Avatar

Avatar ★★★½

The discussion around this movie and whether it had "no cultural impact" or not is so annoying that I'm not even really gonna review it. I'm just going to ask and answer a single question:

Are "the avatars" sexy? (I'm pretending the Na'vi are called that as a bit because I have a terrible brain disease that makes me find it funny to imagine every movie being named after its protagonist(s), which I guess in this case is the alien species as a collective?) More importantly: should they be, and what would it signify?

Well, in the end, I guess the design of the Na'vi is not exceedingly horny, or at least the movie doesn't treat it as such. Cameron is happy to keep things pretty chaste; more than anything else, the world of Pandora is depicted with childlike wonder. I guess the fact that they're all blue makes it easier to ignore that so much of Avatar is watching half-naked humanoids run around.

And like, that's okay, I guess. But I do wonder: is there something missing here? The movie has a love story; a love story that takes a sizable chunk of the runtime, involves two very central characters, and features a huge amount of plot beats and images through which the movie makes its most interesting thematic points. Are we losing something by shying away from the euphoria of loving an alien woman – and the euphoria of entering an alien body?

The turning point in Jake Sully's character arc is when he is given (and refuses) the opportunity to get his legs healed. Up until there, you could have analyzed his desire to roam the world as a blue catboy through his disability – dude just likes being able to walk again. And maybe that is something he convinced himself of, too. From that point on, though, it's impossible to deny that it's not the entire truth. (And falling in love with Neytiri is not really enough, either – the development makes you reconsider the initial scenes of Jake enjoying his avatar body, tail and everything.)

So why does Jake Sully want to be an alien? Well, because it's cool, obviously. And though this is not really a perspective the movie actively brings in, I guess life on Earth pretty much sucks at this point compared to what the Na'vi have going on.

But is this enough? Is this all this movie could be?

The reason transhumanism is better when it's queer is that it makes it tangible – the sensation of inhabiting an alien body is foreign enough that a metaphor to latch onto, contrary to what you might expect, makes it more instead of less concrete. It's easier to grasp an experience an actual human has had, even if you are not the particular human yourself.

What if Jake fell in love with a male alien instead? What if the Na'vi had a very different system of gender altogether? (Given that its worldbuilding is pretty deep otherwise, both in terms of biology and sociology, the movie's decision to give its alien species a familiar gender binary and familiar gender roles is slightly disappointing.) Or what if Jake had a dead sister and was forced into a female avatar, only to realize that he kind of likes it? Would this not add more tension between him and the conservative traditionalism of the military? Would it not add nuance, complexity, and definition to his character arc and make it more easy to access on an emotional level?

I guess what I'm saying is that if James Cameron was a gay furry, Avatar would be the best movie ever made. But it would also not be a movie ever made – its enormous mass appeal relies on the plausible deniability of its posthuman fantasy. The movie's much-discussed "lack of cultural footprint" and how it's most often analyzed through other lenses (colonialism, anticapitalism, criticism of the military, environmentalism, and so on) seems like the result of a cultural unwillingness to address its inarguable primary theme, the one that it is most interest in and the least clumsily about: that being a sexy cat alien would be sick as fuck.

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