"Avatar" is "The Matrix" Backwards

From virtual prisons to virtual deliverance in ten years

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    NEWSLETTERS

    20th Century Fox / Warner Bros. Pictures
    Like "The Matrix," Cameron's latest is a genre-exploding film -- but one that embraces a virtual world as an agent of deliverance.

    On the surface, "Avatar" is not complicated business.

    Boy goes to the woods, meets group of savages, learns their mystic ways, and defeats an evil conglomerate bent on plundering the forest's natural resources.

    It's basically "Ernest Goes to Camp" with aliens.

    But on another level, "Avatar" represents how in the last ten years, we've made a cultural 180 in how we think about virtual worlds. And that shift, if understandable given our love affair with the Internets, is disturbing.

    Just consider "The Matrix."

    Released in '99, "The Matrix" was a genre-exploding film that depicted humans as captors of a vast virtual world. Freedom fighting humans lived like mole people beneath the surface in Zion, where they hid from levitating metal octopi. So "The Matrix" represented the pre-apocalyptic, Y2K-ish, kozmo.com-ian, fin di siecle zeitgeist: Machines bad, humans good.

    Now consider "Avatar." Like "The Matrix," Cameron's latest is a genre-exploding film -- but one that embraces a virtual world as an agent of deliverance. This film represents us ten years post-Matrix, post-millenial dourness. Now we love the virtual.

    In "Avatar," humans are evil. The only way that the film's gimpy protagonist comes to understand true love and harmony is by virtually inhabiting, Matrix-like, a 10-foot-tall cloned alien body. So ... humans bad, machines good.

    We've gone from "escape the virtual world! Its a prison!" to "embrace the virtual world, it will give you love and a better life! And you can ride dragons! And sleep with tall blue chicks!"

    There's something unsettling about this -- besides the fact you've just payed $11 to watch Sam Worthington play World of CameronCraft for three hours.

    It's this: Not only are you rooting against humans in "Avatar," you're actively rooting to discard the weakness of flesh for a perceived digital utopia.

    It's that digital utopia, according to the Rob Zombie-ish logic of the film, that's actually more human than human.

    Guess that's evolution?