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Avatar: A Message for Earth
by Derryck Strachan
James Cameron has created an extraordinary film that has captured the imagination of an audience that has grown tired of explosions, vampires and other assorted Hollywood clichés. But apart from being a cinematic first in that the entire film is created through the wonders of CGI, Avatar has a much deeper message to convey and produces a serious social commentary on our own exploitation of Mother Earth’s riches. And it’s a message that could influence how a whole generation of movie lovers see their environment.

The messages behind the story

Avatar is set in the year 2154 on Pandora, a lush, Earth-like moon of the planet Polyphemus in the Alpha Centauri star system. The RDA corporation is mining a valuable mineral called unobtanium. Administrator Parker Selfridge (played by Giovanni Ribisi) heads the mining operation of the RDA colony, which has a private security force called Sec-Ops. Pandora is inhabited by the Na`vi, a ten-foot-tall blue-skinned species of sapient humanoids who live in harmony with nature, worshipping a mother goddess called Eywa.

Drawing on the tribal cultures of our own planet, the film shows exactly what happens when the insatiable desire to exploit a resource clashes with not just the environment, but also with the indigenous people who have managed to retain an equilibrium and balance within their surroundings for generations.

It is this coming together of two polarised cultures that forms the basis of the story – how they interact, how they cope and what can be learned from their plight. This isn’t a ‘noble savages’ film – this is a film about important issues that have been presented in a way that is accessible to people of all ages. It connects with our instinctive desire to preserve our existence within a delicate eco-system, and to that end, Avatar has probably had more social impact about the dangers of environmental exploitation than the Copenhagen Earth Summit could have hoped to achieve.

Taking those messages forward

What Cameron has achieved is a cinematic demonstration of how a planet’s symbiotic relationship with its people can be altered and eventually destroyed because of the greed of another race. The desire to exploit unobtanium is a direct reference to our own insatiable appetite for finite natural resources to fuel what we believe to be a ‘civilised’ society. But what happens to that civilisation when that resource runs dry? Is the cost more than just financial, as we watch indigenous people across the world face the same problems right here, right now?

Avatar smashed all box office records, taking $1billion worldwide in just 19 days. It is also one of those rarities in that it is both a hit with the public and the critics, who described it as ‘awe inspiring’ and ‘a brilliant movie for our times’. But one of the most telling comments made about the film comes from an unexpected source – the president of Bolivia. A country faced with the same problems as portrayed in the film, he described it as ‘a profound show of resistance to capitalism and the struggle for the defence of nature’. Perhaps this is Avatar’s strength – not just that it breaks the mould of animation, but that it does it in a way that brings profound messages to an audience in a way that they can relate to. Ultimately, Avatar could be the most important ‘environmental’ film to date.

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