Having seen Avatar twice already, I was still very excited when I received the email from Galaxy, the largest entertainment company in Canada, saying that I have the chance to see it for the third time. I also broadcast this news to my friends and invited them to see this thought-provoking movie with me.
People’s first impression of Avatar is its pioneering effects: huge screen, excellent sound, three-dimensional image, magical creatures, and bold imagination. Avatar won three Oscar awards: best achievement in art direction, in cinematography, and in visual effects—all related to visual arts. From this point of view, Avatar is an extraordinary “must see” movie. It is a milestone of movie art.
However, the storyline of Avatar is quite simple, compared to its mind blowing visual effect. A paraplegic retired marine is sent to Pandora to collect local information for a greedy human company. After spending a few days with Navi, the native people on Pandora, he falls in love with this planet and the people. Thus he betrays his original mission and helps Navi to fight for their rights and protect their beautiful planet. A lone hero saves the entire world, very typical Hollywood storyline. This is why some people argue that this movie is not a “great” movie, only its visual effects are great.
Although this storyline is naive and utopian, I enjoyed the movie very much. Not only its visual effects, but the story inspired me profoundly. As a geography PhD student, I can find some similarities between the situation in Pandora and my study area, the Brazilian Amazon: these areas are full of resources and their own spirits and values, but native society and economics are less developed (according to outsiders’ standards), which bring them the danger of exploitation from outside capital. When facing this danger, there are only two results for native people in history and in movies: colonization or temporary victory. Unfortunately, the latter one happens only in movies. When it comes to reality, the results can be unbelievably severe. For instance, the population of Native Americans dropped from 40 million to 3 million after the colonist massacre. Even in the end of Avatar, I call the victory a “temporary” victory, because there will be a second, a third battle since the capital is always chasing for profit. Navi people won’t be safe forever.
Neither colonization nor temporary victory is what we want. First of all, one can’tstop capital coming into these virgin areas. Secondly, there will be a “war” (even a war without bloodshed) inevitably; when that real war happens, no supernatural “forest creatures” can be called to fight for justice as in Avatar. Last, for the native people themselves, advancing with the times seems a more practical solution than dying in a massacre and ending with their culture disappearance altogether. Some people may say that they would choose to fight until the last person and last minute. This is the least responsible method to me: you let the people die for no return, you let the land be exploited with no respect, and you let the unique culture disappear from the world. Moreover, in the movie itself, Navi killed tens and hundreds of human beings during the war. One may argue there should be no mercy in a war, but those human soldiers are not cold-blooded killers, they are just soldiers who perform their duties. However, the ultimate goal is that we have to find the balance of life and nature via avoiding loss of any side.
Thus comes the question: how can we find a win-win solution for both native people and the capital market. For the capital market, chasing more profit is the only purpose, no matter what paths must be taken: war, colonization, destructive exploitation, or more gentle and sustainable development. The first three are faster but not durable approaches, while only the last approach is sustainable and can earn public credibility as well. For the native people, cooperation is their last and only chance, so trying to win over a better contract or business mechanism at the very beginning is recommended. Impacts from outside are inevitable, of course, but the undesirable impacts can be reduced to their lowest. If we calculate the loss and profit from both sides, cooperation is the optimum solution.
The real world is much crueller than the fairy tale of Avatar. Although the story ends “happily” in the movie, one must not forget the tremendous loss of Navi as well as earth people. Trying to avoid bleeding, learning experiences from history, and finding an optimum solution are what we should be inspired by Avatar beyond its magical visual effects.