A crippled Marine joins a team of other humans from earth to displace a native people of another planet in order to exploit the natural resources over which they reside. The term “avatar” is a reference to the virtual world of “living vicariously” through a surrogate in another “world.” Thus, when you play World of Warcraft, the character which you play is your “avatar.” In this movie, however, they have managed to genetically create the body of an alien person, and the protagonist, through technology, is able to operate the body as an avatar. His mission is to learn the culture of the people so they can persuade them to move away. It’s a very simplistic moralistic tale with Manichean morality and stereotypical characters who obviously represent different “industrial complexes” of power to the filmmaker. There is the “corporate industrial complex,” represented by a greedy heartless fat cat corporation head who only cares about exploiting the natural resources and damn the inhabitants as savages (the resource material is called “unobtainium” an obvious reference to “unobtainable”). There is the “military industrial complex” symbolized in the mercenary who provides security, and only cares about killing people as his job, and then the “scientific industrial complex” represented in the compassionate scientist who wants to understand the culture and represents the Victorian “naturalist philosopher” notion of discovering the beauties of the natural world.
The story is a multicultural parable about the need to recognize our own prejudices by seeing through the eyes of the other. The Marine begins his mission by being a tool of the military and the corporation, but by the end he sees the world through the eyes of this primitive people (called the Na’vi) and ends up fighting against the humans and becoming one of the natives.
This story is also a pagan myth of Gaia goddess worship. Gaia is the pagan religious belief that the earth is a living organism and all living things are interconnected as “one”, and that “one” is god, a form of pantheism/panentheism. Gaia philosophy is what drives the extreme wings of environmentalism and it carries with it a corresponding hatred of technology as evil, because it depersonalizes life into mechanical functions, thus devaluing life, which justifies destructive selfish exploitation of nature. Technology is the enemy. This view posits human beings (or other sentient life forms) as mere servants of nature, which is worshipped as a goddess. It also believes in the “noble savage” myth of Rousseau, that primitive or indigenious native peoples who worship the earth are peace loving and harmonious with nature, while westernized civilization is what corrupts through science, technology and the destruction of nature in the name of “dominion.” Thus terms like “mother earth” versus “the sky god,” which is what Christianity is referred to as. The movie is an obvious parallel with American Manifest Destiny against the Indians as well as claims of “colonialism” against the West. When the Marine who has become a Na’vi avatar sides with the Na’vi, he says, “There is no green” where he comes from. “They killed their mother.” And in a critical political allusion to American foreign policy, the military leader says they are going to start killing the Na’vi in a “pre-emptive attack. We will fight their terror with our terror.”
In the movie we hear of “Ewa the goddess” of the natives, who makes up all living things,” “A network of energy that flows through all living things,” (standard New Age and Gaia doctrine). “Our energy is borrowed and someday we will have to give it back.” Like Native American religion, these natives kill an animal for food and then talk to their prey as a “brother, whose spirit goes to Ewa, and the body to the earth.” They claim that there is “electrical communication between the trees” that cover the planet such that it is all one big living organism that fights back against the bulldozers and military men. All the animals join in to fight against the exploiters, even the animals who were earlier seeking the Na’vi as prey. So, as in Gaia theory, the earth fights back against the evil human forces of exploitation (A theme also in The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Happening and others). And the image is one of “clearcutting” the rainforests as big bulldozers of the corporation begin plowing down the jungle.
Usually in movies, Christianity is linked up with the Enlightenment scientific industrial complex, as being the source of the problem through it’s theology of man’s dominion over nature. But in this movie, the only reference at all to this residue is the naming of the humans as the Sky People, a derivative of the Sky God of Christianity. But other than that, there is no explicit reference, thus making this more a movie about modern Enlightenment materialistic exploitation of nature versus the pagan mother earth religion.
The community of Na’vi also represents the oneness of existence. When the Marine avatar becomes accepted into the community, he is told he is “born twice. The second time earning a place among the people.” And the ritual is that they gather in a circle and all place their hands on one another, all the way to the accepted one, creating a huge circle of interconnectedness, embodying this theory of oneness, but also of the value of the community for individual identity.
One cannot help but notice the irony of a movie about the evils of corporate greed, and scientific technology in depersonalizing nature — a 3D movie made possible through the advanced scientific technology and greediest capitalist corporate environment that makes the biggest carbon footprint on the planet: Hollywood. In the movie, the “sky people” are criticized as “thinking they can take whatever they want.” But then the Na’vi leader yells his war cry, “This is OUR land. They cannot take whatever they want!” Kinda hard to take seriously a claim to private property, when the entire Gaia philosophy in the film is predicated on the negation of private property.