James Cameron’s “Avatar” From a Native’s Point of View

Posted on April 26, 2010


Everything negative everybody says about Avatar is true.

But I still loved it.

And I’m kinda floored hearing myself say that because I could have left anytime in the first hour and a half. And I saw it with those 3D glasses and let me tell you, this needs to be the last 3D movie ever made. Those things are just a distraction for no equivalently satisfying reason.

The movie suffers from classic late-Cameronisms: lazy reliance on cliché to get the story to where he wants it to be, one-dimensional characters devoid of personality, etc, etc, etc. And in this instance Cameron tops himself by jerking off with a hero that hits every clichéd “chosen one” moment you’ve ever heard off. And then the silliness with the magical natives. (Though I have to say, the actors who portrayed the Na’vi did a spot-on job of delivering at least the mannerisms of West African native peoples.)

But Cameron has always been a certain type of storyteller: his characters have always been his avatars. They’re stiff with cliché of late, but I think that Cameron relies on them to get out of the dumb, frustrating things he seems to think of the real world. He stays out of Hollywood life, keeps away from the circle jerk of big name directors, he doesn’t care to have studio executives fawn over him.

He lives in an estate practically, but he’s reportedly humble towards everyday people and seems to wake up in the morning and do relatively normal things.

And dream of very big things.

He seems a man who wants to tell great stories, but suffers greatly from a lack of depth.

One question I do want to ask all of Hollywood and anyone who thinks similarly: When in history has a white man ever gone into a native culture and saved them? Name just one instance. I don’t mean going in with vaccination, I mean full on entering and saving them from genocide or displacement. It’s quite a fantasy.

What actually happens is that white man explorer goes into a different world and wholeheartedly gets lost in it. They go exploring for years, and no one hears from them until years later when some kind of rescue party of friends and usually a freaked out wife come looking. Sometimes, if you’re a Marco Polo, you come back with wondrous tales and some noodles.

But what usually happens is that the would-be rescuers find a man living it up with “the natives,” forgetting altogether to ever go back home. It’s happening as we speak.

And you know, native girls do want to fuck the white guy when he arrives. It’s something different. We just don’t want to marry him. I mean, not necessarily. That’s Western/Hollywood/white man/male/fill–in-your-blank (take your pick) thinking.

I am not a believer in people who have never left their sphere of life being able or expected to tell my story better, as well, or for me. But neither do I believe that anyone has a right to stop such people from telling such stories, or any story they want to tell. Whether they wish to tell it out of spite or ignorance.

It doesn’t mean they’re to be spared brutal criticism or outright mockery, since that’s to be expected once you put yourself out there. But intent must count for something at the end of the day, and at the end of the day I think Cameron wanted to tell the story of a man who escapes his mundane world. And if he chose to do it with magical native people, though seriously embarrassing and kind of sad, then that’s what he chose to do.

I enjoyed the movie in its second half. For me it was the same as with Titanic: he could have thrown out the first half and I would have been grateful for it, or had someone else re-write it and make it marginally less bad.

But considering that I actually got up twice to leave the theater, only deciding to change seats and see whether I could stop the 3D fern from smacking my face, and considering that I went in there with absolutely no delusions of enjoying myself, I have to hand it to the guy.

If eyeballs could be sprained from eye-rolling, mine would need to be iced right now. But Zoe Saldana like, made that movie her bitch, and Sam Worthington was nuanced and fantastic, and at the end of the day I’m a sucker for big fat action sequences. And that was enough for me.