Digging for meaning in “Avatar”

For those of you that missed it, the Archaeology Dept. here at Brown hosted a movie night  this past Monday featuring a screening of the blockbuster sci-fi thriller Avatar. Following the movie was a panel of commentators from the department to talk about the controversies and parallels that arose after Avatar hit the theater. How Avatar exactly connects with the study of archaeology is still up for debate… but the movie  was chosen by popular vote! Regardless, read up on what the panelists came up with after the jump.

Ethics: Avatar clearly brings up a number of issues on ethics and core values. Is it right to kill the indigenous, or even drive them out of their home? Also, is using or producing an “avatar” using Na’vi and human DNA ethically acceptable in today’s world?

Parallel to the Iraq War: One panelist saw a substantial connection to the war in Iraq. She mentioned the human terrain teams who are going into the country and learning about the people in order to make an effort to use diplomacy over kinetic force and violence. This is similar to the anthropologists in the novel who move through the Avatar to work with the Na’vi people instead of against the people.

Technology: The prevalence of technology in this movie seems to give the military and scientists a leg up on the Na’vi people. It is pretty remarkable that the blue people of Pandora were able to fight against the highly advanced technology of the military, although it clearly was not easy. One panelist questions if technology is helping us or leading us astray.

Parallel to Dances with Wolves, “White Savior Story”: One panelist pressed the idea of the “white savior story” in which a white male hero comes to help the indigenous do things they couldn’t necessarily do themselves, such as winning battles. This was similar, she added, to  Dances with Wolves, in which an crippled white male leaves his world for the frontier and ends up helping out the Sioux in the way Jake Sully did in Avatar.

Indigneous Relations: This movie had an eerie connection with the discovery of early civilizations and the treatment of the indigenous people in the region. Whether it be the Mayans, Incas, Native Americans, or the Na’vi blue people of Pandora… this story line questions to right to intervene and force assimilation and cooperation with these people.

Nature and its Connectivity: One panelist was psyched about the greenery of the movie, and how its animation team displayed nature as being incredibly interconnected. One audience member who was also a part of the archaeology dept. noted that an interesting alternative ending would have been for the military to kill off the blue people only to find that the rock that the corporate sector found so valuable was useless without the sap of the trees they conveniently knocked down to get to it.

Regardless of its relevance to archaeology, this movie night  and discussion was a fun and educated way to spend a rainy Monday night. Turns out, panelists and audience members alike could definitely agree on one thing: that movie must have been super cool in 3D.

Leave a Reply