The new Avatar film, “The Way of Water”, seems to have an unambiguous message. In this respect, the film places humans as an invasive species in need of the mineral unobtanium found on the planet Pandora (a moon in the Alpha Centauri system) to ensure their survival. On the other hand, the Na’vi, are a race of sapient extra-terrestrial humanoids who inhabit Pandora and to whom the protagonist belongs. Na’vis seem to have a deeper connection with nature and their way of life is in total synchrony with the environment. Also, their religion, where the goddess Eywa/Gaia is another relevant part of their daily life, is also associated with the consciousness of nature.
Eco-centric protection message and Eco-romance
The message of the film is unmistakable. The film is an invitation to take an eco-centric look at the current problems regarding material or energy scarcity and the need to safeguard ecosystems and nature conservation. Despite this, my critique develops by extrapolating the way in which the film protects nature to the current legal landscape that also aims to protect ecosystems. Firstly, for some authors, pre-industrial society of the Na’vi and the film reflects a sort of eco-romance. (1) The eco-romance is the technique that is used in this film in order to guarantee the ecological perception and promote ecocentrism. Including the word “romance” in this term is due to the use of the longstanding conventions linked to fictional storytelling. For example, the typical plot we see on a movie with adventures and misfortunes leading to a happy ending of good defeating evil. There is no doubt that the film is following this pattern, but this eco-centric defence hides an anthropocentric way of protecting nature, not in the fictional story itself, but through the lens the director uses for addressing environmental problems.
Nature protection based on anthropocentric notions
The film also sets anthropocentric values in motion, while criticizing them. Anthropocentrism is a current of thought that “legitimizes and rationalizes the exploitation of both land and wildlife by centring human being in locus and nature on the periphery.” (2) In this regard, the RDA Corporation, which wants the minerals in Pandora for the human race, has an anthropocentric way of conducting its acts. For their members,
humans are in the top of the natural vertical hierarchy. The aim of the film pretends to be against anthropocentrism, but it ends up defending nature following this current. Two hours into the film, there is a dialogue between the marine researcher, Dr. Ian Garvin, and Miles “Spider” Socorro. In this conversation, the biologist explains the characteristics of a species called Tulkuns (similar to Terran whales) with a spiritual bond with the Na’vi, hunted by humans. In order to defend the Tulkuns and make the bad guys even more evil, these animals are described with human features. The intellectual capacity of the hunted animals is enhanced, as well as their emotions, the spirituality (or religion) they have, and the knowledge and creation of music, philosophy, mathematics… The dialogue aim is to provoke emotion in the viewer and to make us empathise more with the animals by
attributing human characteristics to them. Perhaps, these creatures need protection, because, after all, they are like us. This preference for developing empathy for species similar to humans is not a unique feature of the film world. Humans tend to see ourselves reflected more in species such as monkeys, killer whales (because of their high intelligence) or large animals that are close to our position in the natural hierarchy. We tend to protect these species more because they resemble to us somehow and that is something that the film wants to convey. It happens the same with domestic animals, such as cats or dogs.
Despite its good faith, this pursuit of nature protection from an anthropocentric point of view by personifying the animals is ineffective as soon as there is a conflict of interests between different parties.(3) In other words, this protection would be guided by humangiven value, criteria which forgets about the inherent value of the species. For example, would you feel sadder for a monkey or a lizard if an animal needs to be sacrificed? Similarly, this is echoed by current international environmental laws that aim to protect endangered ecosystems. It is not the same to protect nature from an anthropocentric point of view because in case of great scarcity, the interests of individuals will be above the ecological interest of the planet. Instead, from an eco-centric point of view, the defence of these species or ecosystems is done because they are species or ecosystems in their own right, and therefore in need of protection.
1 Collins MS, “Echoing Romance: James Cameron’s Avatar as Ecoromance” (2014) 47 Mosaic:
a journal for the interdisciplinary study of literature 103
2 Lamichhane HK, “Critique of Anthropocentrism in Cameron’s Avatar” (DSpace at Tribhuvan
University Central Library (TUCL): Critique of Anthropocentrism in Cameron’s
AvatarJanuary 1, 1970) <https://elibrary.tucl.edu.np/handle/123456789/3057> accessed
February 4, 2023
3 Matthew Lawrence, ‘Anthropocentrism Does Not Fit: Proofs from History, Science, and Logic
for Ecocentric Attorneys’ (2019) 11 J Animal & Envtl L 25