Avatar: The Perfect Example of a Postmodern Movie
It’s Oscar night, and Avatar is a heavy contender. I watched the movie twice—mostly for the visual experience, but it also struck me as a perfect example of postmodern concerns.
In his book A New Kind of Christian, Brian McLaren lists ten characteristics of Modernity that the postmodern world tries to transcend. They all come through in Avatar:
1. Conquest and Control
Humans invade Pandora much like Europeans colonized the world; the age of colonization is over, and some of the damage needs to be repaired.
2. The Machine
In Modernity, the machine defined us to the extend that we essentially became machines ourselves. The “Amp Suit” in Avatar is a perfect example of this: humans becoming robots. Less mechanization and more natural living—that’s what postmodern people want.
3. Analytical Knowledge
Analytical knowledge became the dominant epistemology in Modernity, just like the humans in Avatar are analyzing and dissecting Pandora. Jake slowly discovers the value of intuition rather than mere analysis, and postmodern people wish to do the same.
4. Secular Science
Do I need to explain? The whole Avatar program is a secular science program. The Na’vi, in contrast, are a highly spiritual people. Though Postmodernists do not want to throw science overboard, they often strive to combine it with a spiritual sense.
5. Absolute Objectivity
Seen objectively, it shouldn’t be a big deal for the Na’vi to move away from their tree. There are enough trees around. Their reason for staying is a deeply subjective one, and the corporate administrator Selfridge doesn’t respect subjective reasons. To put it a different way: he is all for prose, not poetry. The postmodern world wants to re-discover poetry and respect subjectivity.
Modernity was the great age of debunking, reducing complex phenomena to a single thing: “That’s nothing but a Freudian Electra complex” or “That’s nothing but superstition.” In Avatar, the Na’vi, their values and beliefs are also “nothing but …” Jake comes to believe otherwise.
7. Modern Nation-States and Organization
From the assembly line to the picket line to the party line, Modernity has been the master of organization. Just like the human mission on Pandora, which is also highly organized. The Na’vi tribes, on the other hand, are only loosely connected, and Jake’s rallying of the tribes is only a temporary necessity. He tames the Great Leonopteryx, yes, but in the end he lets it fly, and with it, his position as supreme leader and organizer of the tribes.
The strongest individualist in Avatar is the bad guy, Colonel Miles Quaritch. In contrast, the Na’vi have a strong sense of community and unity, both among each other and with nature.
9. Institutional Religion
The Na’vi are much more religious than their invaders, but it’s not an institutional religion, just like many postmodern people wish to transcend the institutionalization of religion that marked Modernity.
Money. That’s the reason humans are on Pandora at all. Postmodern people dream of a life that is not driven primarily by consumption.
What Avatar puts in the place of Modernity might be a naive utopia—a sort of noble savage that never existed and never will exist—but it’s spot on in showing the problems of Modernity and the need for change.
Entry filed under: Current Events, History, Science. Tags: A New Kind of Christian, analytical mind, Avatar, Brian McLaren, colonization, Consumerism, Emergent, Individualism, institutional religion, intution, James Cameron, machine, Modernity, objectivity, Oscar, Oscars, Pandora, postmodern, postmodernism, Reductionism, secular science, subjectivity.