Throughout history people have often encountered others with very different cultures, belief systems, and lifestyles. In order to work and live together peacefully, a common understanding and engagement of other cultures needs to occur. However, other choices to respond to differences exist; the option to ignore differences, or to reject the others culture and beliefs are just two counter-productive responses to difference. An example historically is how America’s early settlers encountered Native Americans when the settlers first arrived to the new world.
In this essay I will analyze the film “Avatar”. This film is drawn from popular culture as it was one of the highest grossing films recently made, however even though the film is set in a futuristic time period, the plot closely resembles the tension felt between Native Americans and early settlers of America. Furthermore, this artifact is significant because it relates our history of encountering vastly different cultures, to a future time period where we are presented with different cultures and how we as humans and Americans make the same mistakes.
By applying Fisher’s narrative paradigm and identifying the features of the narrative using the method outlined by Foss, I seek to identify narrative strategies in terms of events and characters that the rhetor used to encourage the Navi to stand up for themselves. I will also examine “Avatar” to expose the Pocahontas narrative presented in the film. I will define the term “Pocahontas narrative” as a narrative depicting technologically superior settlers who intrude and wage battle with inferior natives. Body
In the film, the main conflict is between the American military and the natives called Navi. The story takes place on another planet, named Pandora. The military wants to mine under a sacred tree; because they believe precious minerals are under it. Avatars are used by the military to learn what it will take for the Navi to abandon their home tree. Once the military realizes that the Navi will not abandon their sacred tree, the battle begins. To me this resembles a Pocahontas narrative, where settlers wage war on the Indians for land after other negotiations fail.
The setting of the narrative is Pandora. It relates to the characters as well as the plot because the military and the natives are fighting over the land which belongs to the natives. The setting is highly detailed and vivid images are presented to the audience to fully establish the setting. The audience quickly understands that this is the Navi’s land, and the humans are out of their element. The Characters in the film are both human and non-human, and some are flat while others are round. Physically the Navi are Much taller and stronger then the humans.
The Navi’s most prominent mental trait is a close connection with their land and mother nature, which makes their behavior hostile when their land and the well being of their mother nature is threatened. The humans are also hostile with the exception of a few characters who take the Navi’s side. The biologists who study the Navi are not hostile and two of the military characters are round as they change from predictably following military orders to helping the Navi survive. The military characters are trigger happy and eager to start battle.
The narrative is presented indirectly to the audience as the audience witness for themselves the action of the film. However, much of the film is seen through the view point of the main character Sully. It is Sully who verbally tells the Navi about the history his people have with war referring all the way back to colonial times and the Pocahontas narrative. Sully’s attitude toward the story being told is that the Navi shouldn’t be forced to leave there home as it is their planet and it is the humans who are starting the problem not the Navi.
Sully raises his pitch and has a serious tone of voice when speaking to both the Navi and the military to effectively state his stance on the issue. Sully acts as the narrator and is somewhat omniscient, as he knows what the military is capable of, and to the Navi, Sully appears somewhat god like, because of Sully’s knowledge. Sully is also somewhat omnipresent, as he is able to be with the Navi as his avatar, and then instantly be back with the military when his avatar machine is turned off.
Style is also visual in this narrative. The shots used effectively depict the Military as advance and wanting to forcibly remove the Navi. Many shots show the superior battle helicopters equipped with guns and bombs, fighting against the Navi who poses bows and arrows and ride on dragons, in contrast to the military who ride in steel war craft. This imagery relates to a Pocahontas narrative; being the Navi are much like Native Americans who had bows and arrows riding on horseback against the new settlers carrying steel guns.
The major events occur when the military bomb the sacred tree, and then again when the Navi decide it’s time to fight back against the military to protect the rest of their planet. The events recounted in the narrative occur in a short period of time. The natural order of events is uniform with the order of their presentation in the telling of the narrative. In this artifact there are clear connections between cause and effect, and effect receives the most emphasis.
An example is how quickly the film communicates that the military will do whatever it takes to get the precious minerals from under the tree, and how long the film takes to communicate that the Navi will not back down and is prepared to fight if they have to. The events in the film are caused largely by human action. The theme of “Avatar” is violence is sometimes justified. The theme is obvious and is articulated in the narrative when the Navi are joined by other tribes and animals from all over Pandora in order to stand a chance against the military.
The other tribes know if they do not help the Navi, then the Navi will be killed and eventually the military will start to wage battle on the other tribes. This narrative resonates with members of Native American cultures. As they share similar reasons for being forced by circumstance to go off and battle a superior military. “Fisher believes: that People are essentially story tellers. History, biography, culture, and character determine what we consider good reasons.
Fisher believes “Narrative rationality is determined by the coherence and fidelity of our stories and the world is a set of stories from which we choose, and thus constantly re-create, our lives” (Fournier). In this film Sully tells the stories of military war to the Navi to communicate a possible end result to the situation. This narrative achieves what Fisher describes as narrative coherence and fidelity. I feel this narrative rings true because it is almost a part of human nature for humans to feel entitled to have anything they want that’s not already claimed by their comrades.
The values that are implied by the narrative is that humans are prone to greed which makes they act inhumanely. Conclusion In summary, through a narrative criticism of the film “Avatar”, we have identified some narrative strategies in terms of events and characters that a rhetor can use to encourage people to stand up for themselves. Drastic costly events change how the characters respond to situations. Characters that are presented as kind hearted and brave, such as Sully; encourage audience members to consider another culture with openness.