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Avatar and District 9

January 8, 2010

Here‘s the most interesting review of Avatar I’ve seen so far, comparing and contrasting Avatar to District 9. (spoilers below the break)

Both movies, in the reviewer’s opinion,  are race fantasies about white people addressing their white guilt be literally becoming members of the oppressed race.  In Avatar the protagonist, Sully, voluntarily becomes a Na’vi while maintaining his white privilege and becoming the leader of the Na’vi; whereas, in contrast, Wikus in District 9 is involuntarily transformed into a Prawn and loses all his white privilege.

I found both stories to be both uninsightful and, frankly, a bit boring.  Neither movie gave, for example, an account of why the humans treated the aliens so badly, so we never get to confront the source of the evil head on.

In Avatar the two humans most responsible for the atrocities are the corporate manager, Parker Selfridge, and the mercenaries’ commanding officer, Col. Quaritch.  These characters’ motivations are never fleshed out.  They’re just one-dimensional bad guys.  The closest we get is Selfridge’s explanation of how great unobtainium is.  But why send the bulldozers in to destroy Home Tree so soon when Sully had just been accepted into the tribe and was about to begin negotiations?  We’re never given any explanation of that decision, which is the cause the conflict in the final act.

District 9 is even worse in this respect.  In that movie we aren’t even given the simplistic explanation of human greed.  The corporation and humankind in general are acting against their own selfish interests, acting in a way to guarantee that they don’t get D9’s version of unobtainium.  And the Wikus character in particular is poorly drawn.  Early in the film the audience is told to be unsymathetic to Wikus through a scene in which Wikus blithely burns a nest of Prawn young with no hint that he has any respect for innocent life.  But what about Wikus accounts for this uncaring?  We’re never shown.

The perspective of the aliens is also neglected.  In both films we are shown snippets of the protagonist’s video diaries, but the aliens’ inner thoughts are never explored.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Debbie permalink
    January 8, 2010 9:21 pm

    I really hated most of District 9. I couldn’t see why ALL the humans were so horrible there (until they were no longer human), whereas with Avatar, only some of the humans were bad, and, except for the timing issue, this was explained well enough to me (valuable resources, following orders). I can even imagine the CEOs, shareholders and customers back home going ballistic about how long it’s taking–how could it take so long? We have loads of weapons and they have nothing!

  2. Debbie permalink
    January 8, 2010 11:41 pm

    Doh! I’m remembering that they moved so fast because they saw the video of the guy saying that there’s no way the natives would ever move. What bugged me is why didn’t the guy explain the human situation to his new friends or at least warn them. (Some of my co-viewers said this was because they weren’t yet ready to listen to him while he was still such an ignoramus. But he wasn’t ignorant about his own culture–he could have been explaining to his guide while she was training him.)

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