Avatar… first impressions

Let me just make this absolutely clear. This is not a movie review. This is not a high-brow discussion of the movie Avatar.

Now let’s get started. I was probably the only human being on earth who was utterly uninterested in Avatar. I did not want to watch it, I did not want to read about it, I did not want to hear about it. I hated the title of the movie even before I found out what it was about. I don’t like movies about alternate identities and virtual reality that somehow merges into reality. Yes, I am that rare species that did not like any of the Matrix movies. I’m not a fan of science fiction, and it’s probably the only genre of writing I never read. The only exception to this blanket dislike was Star Wars — all six of them.

So, when a friend of mine suggested that I should go see Avatar, I resisted. She started waxing poetic about how wonderful the movie was and — get this — how it was my kind of movie. Me!? Science fiction?! Weird virtual-real-worlds?! Never! Then she said the magic words: it’s the kind of fantasy world where you touch a flower and it opens. Oh coooool… so there are flowers in it. It’s not all about some weird robots with hi-tech guns that are trying to take over the world. (You can tell how “sophisticated” my conception of science fiction is.)

So I go watch the movie. And I love it. What was there to love about it? The movie seemed an obvious reference to the war in Iraq in many ways, and that whole mess is enough to make me tired and depressed just thinking about it. Also, the romantic subplot is kind of lacking in — for lack of better word — romance. The natives — which would equal the Iraqis/Arabs — are of course, savages (the Navi) — oh, beautiful in their own way, but still, simple, low-tech “savages” who don’t know how to look out for themselves.

A possibly unwitting parallel that was also made was how these savages didn’t know how to unite. How utterly ironic. We Arabs don’t know how to unite against a common enemy, even if it would be in our best interest in the long run. And, who unites the rather simple Navi and leads them to victory? A white American guy gone native. Hmmm… who’s going to be the white savior of the Arabs who will unite them? Any candidates? Anyone? Maybe we should write up a job description and start interviewing candidates. Then again, the human resource field in the Arab world is probably the worst on earth. And if it’s the Arab leaders who will be doing the recruiting, we might end up with the one of the former guards of Abu Ghraib.

Ok, so I didn’t like it for the rather obvious racism and references to the Iraq war. So what did I like?

Two things: 1. the idea of nature being  a living interconnected force, and how uncorrupted by the material world “people” who are in connection with this force are, and more importantly 2. the idea of resistance.

Like the Lord of the Rings, the idea of fighting to the death to defend one’s people or country against obviously evil and militarily superior invaders, is loud and clear in Avatar. Although I highly doubt that this message was meant to be delivered by the film makers, this is the kind of resistance the Palestinians are putting up — resisting in the face of what seems the impossible. Resisting an enemy that is so much more superior in every single material, military, technological, and financial way, that the resistance itself could seem laughable, even ridiculous. But despite all this, the resistance continues, and despite initial setbacks, in the end, they do win.

And it continues.

(Oh, and the flowers that closed — rather than opened — with a touch? Disappointing. But the visual experience? Breathtaking.)

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Avatar… first impressions

  1. Nice piece Marwa! Although unlike you and some others I didn’t really see much of Iraq in it, maybe because I didn’t focus so much on the idea of the white savior. To me it was all Palestine and south Lebanon, possibly because of the emphasis on the culture and of course the art of resistance. Yes they do depict it like an art! Which I think it is.

    And oh yes, those flowers closed rather than opened. I liked it nevertheless. It was like this unreachable beauty that does not reveal itself to strangers.

  2. jimmy

    I did not think the Navi symbolised arabs at all. In my opinion they symbolised a pure spirited race of people that had no interest in money, greed or capitalism. And for your information the main charactor Sam Worthington is Australian, not American.

    • Marwa Elnaggar

      I was drawing parallels with a reality that we in the Arab world live every day. Of course I could be wrong. I wasn’t aware at all, for example, that the main character is Australian, especially since his accent is American and I don’t remember anything that pointed to him being anything other than that. Again, these are my first impressions, but you’re right about Arabs not being a pure spirited race of people with no interests. The reason I saw it as paralleling so much of what is happening in the Middle East is because of the main theme of a war being waged on a people for some precious mineral that would be mined from the earth. And while the occupation of those people happens, the occupiers/invaders attempt to “soften” their brutality by endeavors such as: education, health care, aid, and so on.

    • Marwa Elnaggar

      Oh, and another reason I thought the parallel between the movie and the war in Iraq was so obvious is the use of phrases such as “shock and awe” and the talk of civilian casualties (that would also parallel the situation in Afghanistan and Palestine).

  3. Mye Sabry

    Dear Marwa,

    i just saw the movie 2 days ago and I’m still dreaming about the colours in “nature” that they had in the movie – took my breath away, God bless IMAX 3D.

    what you wrote is like it was taken out of mind, same thoughts about everything from not interested to seeing Avatar, to drawing the parallels to the Iraq situation and the GIJoe gone rogue, everything 🙂

  4. You’ll be amazed to know that James Cameron, director of the movie, wrote (Avatar) in just two weeks and before he made (Titanic), so it’s way before the war in Iraq.
    Guess When we watch a movie, our mind keeps working and analyzing (in addition to our culture and backgrounds) the inner and hidden message that’s implied by the filmmakers, that we sometimes miss all the fun and humane feelings that are expressed… I find the movie more than exquisite… the best saga I’ve ever watched after LOTR trilogy… but still nothing can conquer peter Jackson in that:)

    I’m not a science fiction person as well, but on your contrary, I adore Matrix, and hate star wars to death:))

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