Opinions on this movie are all over the map. The quarrelsome son who could never agree with his father, a mining consultant, says “It is the best movie I have ever seen.” My son-in-law and daughter said “We have seen that story before in Dances With Wolves.” The blog-sphere is awash with comments on the movie’s religious significance, its tree-hugging philosophies, and the racism of depicting innocent savages as blue-tinted aboriginals fighting to protect a forest from mining by white-men Americans.
I personally found the movie just too long and too noisy—even my grandson remarked “it is a loud movie.” And I felt uncomfortable most of the time thinking that I had read this story too often for my own good in the mining news columns of the past few years. Here is a link to one blog that analyzes the mining-related aspects of the movie, saying:
It’s happening already in the Amazonian forests of Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Panama, Ecuador, where mining, oil, tourism, real state and lodging corporations are trying to take over the Indigenous peoples ancestral lands, in complicity with the local puppet governments.
Discomforting as it is to watch nearly three-hours of decent white men planning to destroy the tree where lives a tribe of Avatars so the miners can mine “nonobtanium,” a very expensive element with an unfortunate name, that apparently occurs in abundance beneath the tree, it is even more embarrassing to watch the simulacrum of a white-women scientist working for a mining company studying the habits of the natives so that she can “understand” them as a precursor to getting them to move so the mine can be developed where they now live. The University of British Columbia turns out those types of earnest, well-meaning, but ultimately misguided ladies, year after year. They may be justifiably offended by this Hollywood caricature.
In fact the whole mining industry may be justifiably offended by this movie. It makes nasty fun of the fact that the mining company tries to give the Aboriginals schools and roads and health clinics—all the acrouments of sustainable development–and the ungrateful natives simply turf the miners out. How will we ever get nonobtanium if those forest folk keep rejecting the goodies of sustainable mining? The movie makes fun of the mining company whose shareholders demand profits even if a few cultures are blotted out and a few sacred trees are felled in the process. How will we ever make money and fund a consumptive lifestyle if we cannot mine in every forest and every glade?
The movies poses profound insights like this: “It has always been that way. If somebody has what you want, vilify them, provoke them, attack them, and take what you want.” That is a profound insight if you never studied history. The gold Kruger Rand testifies to a man who was thus dispossessed of his country by the British when they wanted the gold mines of the Witwatersrand. (I have never been able to decide if the gold Kruger Rand is a cruel joke or indeed a memorial to a man who acted, like the Avatars, to protect his country from greedy miners.)
I recommend that a copy of this movie be widely distributed in Alaska to all involved with the Pebble Mine. Both sides in the struggle to develop or stop the mine could take a lesson from the movie: how to band together to defeat the miners, if you can also get the cooperation of a few flying dragons, or conversely persuade the locals of the benefits of schools, clinics, and shopping malls, if you can enlist a few lady scientists from the University of British Columbia in developing a new Witwatersrand in Alaska. Maybe in ten years time, we can go and watch James Cameron’s new movie on the opening/defeat of the Pebble Bay Mine.
I cannot believe that any Canadian mining company under threat of Bill C-300 would act in the way the nasty American mining company acts in this movie. Which makes one wonder if recent killings of anti-mining activists and/or this movie will enhance or negate the passage of this bill in the Canadian parliament. Just imagine the Avatars lodging a complaint with the folk in Ottawa. It would make a great movie.
Do not get me wrong. In spite of the length, noise, and trite story of this movie, it is fun to watch. How can you not be enthralled by the flights and fights on the backs of gorgeous red dragons or the vast mining machines tearing their way through a primitive and rather beautiful jungle populated by dangerous beasts. You may be appalled by the inglorious bastards who turn on their own race and help destroy the mining army as it seeks to blow up the glade of the spirits and thus put an end to the interconnectedness of the trees. You certainly will be appalled by the ending: the Avatars overcome the miners and send them back to “their dying planet.” Come on those miners were simply trying to get a dependable supply of some element in great need to make non-polluting solar panels and light-weight windmills to keep their civilization going. Just like the British who came to take the diamond fields and gold mines of South Africa to maintain the glory of Victoria’s reign and her appalling off-spring.
In all seriousness, this is an entertaining movie of great visual delight. If you like car chases (in this case dragon chases) and transformers and swaying religious ceremonies to the goddess of mother earth, this movie will help pass a Sunday afternoon replete with popcorn, coke, and grandkids. I have no idea what impact it will have on the life-opinions of the grandkids. My own grandson remarked during one of the scary parts: “Grandpa, it is only a movie, right?” Maybe they will see it for what it is: grand entertainment. Although I notice on the blogs many are arguing about its social and religious implications.
I shudder at the thought that this movie might just become one of those events that changes opinion and sets in motion, or cements, prevailing opinions that are detrimental to responsible mining. Maybe we should only mine in Nevada and northern Chile and similar places where there are no forests and no tribes of locals who oppose the despoilation of their religious places. Maybe we should declare all forests inhabited by religious locals off-limits to mining and legislate such areas into preserves for ways of life that are so different from ours that we have no hope of understanding them. What else are you to do with tribes that reject schools, clinics, and the benefits of mining studies by honest brokers? The alternative as we have so often seen, i.e., to go in with force, and change things to our way of life is brutal and considered unacceptable these days, even though so many of us are the product of such actions. My own grandmother was rounded up by the British and placed with her mother and the other Boer women in a concentration camp at Taba Nchu when her father and the other men fled to fight the invading British as guerillas from the Rustenburg hills. Those men failed and most were killed. My grandmother survived, but refused all her life to speak English which she regarded as the language of the oppressors. She would have made a good, but defeated Avatar.
Maybe that is why the movie succeeds: it reflects the universal story that in one way or other has played out in all our lives or those of our ancestors. This movie is a story as old as evolution, as old as the struggle of different persons, peoples, tribes, and nations to survive and/or succeed even if it means the defeat of others. We are all the product of such struggles, battles, wars, and clashes of cultures. This story is embedded deep in our collective conscious. Just as we read novels to understand and be prepared for personal travails, thus too we go en masse on Sundays to church or to such movies as Avatar to learn how to deal with the tribal travails we fear and know we probably will have to face again and again as history unfolds.
So after the movie, we went to the local hobby store and bought two old-fashioned cap guns and spent the rest of the afternoon “shooting” caps. Just as I used to do as a kid in Africa when we refought the battles of the Boers versus the Rooi Neks.