it is absolutely rivetting, and I found myself ducking when missiles came towards me.

The story

The third world has now extended beyond our solar system as the US mercantile spacefleet tries to keep shareholders happy. This involves negotiating the rape of an incredibly beautiful planet with indigenous people who, like most indigenous people, have everything they want and need and don't want colonisation.

"We don't have anything to offer them," says the hero.
"Just go in and negotiate," he is told.

One author in candobetter pages was struck by the plausible ruthlessness of the conquerers in discussing moving the blue native people on. They agreed with one another in such a "civilised" way. To them - the blue people were just an obstacle to the main game...and one instantly saw that this is how forest people and forest animals are regarded by invaders on Earth- something to be brushed aside or bulldozed.

Another candobetter writer said, "This seems to be what they are doing in Queensland to the ordinary Australians in order to go ahead mining coal in agricultural country."

The armed conflict in the pursuit of greed motif in the film is also reminiscent of the US war on Iraq.

This is a planet filled with fabulous rainforest, not really much different from real old rainforest in Australia, but a bit bigger. The creatures in it are huge, of triceratops size, and the flying animals are reminiscent of pterodactyls. The muscle and organ structure of the animals makes it obvious that they are of a different world.

Every species in this world is connected, as indeed are we on this world, but the phenomenon is more obvious here because different species can physically connect to communicate. The ecology of the world is explained using mystical and religious icons, which stand in quite well for a kind of biological ecology.

It was a psychologically clever thing to make the indigenous people so much taller than the humans. Usually the indigenous people, however patronised in movies, are the same size as us or smaller. To get the superiority of these peoples' ability to live within a naturally integrated environment, instead of one like ours, which is disconnected, you need something to convince the audience immediately. Big is usually read as better and these are very large, therefore superior people, with enormous eyes, which convey intelligence. Whilst incredibly gracile, like the Hereros of Namibia, with somewhat similar hairstyles without the red mud, these people are immensely strong and agile. They use the huge tree trunks as paths for running. They are open to the signs of the environment around them and the expression of all the other living things. This is obviously how hunter-gatherers used to live. The way they would have enjoyed life and the knowledge they would have had in the best of societies and environments is well-conveyed here.

And surely the obese children, teenagers and their parents, who go to see this film will wonder at the strength and fitness of the forest people and want to be more like them.

Technology has solved no social or ecological problems

Although set well into the future, we see that more technology has solved nothing fundamental.
Neither has growth economics and globalism.
The US system still has unaffordable health-care and the crippled marine hero in Avatar cannot afford the medical treatment he needs, even though the technology to make him walk again is available. He also needs a job and is expected to perform as well and work as hard as a person with no handicap.
Presumably the population has continued to grow on earth because there are so many marines available to go to outerspace, who need jobs, and are willing to risk their lives.

Instead of sharing the wealth we find that money is still being spent to keep some shareholders happy. And industry must find new minerals to invest in to keep on growing that bottom line.

The machines look as if they are still being powered by petroleum, so the fossil fuel problem must have been solved, although this is not discussed. In fact humans are never going to go to outer space en masse unless they find something completely new to power their vehicles. (This isn't discussed either, obviously.)


It looks like a high-tech oil-war like the one in Iraq is still going, but it has moved into outer space, seeking to expand its influence in the pursuit of materials and energy. Although we only hear what goes on in the colony, one assumes that the folk back on earth are told that this is all to bring democracy and wealth to the undeveloped worlds out there.

The audience

I was interested to observe the faces of the people who live in Melbourne where I saw this film. A lot looked shocked, unused to questioning the whole notion of progress, yet almost certainly emerging from close to three hours of intense identification with a hunter-gatherer tribe, hoping that Earth's progress would be halted.

I hoped that the many people who see this film will actually retain something useful to help them resist the media and government propaganda that are used to destroy forests and people and to grind the rest of us exceedingly small in a vast commercial con-job.

Of course, with every new exploitation, we are always told, "Now we are modern, it will be different."

Great film!


[1] On foreign aid, Michael Maren, The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity, Free Press, Simon and Schuster, 1997 ; Graham Hancock, Lords of Poverty, Atlantic Press, 1989
[2] Recolonisation of Africa by China and India: See, for instance: "China and India Battle for Influence in Africa: Part 4" (although this one lets India off lightly); Exploiting Africa [history]. You can also find multiple business and foreign aid articles saying how great it is that foreigners are renting vast terrains in Africa and employing the villagers who once managed them. You have to look quite long and hard to find out that most of the Africans initially resist this loss of power over their own territory. If Africa is to feed China and India, it will be sucked totally dry, but, hey! there will be a few jobs along the line.


This is a great review which amplifies and magnifies the significance of the backdrop to this film saga.

Thankyou Sheila, for this splendid review. I recall none better.

This is why Fairfax right-wing columnist Miranda Devine dismissed the film as insidious lefty propaganda. 'Hit by the leftie sledgehammer.'

Then she confesses to having 'eco-fatigue'.

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885

Suzy's picture

I enjoyed Avatar too - been looking forward to it all year! The colonization/exploitation theme is still very relevant, and still happening - one example being China in PNG (“The World of China Inc.”). An example of a hunter-gatherer society under threat is “The Hadza”; the lifestyle they have sustained for thousands of years is dying out because of a government that wants to “civilize” them - and overpopulation from outsiders is threatening their land. Avatar has made me think about such issues (though there seems to be little one can do about them), so it has served a useful purpose in that.

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