Avatar is a popular and commercial phenomenon soon to break through the most cherished barrier in Hollywood to become the top-grossing movie of all time. In doing so, Avatar's creator, James Cameron, will only be besting himself - for his earlier blockbuster, Titanic, currently occupies the sacred top box office slot.
But, this box office banter is perfectly trivial - isn't it?
The real question should surely be: Is Avatar more than a mere box office phenomenon? The simple answer is, "Yes, it is much more than a commercial phenomenon - Avatar is political dynamite."
While Hollywood regularly produces fine films with progressive themes, few of them ascend to box office nirvana. Here are a few cases in point: Milk; In the Valley of Elah; An Inconvenient Truth; Syriana, "W.", Good Night and Good Luck, Religulous and Rendition. All made their riveting political points then vanished into the yawning chasm of artistic achievement wrapped in the well-worn shroud of commercial obscurity.
While Avatar is being hailed as a breakthrough to new levels of filmic techno-sophistication - its 3D and special effects are wrapped around a scintillating story line that is driven by thermonuclear political intensity. Avatar is a hyper-political film from its gripping beginning to its illuminating end.
In a nutshell, Avatar's political message is: The American Military-Industrial Complex will utterly destroy the known universe. Avatar depicts a war in heaven - on a mythological planet named "Pandora" - where the cosmic box is opened to reveal that the evil demons set loose to destroy humanity are - us - the US of A. The evil Usses are, indeed, Us.
A brief recapitulation for anyone who has not yet seen the film: The US Military-Industrial Complex is hell-bent to colonize and mine Pandora for its rare extra-terrestrial element, Unobtainium, a mineral with anti-gravitational properties that will resolve the terminal decline of Earth and permit the colonization of more planets for the aggressive exploitation of the universe in pursuit of energy to fuel an endless cycle of extraction and consumption.
The characters of Avatar are archetypes. The protagonist is a paraplegic ex-Marine named Jake Sully who became paralyzed from the waist down like the heroic Ron Kovacs in some future US military intervention. Sully is proselytized into a high-level research program on a far-flung planet that will liberate him from his paralysis with occasional interludes as the mind of an avatar - a native of Pandora, a humanoid people, the Na'vi. On the distant planet, Jake Sully meets the lead scientist of the Avatar project, Dr. Grace Augustine, and her dual nemeses, Parker Selfridge, the corporate bureaucrat driving the mission to mine Unobtainium, and Miles Quaritch - the US military commander of the Pandora invasion.
Upon his formal implantation into his 10-foot tall blue-skinned Na'vi avatar, Jake Sully immediately falls into the vortex of the rapidly spiraling plot. Lost on Pandora and facing grave dangers, Jake meets his savior, Neytiry, the princess royal of the Omaticaya clan. Inevitably and against the will of the princess, Jake Sully is swept deeply into the Pandoran culture. This development pleases his immediate supervisor, Grace Augustine, and his ultimate commander, Miles Quaritch - but Jake's conversion to Pandoran Na'vi ultimately sets off apocalyptic repercussions that will threaten the existence of his mother planet, Earth.
The story is driven by the conflict in Jake's mind. Torn between his commitment to his human DNA and his longing for restorative surgery to regain the use of his body, Jake finds liberation as a Na'vi warrior who dives deeply into the indigenous aboriginal culture of animism and the unadulterated exaltation of Nature. The Omaticaya dwell in a veritable paradise of a planet-girdling rainforest where trees provide the skeletal infrastructure for their naturalistic civilization.
The clash of civilizations results in a Gotterdammerung of the terrestrials. Miles Quaritch is the last surviving American soldier in the decisive battle, and Neytirry slays him with two arrows shot straight into his heart.
The final sequence depicts the forlorn retreat of the remnant of the American forces including Parker Selfridge (presaging a sequel) followed by the final excavation of the mind of Jake Sully and its permanent implantation into his avatar - his Na'vi body.
After the release of Avatar, the American right suffered a massive attack of apoplexy. While many right wing critics have panned the film as flawed for its sacrilegious message as the triumph of Animists and Druids over Christian Soldiers, Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist, declaims Avatar as a plot to install world government via the "phoney" environmental crisis. While Avatar is grist for the right-wing mill, it is honey to the ears of the progressive trend.
On New Year's Eve while vacationing with his family on Oahu, President Obama and his family were privileged with a private screening of Avatar. The paparazzi will now be placed on alert for the presence of Zoe Saldana who played Neytirry on the White House guest list.
Avatar is powerful art. The finest movies, films and cinema are transformational. They reveal something deep about ourselves. Avatar pulls the political trigger and transforms each of us - one by one - in our multitudes. Let's look forward to the sequel sometime in say - December, 2011 on the eve of the Mayan Apocalypse of 2012 - and the next presidential election. Oh yes, for its excellence, innovation and artistic originality - Avatar should sweep the Oscars, but right-wing knives are already out and operating on its anti-American godlessness.