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Avatar and its critics

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AvatarAvatar is a worldwide success of unbelievable proportions: in the world has already earned $ 1.7 billion and may be able to break the record of all time, set by Titanic, 1.8 billion, of the same director, James Cameron, already famous in the 80s for directing Terminator and Aliens. With these figures Cameron can safely ignore any criticism.

The film however has raised different criticisms, probably because of the enormous impact it had on the public. In Avatar the humans of 2154 arrive on an alien planet which they named Pandora. The expedition is led by a mining company interested in a precious mineral that is abundant on the planet. Pandora, however, is not only inhabited by a variety of plant and animal life, but also by a people relatively similar to men, the Na'Vi. Pandora's atmosphere is not breathable for humans, which to remain on the planet need to use masks or avatars: bodies created through genetic engineering that the mind of a terrestrial can inhabit to roam the planet with the body of a Na'Vi. Avatars have been developed to establish good relations with the natives, but when the protagonist, a  paralyzed soldier, arrive on the planet to replace his dead twin brother to "drive" an avatar, the situation is worsening. The humans are eager to expand their mines, even if it means destroying the world's forests, and the Na'Vi are annoyed by the activities of humans, and the attempts to ingratiate them with goods and technologies do not seem to have worked. The main difference between humans and the indigenous people, besides the fact that the latter are much higher and have blue skin, is that Na'Vi have a deep relationship with their planet, and fail to understand the destructive attitude of the humans. Living with Na'Vi, in the beginning to spy on them, the protagonist will come to understand their mentality and their values. 
Plot and content of the film have pissed several groups. part of the American right, for example did not appreciate that the film's protagonist is a soldier who rebel against the humans leadership, along with other soldiers and scientists, to defend an alien race. And even less they loved the ecologic meaning of the film: the planet Pandora is a true living and sentient being (reminiscent of the Gaia theory of our Earth) with which the protagonist is able to communicate, to tell it that humans are a danger, because they destroyed their original planet. 
The Vatican has criticized the film because it "encourages the veneration of nature": the Na'Vi do not worship an abstract god but their much real world, which they call Eywa, and humans on their part have not the slightest trace of religion. The Chinese government didn't say a word officially, but has withdrawn the film from cinemas very soon to replace it with one on Confucius, despite the success that Avatar was having among the chinese public. 

Criticisms that reveal much about who makes them: the soldiers of Avatar are mercenaries in the service of a mining company, but it is obvious that the behavior of humans in the film reminds the one adopted by all the imperialist states, from the Romans to the Americans. The excuse of bringing civilization, democracy or any other high-sounding slogan conceals always only a desire for plunder and pillage. So did the Romans, so did the Chinese government frequently against its minorities, so did Europeans nations in the world, so have done the Americans in Iraq. The criticism of the American right against the film and the obstructionism of the Chinese government more than anything expose their bad imperialist conscience. 
And the problem is similar for the Catholic Church: for the humans of the film religion is irrelevant because in fact it has always been so in the last two thousand years. The pagan Romans massacred and enslaved the indigenous peoples of Europe in exactly the same way that later the european Christian states applied on the rest of the world. Organized religion has never produced any real change, but rather hypocrisy and propaganda with which to hide morally unjustifiable imperialistic plunder. Perhaps the Vatican should worry about this, and not about the story of a film. 
The religion of Na'Vi, addressed not to an abstract God but to a very real Goddess, the planet they inhabit, is much more concrete than the monotheistic religions. As the pantheist and animist religions of the various indigenous peoples of the Earth were much more alive in people's consciousness than Christianity has ever been. In fact, indigenous peoples have never destroyed the planet as our hyper-consumerist society does. 
So if in Avatar the good guys are those who rebel against an imperialistic capitalism to defend nature, perhaps it is because to plunder a planet with no regard for life is obviously something deeply wrong and inhumane. And the film has the merit of showing that very clearly to a huge audience. Obviously it's not appreciated by the hypocrites who routinely deny or ignore the fact that our society often works very much like the "bad guys" in Avatar. 

Francesco Defferrari

Last Updated on Saturday, 23 January 2010 16:13  
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