Avatar is acting as a “global Rorschach test”. What’s so cross-culturally appealing about this movie that’s attracting huge audiences in countries as different as US, China, UK, Germany, France, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Japan?
Partly it’s the eye-popping visuals and technological wizardry: it’s earning most of its international revenues from 3d theaters (which charge higher admission). Saturday Jan 9th was the biggest day in IMAX box office history, with China bringing in “staggering and record-breaking” revenues.
But the varied reviewers are finding their own points of resonance with the movie:
Andrew Leonard wrote in Salon that Avatar is “all things to all people,” with everyone from neo-cons applauding its “deeply conservative, pro American message” to left-wing professors commenting that “the jungle pantheism that now pervades the psychoactive counterculture has gone thoroughly mainstream.”
William Kern in his article in The Moderate Voice pointed to a couple of non-US reviews (links below are English translations):
– from Belgium: Oscar van den Boogaard in De Standaard describes “feeling like a Neanderthal who’s seen his first airplane,” the diverse audience, the story line of “the brutality of man…[who] destroys what’s foreign to him…parallels between Iran and Pandora….”
– in the China Daily, Raymond Zhou speculates that “…at the moment a giant bulldozer appeared on the screen, I had an ‘aha’ moment…that there is a specific Chinese interpretation one could make” related the ongoing conflicts in China between modernizing property developers and local Chinese who fight to protect their homes. Here’s another article on how “the Chinese see a message in Avatar” about local homeowners fighting brutal developers.
Meanwhile,The Korean Times has this cartoon of a blue Na’vi befriended by a patched-robe Arab, African and other developing world peoples, while in the background three imperialist figures (a cowboy, a foreign legion soldier, and a pith-helmeted policeman) watch with consternation.
Dmitri Gorshokov writes in RT (Russian media channel) that Avatar’s message is that “if we don’t start solving our ecology problems we’ll be in big trouble….and those who watch the news…will find the scenario, in which a stronger race invades a weaker one for its resources, annoying familiar.”
William Langly in the UK Telegraph comments on director James Camerons’ “working class background” and quotes Cameron as saying he tries to “live with honor” in the Hollywood world where “a handshake means nothing” to most people.
So perhaps the discussions about how the movie could have been so much better with a more nuanced, complex storyline — are missing the point. Perhaps it’s the very straightforward nature of the storyline and characters that allows for such a range of interpretations to be projected upon it.