Saturday, December 19, 2009

AVATAR and Lacking Truth in Science Fiction

When it comes to science fiction, I can do a fair job of removing myself from the contemporary politics and other rattlings in culture that it is supposed to be referencing and attempting to indoctrinate me in so that I can just enjoy a good yarn. I went to see AVATAR with the same thing in mind. I knew what I was stepping into, much of which is described in the post below, but I prepared myself and decided I would just enjoy the story.

Now the Big Environmental Message, I was like ... whatever. The "Gaia" story has been part of the Science Fiction genre since its inception. Nothing new there and so I had less of a problem with it. I know that Cameron is trying to sell me a bill of goods about global warming and how evil we are ... but being way overly-read in the science fiction genre, it was easy to just fold it into the Gaia Science Fiction category (granted it doesn't hold a candle to Asimov's take on that at the end of the Foundation series ... but I digress into my geekiness).

Here was the real problem for me. In probably the most emotional part of the film as the Marines (and they are US Marines ... they are not some meta-Earth-United type military group) essentially commit a massacre on a huge scale (and also on a personal scale in that its not like they're off in a bunker and hit a button and somewhere some people die ... they're there on the ground personally doing it) of sentient, humanoid (and generally human looking ... in other words an alien one can relate to) natives, one is supposed to believe the scenario. But here is where the film failed completely for me. I am supposed to believe that a bunch of US Marines raised vaguely (although the year is not really defined) somewhere in the 21st century, having been raised in an America where not only is there the unique story of our own relationship to the Native Americans but we also have been surrounded by stories like Dances With Wolves, etc etc ... Marines trained not only in warfare but being able to recognize who the enemy is (the Jarheads in other words are not mindless guns) ... I am supposed to believe that they would sit there and through the course of the film commit genocide willingly ... fully understanding what they are doing? That just strikes me as unbelieveable. The genius of any good science fiction is that it has beneath the fanciful the possibility for truth. Its what makes it so fascinating. But to believe that a group of 21st century American Marines, characters we can recognize and relate to culturally as they are not far enough removed from contemporary real Marines, would be so willing to commit genocide both physically and culturally (there is a real Taliban-destroying-cultural-monuments moment in the movie except its the Marines doing it) just feels false. From that first massacre on, I just could not relate to the movie at all anymore ... it moved beyond Science Fiction into just a poorly written story based on no truth whatsoever (that seed of truth being the hallmark of any good science fiction).

Was it a visually stunning 2 1/2 hour adventure? Yes. But in the end it was just intellectually and emotionally insulting. I was able to successfully divorce myself from today's politics in order to enjoy the movie (it was a conscious effort on my part) ... but all that came to a crashing end when I was supposed to "suspend my disbelief" at the concept of relatively contemporary American Marines willfully committing genocide. I honestly think this part of the movie is the one people should be complaining about the most.