Cameron breaks mold by bringing politics to his blockbuster

Peterson Hill

This year’s best picture race for the Oscars is arguably one of the closest in modern cinema. “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker” are locked in a sparring match to take home the golden statue and be named the best film of the year.

What makes this year’s race even more compelling is the stark contrast between the two films. “The Hurt Locker” is a strikingly apolitical war film, an examination of the men who fight war. “Avatar,” in comparison, has a strong political and environmental agenda. James Cameron’s three-hour opus is the most expensive film ever made, and is now the highest grossing film in history.

The film is a critical and commercial success, despite this political message. This is a strange phenomenon, in my opinion, even though I agree with the politics of the film. Interestingly, Cameron trots a very well-worn story arc, but infuses the film with a decidedly liberal sentiment. Traditionally you don’t break the mold with the most expensive movie ever made, yet Cameron brings politics to the forefront of his film.

In many ways, these politics are bolder than anything Cameron did with his visuals. Much of the dialog of the film has direct parallels to the type of language we have been hearing with the Iraq War.

The film is about a Marine who is sent to infiltrate the forest-dwelling Nav’i, but on the mission he falls in love with the people and, in a sense, betrays his country by becoming one of the Nav’i. Yes, it is very similar to the film “Dances With Wolves,” but that isn’t too shabby a film to be modeled after.

What makes the story such a striking political message is that the military group goes to the film’s alien planet to gain easy access to the highly expensive unobtainium. This has a direct correlation to the oil-rich countries that America has been entrenched in for nearly a decade.

The film is testing the audience to explore the tactics used in the current war. At the midway point, there is a genocidal rampage upon the tree the natives cherish as their temple and home. This scene is a violent and searing moment that could be referencing those horrific moments in history when America dropped atomic bombs on Japanese cities in 1945.

It says something about Cameron’s skill that this scene truly captivates the audience with a painful glance into the politics of war.

Perhaps the bravest move Cameron makes is making the entrenched military on Pandora, a type of privatized military branch akin to real-world security agencies like Blackwater. In “Avatar,” the government has made no concessions to hide the use of privatized military in the current conflict.

Cameron is one of the first people to really discuss this path the military is beginning to tread, especially in a big-budget film. This sentiment comes as a shock because it could have polarized audiences.

Along the lines of commenting on the privatization of military, Cameron also makes a stark and somewhat morally perplexing statement when he has his star massacring the people he once served with. In the heart of this film he has the protagonist leading his newly adoptive village against the shock and awe campaign of the over-powering intruders.

The sentiment is clear: For Cameron, the natives in “Avatar” have an elevated way of life. But, does this type of sentiment truly feel at home in the most expensive film of all time? James Cameron’s “Titanic” was the former highest grossing of all time, and the only sentiment that had was a moral one.

You aren’t likely to see films like “Transformers 2” or “G.I. Joe” bringing any politics to the screen, particularly ones as divisive as those in “Avatar.”

The jury is still out on whether “Avatar” will win best picture at the Oscars, but even if it doesn’t, the movie will be remembered for something more than a revolution in motion capture techniques and 3-D visuals.

Peterson Hill is a senior in New College. His entertainment column runs on Wednesdays.