Avatar and Capitalism: The Conflict of ‘By Any Means Necessary’ Civilization was born from the human need to evolve from savages. Throughout history humans have deemed our great civilizations as what separated us from savages, but as Mark Twain’s once said, “The only very marked difference between the average civilized man, and the average savage is that one is gilded and the other is painted” (Vowell, 2005). A relation can be drawn between Twain’s remarks and Director James Cameron’s film Avatar.
Human’s evolution from savagery has been taught and argued throughout history, and even within the pages of history books. As a race, humans developed into superior beings because of two gifts, the human brain and opposable thumbs. Our brains give us the ability to think, and think leads to creative advancements leading us to be stronger, healthier, and smarter. When examining Avatar the same can be said about the native humanoid creatures of an alien moon called Pandora. So, what is the criticism I believe Cameron makes and its relation to the remark made by Twain?
It’s simple; the civilized man is driven by capitalism. Avatar isn’t about itself; the experience of watching a film, rather Avatar is a critique of capitalism and morality. I argue that Avatar is about capitalism, and James Cameron’s critique of human morality in relation to capitalism. In a critical synopsis of the film, I draw on evidence from the film’s plot, characters, and events making a case that the film isn’t simply about the movie watching experience. That behind the brilliant special effects and subpar back-story there’s a theme that can be taken away by viewers.
The Na’vi are a race of blue giant humanoid creatures that inhabit Pandora. Visually, Cameron and his team of developers do a remarkable job making the Na’vi as realistic as the human actors. Their race lives in harmony with their majestic natural surroundings. Culturally, their beliefs, values, and customs resemble that of Native Americas. Their value for life, and the gifts provided by nature through their ritual processes is stunningly demonstrated visually throughout the film. Cameron employs intertextuality y drawing from the stories of Pocahontas and Colonialism rather than redeveloping the background story for Avatar. The reason why the humans travel light years to Pandora is because a corporation discovers a valuable element on Pandora that is sought out highly on Earth. This element, Unobtainium, play two significant roles as a commodity fetish and the good or resources traded in the market for profit. The commodity fetishism behind Unobtainium is its affect on the interactions between the three divisions of characters within the film—the Na’vi, the human corporation members, and the humans defending the Na’vi.
The Corporation is obsessed with the end production of Unobtainium, and not how the gathering of Unobtainium affects the Na’vi. Cameron uses Unobtainium as a source that creates capital. Throughout the film, Cameron conveys the amount of money spent by the Corporation. In the capitalistic process, the Corporation is the privately owned entity. They fund the technology needed by the research team in order to create Na’vi bodies from a combination of human and Na’vi DNA. Due to the expenses behind developing and creating these bodies, Jake Scully is brought into the film as a replacement for his deceased brother.
The Corporation also funds military grade protection. Lastly, the Corporation funded a school for the both Na’vi and humans in order to promote acculturation. Capitalism is well rooted throughout the film. Cameron examines human morality and its relationship with capitalism. Capitalism has many criticisms due to human interpretation. The film doesn’t promote anti-capitalist ideals due to the fact it doesn’t offer other alternatives outside of nature. The film critiques the concept of capitalism using the interactions between the three divisions of characters.
Cameron critiques the negative aspects of capitalism using the Corporation in the film. The modern day world is dominated by the need to gain wealth, create profits, and increase margins. No person starts a venture not hoping to excel in each of these areas. Since the start of goods and services for currency exchange capitalism has rooted itself in the heart of this process, but at what cost? The interpretation can be made that the human desire for wealth also brews ruthlessness, and creates the mindset of ‘By Any Means Necessary’.
Cameron shows that the negative cost of capitalism has been limited by morality. Cameron articulates this dilemma by creating advantages and disadvantages between the three divisions. The Na’vi physically are far more superior to the humans. The humans are also on their (the Na’vi) planet, which is poisonous for humans naturally. The disadvantage for the Na’vi is that they are a primitive civilization of humanoids relying on the natural resources found within the forest, and their natural connection with all elements found within nature.
Having limited technological advancements in comparison to the Corporation. The Corporation’s advantage is their weapons and technological advancements. As for the humans helping the Na’vi, their advantage is the access to this technology, but their access is limited. Morality prevents capitalistic pressures from reaching the ‘By Any Means Necessary’ realm, but Avatar reflects what happens when man does reach that realm. Through out the film, the Corporation is seen devising plans for accessing the Unobtainium from under the Na’vi tree, at first it is by peaceful means through Jack Scully.
As Jack Scully breaks down due to moral confliction he admits that the Na’vi will not move from their land, and the Corporation moves instead to the ‘By Any Means Necessary’ mindset. In a visually impressive, but yet tragic display of brutality the Corporation decides their forecasted profits are worth more then the lives of the Na’vi. ‘By Any Means Necessary’ they launch a strike against the defenseless Na’vi, destroying their home, causing them to evacuate, and thus achieving the Corporation’s primary goal. Is the film about itself?
In a sense, its visual effects do increase as the movie progresses, but an underlining theme is never lost. Cameron doesn’t spoon feed the films themes or its argument; instead, he gives the viewers the gift of interpreting their own message from the film. This processes makes the film a visual artwork, as well as an entertaining film to watch. Cameron’s ability to convey the right amount of plot allows for the viewer to have freewill to interpret concepts. In the end this might have lead to the success and criticism of the film not only in America but also across he world. By using narrative analysis, viewers are able to read between the lines of the film by using stimuli throughout the film to create their own experience, and gain a deeper understanding of the film. This is done remarkable well, especially demonstrating critiques of capitalism. As I’ve argued previously, through Avatar viewers can use narrative analysis to understand Cameron’s criticism. The surface of Avatar is borrowed from other text and other films. This allows Cameron to convey his critiques of capitalism and morality during the rest of the film.
On a deeper level Avatar does a tasteful job in articulating the dilemma behind capitalism. As the film draws to a close and the credits roll, what at times is taken away first is that capitalism is evil and the cause of injustice. I would argue that this is incorrect – when capitalism is used negatively, it’s a villain. Cameron’s critique of capitalism leads to the reality that who ever is practicing it controls whether it’s negative or positive. Civilized man practicing positive capitalism allows for it to stand for noble causes.
We lead better lives now then royalty in the past because of capitalism. When civilized man believes that they are above savages, allowing them to capitalistically do as they wish, then it becomes an evil represented by the Corporation. Capitalism should never be led by ‘Any Means Necessary’. So, Is Avatar about itself (the movie watching experience)? Through the synopsis and analysis provided, the answer is no. Bibliography Vowell, S. (2005). Chapter 3. In S. Vowell, Assassination Vacation (p. 258). New York, New York, United States of America: Simon & Schuster.