Avatar: A Clash of Cultures

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After commenting on a couple of blog reviews of the new movie Avatar, I thought it was time I wrote some thoughts myself. We saw the movie in 3-D a couple of weeks ago when we were in the US, and I have to say that although the combination of science fiction and crazy computer effects doesn’t normally make me very excited, I was moderately entertained by the 3-D-ness.

The plot was fairly predictable, but what I thought was interesting was the overall message of the film, which dealt with interaction between very different cultures. Without wanting to spoil the plot for people who haven’t seen the movie, it basically looks at how two cultures, which are very different with no previous contact, interact with each other. One culture is very dominant and aggressive, always fighting its surroundings to achieve its goals, and the other is more passive and at one with its environment, content to maintain the status quo.

Some Christians have expressed concern at the way paganistic rituals are glorified in the movie, but I think this criticism actually proves the point the movie is making. It’s very easy to sit and point out faults in a very alien culture to us, when we haven’t made the effort to understand people in it, and when we’re blissfully unaware of the problems of our own culture. How many of the people who were shocked at the pagan aspects of the minority culture also complained at the greed and consumerism in the majority culture?

I think the movie is an allegory, so I wouldn’t take the details of the pagan rituals of the minority group too seriously, just as I wouldn’t take the “science” part of the movie too seriously. Both the questionable science and the questionable paganism are parts of the story, and set the stage for the overall message of the movie. While I wouldn’t subscribe to the idea that holding on to a huge tree with your tail will solve all your problems, I thought the movie did very well in portraying the unseen relationships, values and wealth in so many minority societies around the world.

There are plenty of things to find fault with in the movie, but my concern is that those who criticise it are doing so for the wrong reasons. The movie doesn’t fit into a worldview of accumulating wealth, seizing opportunity and fighting against whatever or whoever stands in your way, but I don’t think that makes it a bad movie.

If you’re looking for something that reinforces this way of thinking, go and watch any other Hollywood movie. But if you’re open to thinking from a different perspective you might enjoy more than just the 3-D effects of Avatar.

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