I Hated 'Avatar' With The Fire Of A Thousand Suns, by Maria Bustillos


From time to time, The Awl offers its space to normal, everyday people with a perspective on national issues. Today, we’re pleased to bring you this report by Maria Bustillos, who went to the movies this weekend.

So: Avatar. Here is a story with an alleged anti-corporatist message, underwritten by a huge corporation to the tune of $250 million plus. It preaches closeness with (outer-space) nature, but must have produced CO2 emissions at the rate of a dozen oil refineries. It alleges respect for women, who are shown to be uniformly, pornographically subservient to the alpha males. Its message is anti-violence, but it’s also stuffed to the gills with the glorious super-lethal war machines from which toys and video games can and will be fashioned.

The whole of the planet Earth cringed when James Cameron shouted, “I’m the king of the world!” at the Oscars that one time. But did we learn our lesson? No, we did not. We gave this clown a quarter of a billion dollars to make an even more terrible movie. I am sorry Mary HK Choi et al, but I feel that you misled me gravely. What James Cameron knows about being a fanboy could be stuffed in a watch and rattled. He is entirely bereft of the crucial ingredient of fanboyness: humility.

I don’t say that Avatar is not beautiful to look at; it is. I saw it at a 3D IMAX theater and found the images dazzling, if Disneyfied. However, there is not enough beauty in the world to wallpaper over this writer-director’s crude outlook. He is bully and a boor, graceless, swaggering, self-congratulatory, puerile. He has got the emotional nuance and literary sensitivity of spackle.

The worst thing about this movie is the pretend-not-glorifying of violence. Its lush, slow pleasures are taken in the final gasping breath of a fantastical beast, in long, loving strokes of the camera over scenes of annihilation, over explosions, and people impaled on poisoned arrows, over blue bodies exploding out of helicopters or off of psychedelic space-pterodactyls. These brutalities are expiated with a line or two of portentous Native Hokum every now and then.

The impression of complete hypocrisy was in no way lessened by the glossy war-porn recruitment commercial for the National Guard, produced in exactly the same style and character, that played before the movie (though with no aliens, I guess, and not, thankfully, in 3D).

But no, the really worst thing is the ham-fistedness of Avatar’s alternate history. Okay, so this time the Native Americans are able to throw off the European oppressor. Note well, however, that l’homme sauvage, for all the purity of his Native Wisdom, is still quite helpless without a white man to show him what the hell to do. So what if this “hero” “goes native,” just like in Dances With Wolves? (Even as he goes about gathering “the horse people of the plains” to assist him.) It still takes a white man to tame the really BIG dragon, and to outfox the enemy.

He will also take the “best” woman, the noblest, the highest born, the smartest, whose token resistance will dwindle its sorry way from faux-contempt to near-drooling adoration in a matter of days. Her former man will die, and her father will, too; her whole civilization will lie in ruins. She will pretty much get down on her knees to thank this white man, anyway (see Klaus Theweleit’s Male Fantasies for a gruesome but believable explanation of the underpinnings of that whole business).

Notice how nobody-not the Marines, not the brilliant scientist, not the wise blue natives-can make a single successful move without this white guy. They are all completely powerless and vulnerable until he comes along with his fake self-deprecation and his blunt, forceful manner and his great big muscles. Pathetic. I can’t believe more people aren’t all grossed out, here.

p.s. How come the lovers don’t mutually plug their ponytailed braid genital things together? They plug ’em into everything else.

Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo: The Macho of the Dork and

Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman.