So, on the surface (and beneath the surface) Avatar is what David Brooks describes as a "White Messiah" movie a la "Dances with Wolves" and a dozen other popular cinema, literary, and animated fables. The movie is of course about a white man that goes native, and in this movie he literally goes native in the end swapping his human body for an alien body, and leads the indigenous people to salvation. He falls in love with an alien version of Malinche/Pocahontas/Sacajewea/Insert Any Other Woman's Name Here Blamed for Giving Access to Her People By the Colonizers. And, of course the indigenous people are at one with the natural environment, have perfect bodies, exist without war amongst themselves, and live in a big tree. They are the noble savage perfected.
I should have hated this movie for all of those reasons, but I absolutely loved it.
I won't allow that James Cameron was sophisticated in his race analysis. He wasn't. But what he did was provide a very clear depiction of what corporatism and white colonization has done and continues to do to indigenous peoples and populations around the world. He doesn't represent the corporate/military industrial complex on Pandora as having some sort of benevolent intentions...he strips away the niceties that are often present in these movies that portray the "bad white guys" as simply misguided or doing evil in the name of good or higher intentions. He tells it like it is and shows how decisions are really made in the real world when indigenous communities are sitting atop a valuable resources that is desired by the industrialized world. And, the part that won me over, was that James Cameron, for the first time that I can remember in a major world wide cinema piece, directly and clearly makes the connection between capitalism, corporatism, and the military industrial complex. He shows clearly and definitively that they are conjoined, something many of us already knew, and that they can not and will not exist separate from one another. He pushes all of his characters to their illogical extremes. But in doing so gives a more realistic view of the "bad guys" than one is likely to get in a corporate backed theater in the Western World.
He also does a weak critique, but a critique none-the-less, of the clash between Western scientists and indigenous science and technology. Let's be clear, indigenous communities have had and continue to have technology that is culturally appropriate and may not look like Western technology but is still technology. Unfortunately, Western science fails to understand or understands incorrectly indigenous knowledge, medicine, science and technology. And, in this movie, they fail again. Except Sigorne Weaver, who magically comes to a complete understanding of the indigenous science and faith system just before she departs to live with Eywa. Pullllleaassse.
One interesting side note is that Cameron did something interesting. He used a derivation of the Aramaic word for God, which is Elaw. I know this because I use that name for God in the novel that I am writing. Score one for Cameron actually opening a book and doing some research.
In the end, I found value in watching Avatar, but not for the reasons, I am sure, that James Cameron wanted. The plot was thin, but it did communicate some messages, starkly, that the world needs to hear.
On another tip, entirely, I fully believe the special effects in this movie will redefine special effects in the way that the Matrix did almost a decade ago.
In the end, I support folks going to see Avatar. Walk into it knowing that it will again be a storytelling of the Great White Hope. If you accept that up front, you will be able to get past it and enjoy the movie for what it does offer in terms of originality. If nothing else, see it in 3-D...cuz...really...the special effects are fucking cool.