Avatar, Allegory, and Capital

I just got back from seeing the film Avatar. I enjoyed it greatly, it pretty much instantly propelled itself into one of my favorite films of all time.

Visually, of course, it’s stunning, but I’d expect nothing else from the WETA crew in New Zealand. Great eye candy, especially in 3D. I haven’t seen a 3D movie in 25 years, since Jaws 3 was out. My, how technology has changed. I think Avatar will be regarded as a revolution in filmmaking similar to the LOTR series earlier this decade. Certainly, the computer animation and stop motion technology recalls Gollum but with another several years of refinement.

But apart from the eye candy, I was interested in the plot. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The main theme, of course, is Soulless Greedy Capitalism vs. Enlightened/Attuned Indigenous Population, or simply an allegory on Colonialism. I wasn’t sure what to expect, normally I don’t like to be spoon-fed which is what allegory turns into all-too-often. But there were some subtleties that I really appreciated.


The Na’vi, who are the indigenous population, exist on Pandora, a stunningly beautiful moon teeming with unbelievable life. This race of humanoids is deeply attuned to the life on the planet, fully aware of their connections to one another, across species, past and present. Their greeting to each other is “I see you,” where “see” is something akin to “grok” in Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land. It is a verbal acknowledgement that the seeing speaker has fully focused their attention and consciousness on the other individual. This reflects a common pattern with indigenous peoples all across planet Earth: these people often have a way-of-seeing that is much deeper than awareness of resources to exploit so common in our western culture.

The Na’vi have a sacred tree, called the Tree of Souls. The scientist characters are intrigued by this tree, apparently it has a network of intermingling roots not unlike a neural net, with a complexity on the scale of, or superior to, a human brain. This network reminded me a lot of the mycelium network that mushrooms create in forests, acting as the “brains” of the forest, and shunting nutrients from one part of the forest to another as needed. The Tree Of Voices also allows the Na’vi to commune-icate with their ancestors, and even to transplant consciousness from one body to another.

Of course, the capitalists don’t care about this sacred neural net. They wish to destroy it to intimidate the Na’vi and get them to abandon the Tree, so that they can mine for the (horribly-named) Unobtainium that exists in abundance near the tree.

This is the central part of the conflict in the story: the military/capitalists (mechanized thinking) wanting to exploit the ineffable natural resources the native people have attuned to over thousands of years (organic thinking), all in the name of short-term profit and without regard to the damage this exploitation will cause.

The Na’vi, of course, resist. They are portrayed as the “white-hat good guys” in the story, and the militaristic capitalists are the clear bad guys. The Na’vi have a Mother Goddess called Eywa, and when the protagonist prays to her for help “defeating” the Evil Greedy Capitalist Fuckers, he is told that “the mother doesn’t take sides, she protects the balance of life.”

This statement got me thinking. Let’s assume the Gaia hypothesis for a moment, here on Earth. If this is true, then Gaia will understand that our present system of Capitalist expansion and Colonialism is completely unsustainable; all Gaia must do is wait it out until “victory” occurs and the Capitalist Empire crumbles under its own weight. Once this occurs, in a planetary blink of an eye (a few generations in human terms), the planet will reclaim the earth to Nature.

Of course, this is a Hollywood movie, so the good guys always win. On Pandora, the Colonialists are defeated, despite their superior technology, when Eywa hears Jake’s prayer and sends the various denizens of the forest to fight the Capitalist Machine. Apparently in this world, set about 150 years from now, Capital has lost its ability to morph and adapt into a new role able to exploit each situation as it changes and evolves.

Not coincidentally, tonight I got into a “comment discussion” on Facebook with a Democrat. There I said that I believe our current system of government is broken, probably irrevocably, and the only way out is for more people to wake up and abandon capitalism as an ideal.

Hopefully, a few people will get their head cracked open by this film, and begin to see Capital for what it is. Ironically, Capital (and more specifically, James Cameron and the Hollywood MegaCorporations) has already profited $400 million within a week of this film’s release.

What was it I said about Capital morphing to profit from any situation it finds itself in?

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