Review of Battle: Los Angeles, Are the Marines Fighting Aliens or Corporate Raiders?

Last night, Y and I capped our Spring Break with a science fiction movie: Battle: Los Angeles (B:LA).

I imagine that the film was pitched as Black Hawk Down meets War of the Worlds. B:LA follows a platoon and its replacement Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz as they are called on to rescue civilians in Los Angeles during a worldwide alien invasion. The aliens, who appear to be cyborgs combining biology and technology, apparently attempt to wipe out Earth’s indigenous intelligent life in order to take the liquid water that makes our planet unique (at least in our solar system).

Overall, I enjoyed the film as an interesting what-if, adventure story. The characters have to display ingenuity and tenacity as they battle their way out of and then back into beachhead that the aliens establish.

The aliens are an interesting creation. They are tall and lanky like I would imagine Wells’ aliens from Mars. However, these aliens are likely from a much more distant world. The Marines in the film question the similarities between themselves and the alien grunts fighting them. However, they do not show any compassion towards the aliens. The overwhelming sight of human bodies strewn about in a majority of scenes establishes the single-mindedness of the production–this is war, these are soldiers, and they have a job to do. This is a refreshing, albeit macabre, story line that seems more real than a number of other science films that flirt with identification with the alien Other. These aliens are depicted as on the offensive, which leaves little room for questioning or identification on the part of the humans.

The first half of the film seemed more real and intense to me, because it is largely configured as a horror film. There is a slow, yet brief, introduction to the lives of the characters before the alien invasion (in flashback). Then, through the ubiquity of CNN on televisions surrounding the soldiers, the soldiers begin to catch glimpses of an enemy with only one goal in mind–annihilation of the human species. Yet these glimpses heighten our awareness of a powerful evil that hasn’t yet materialized. In the fighting that follows, the aliens skirmish with the soldiers, killing and wounding some, pulling others through the parse vegetation in the yards of deserted houses, but never clearly revealing themselves. Then, the soldiers and the audience get their first clear image of the alien invaders, followed by Nantz’s brutal dissection of a half-dead alien soldier, the aliens begin to lose their power over the narrative. This is the turning point, never quite acknowledged in the film, where the human Marines stand a fighting chance with the alien invaders, but the invaders have been castrated in a sense–they have lost their power over the humans despite a few remaining deaths in the episodic melees.

The plot to save the few civilians hiding inside a police station is not always convincing. The film, which overall takes its material seriously, seems to disintegrate into cliche with the triad of the Joe Rincon, his son Hector, and Nantz. Joe dies after picking up a fallen soldier’s weapon to defend the group against an alien soldier. Hector then bonds with Nantz. However, Nantz’s elaborate speeches to Hector (as well as his confrontation with Corporal Jason Lockett) derails the otherwise real feel for the film. Furthermore, these male relationships Hector-Nantz and Nantz-Lockett, sidelines the female characters in the film. TSgt. Elena Santos is the strongest female presence in the story, but I believe this derives from her Air Force role that increases the importance of the otherwise male-only platoon’s mission. Michelle (the veterinarian), Kirsten, and Amy (I believe these were the other rescued civilians’ names) appear to be McGuffins rather than actual characters. We see them scream and cry occasionally, but they give the soldiers a reason to be where they are and they heighten the drama when the group is under attack. Michelle, a veterinarian, helps Nantz with the alien dissection, but it is mostly through commentary rather than physical help–Nantz seems to treat the dissection as a fact-finding cathartic experience that really doesn’t serve to help the soldiers since they are engaged in skirmishes, usually at a distance, with machine guns rather than sniper rifles.

The film’s emphasis on water as a precious, natural resource is probably its most redeeming quality. Unless you think about water rights or have seen documentaries such as Water Wars, I believe the fundamental importance of the public controlling water rights is a largely overlooked issue. Perhaps the narrative could be read as corporations are otherworldly aliens seeking to colonize the world’s natural resources, and this invasion is taking place around the world.

From my own experience in rural Southeast Georgia, companies are given rights to pump vast amounts of water out of the ground for chemical processing and pulp processing. These actions have lowered the water table to the point that some natural artesian wells have gone dry and private water pumps (this is how most folks get their water outside of the limited city limits of Brunswick) need to be installed at lower depths to maintain access to water. Amazingly, Brunswick is right next to the Atlantic Ocean, but access to potable water is increasingly slipping away. The commoditization of water through privatization of public water works and water bottling companies is another concern.

If the film can be read in this way, as a challenge to a nation’s citizens’ rights to water, I do find it hopeful that the Marines are the ones who save us all. The Marines are a part of the United States military controlled by the public will via our representational government. We can maintain our rights of access to our natural resources by electing people to our government who respect the citizen over the corporation. In the developing era of globalization and transnational capital, citizens must take back our government to support our needs over that of corporate greed.

Book Review Leads to Criminal Libel Charge – NYTimes.com

As a regular reviewer of fiction and non-fiction books, I find this news story in The New York Times a little disturbing:

In a little more than a week, a court in Paris will decide whether a law professor in New York committed criminal libel by publishing a book review.

You will want to read the short news story linked below to unravel what is taking place with the trial, but it suffices to say here that it is an international affront to the right of free speech, which includes one’s right to critically evaluate the speech/writing of others. I will report how the trial turns out as soon as I hear. It bears repeating that I will vigorously defend my right to free speech here and in other venues.

via Book Review Leads to Criminal Libel Charge – NYTimes.com.

James Blish’s A Case of Conscience

After a wonderful dinner at Mack and Sue Hassler’s house with my wife Yufang and our new friend Carter Kaplan, Mack lent me a copy of James Blish’s A Case of Conscience (1958). Mack knew that I had already presented a paper on James Cameron’s Avatar, and that I would present a revised version of that essay at the upcoming SFRA 2010 Conference in Carefree, AZ next week. He told me that Blish’s novel was related to Avatar either as inspiration or merely part of the cultural discursive currents that made Avatar possible today.

A Case of Conscience is about a group of four Earth men on the distant planet of Lithia. They are each scientists in various fields who are studying the planet to make a recommendation to the UN whether Lithia should be made a safe port for future travel there by humanity. What drives the novel is the group of people largely absent from the narrative–the native Lithians. The adult Lithians, who stand 12′ tall in reptilian bodies and have a highly developed culture, cater to their four Earth guests who carry on their deliberations without any input from the Lithians themselves. It is only the innocuous gift of Chtexa to Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez, the Jesuit biologist and narrator of the novel, of his not yet ‘born’ child Egtverchi that the Lithians are given a voice of sorts that is still unheard by the humans who play host. Ultimately, the humans are arrogant towards the Lithians and their culture. They cut down their “Message Tree” which enables their global network of navigation and communication, and through their experiments they destroy the entire planet after Egtverchi’s return. Most importantly, Ruiz, who submits the heretical belief aligned with Philip K. Dick’s cosmogony that the adversary or demiurge has creative abilities and that the seemingly perfect Lithian world and its people are a trap for humanity, cannot see that it is humanity that is at fault for their blindness to the possibilities in a vast cosmos for other points of view and other paradises that are not imbued with human-Christian dogmatic trappings.

Ruiz is an interesting character who tries to work out the unique case of conscience of Lithia. He and his other evaluators of Lithia are each blinded by his own cultural and educational restraints. These humans who are on Lithia for some time never get around to studying the Lithians themselves, and it is only at the end that Ruiz learns how the Lithians procreate and develop into adults. This realization comes to Ruiz as a hidden danger, and a fact that leads him to think of the Lithians as creations of the Adversary/Satan rather than souled creations of Almighty God. Their perfections, in Ruiz’s worldview and experience, can only be aberrations of the design that he believes was put into effect on Earth. Even at the end, as he is intoning the rites of exorcism, he cannot see that it is human beliefs that has colored what Lithia is and how humans see Lithia.

A Case of Conscience is a superb example of postcolonial science fiction. It starts off with the power of an Asmovian hard science fiction combined with the social. Lithians have a well developed society that the humans, even Ruiz who knows their language, does not actively work to engage. Even this seemingly interested character does not leave his plant specimens long enough to realize that the Lithians are far more interesting and important to any decision arrived at by the visiting human contingent than the other studies these humans are undertaking. Back on Earth, the social constraints of living underground, which comes about from the Cold War and mirroring Dick’s The Penultimate Truth, explodes when Chtexa’s child Egtverchi incites the human outsiders of society to revolt.

Egtverchi is an outsider to human culture, but he is still a product of human culture. The Lithians do carry a certain amount of memories and ingrained abilities in their DNA, but Egtverchi’s acculturation and learning, particularly his developmental years under observation and scientific examination, mold him into a being divorced from his own people who can pass judgement on humanity as excluding certain individuals from the decision making process and full enjoyment of modern life. However, Ruiz, Michelis, and the others cannot see this. They cannot see that Egtverchi is a creation of humanity and it is not his Lithian-ness that makes him capable of inciting unrest on Earth. They cannot see that humanity had passed judgement on Lithia without understanding the Lithians or even caring that the Lithians had a society and culture or that the Lithians have agency and sovereignty. Ruiz and the others, even the Asian female scientist Liu Meid, use their own discursive background to assert authority over Egtverchi and the Lithians.

A Case of Conscience is a powerfully moving novel that should be more widely read, not necessarily for its connection to Avatar, but as another science fiction work that challenges humanity to not be so bullheaded and domineering when it comes to excluded persons or groups. This novel would be a strong text for a postcolonialism course as well as other courses in which hegemony of various colors is challenged, critiqued, and questioned. It is a hard science fiction novel, which means that Blish does spend some time explaining his science. Nevertheless, his character development of Ruiz in particular carries the novel. Ruiz is depicted as a likable person who wants to do right, but he cannot see right outside of his situation as a Jesuit scientist. He requires his beliefs in Christianity to provide a basis for his logic. As such, his logic is human and male centric. The Lithians lose their appealing interest to him when he fits them into his domineering logic of Christian belief. For him, that belief cannot change, even allowing for his heresies, so the Lithians must be made to serve a particular preselected role within his belief system. I hope that you will read this novel, and in doing so, find yourself disheartened with human chauvinism. You may also find some relevant threads connecting the novel to America’s current conquests in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And a final question: How many science fictions have Jesuit or religious order protagonists? I’m thinking of Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, Stephenson’s Anathem, and MacDonald’s Brazyl.

Stanislaw Lem’s “Philip K. Dick: A Visionary Among the Charlatans”

In Science Fiction Studies #5 (1975), Stanislaw Lem wrote an article, translated from the Polish by Robert Abernathy, describing, analyzing, and challenging the work of Philip K. Dick (up to that point). Titled “Philip K. Dick: A Visionary Among the Charlatans,” it is a rich essay that has much to say about Dick’s work and the work of the critic.

Lem says that Dick, like other science fiction authors, takes from the “warehouse which has long since become their common property,” or what Damien Broderick later theorized as the SF mega-text (57). One of the themes that Dick relies on is the catastrophe, but unlike most other science fiction authors, the catastrophes in Dick’s fiction occur for unascertainable reasons, i.e., the uncovered causes are deferred to the end. The common denominator in all of Dick’s fiction is a world beset by an unconstrained and monstrous entropy that devours matter and even time. Following his instincts, as Patricia Warrick would later say of Dick that he is understood intuitively, Lem says of Dick that he does not go in for rational explanations, but instead, confounds both the plot and the conventions of the science fiction genre itself. Of this, Lem demonstrates that genres have conventions, but those conventions were formed by previous breaking of convention to make the genre thus. Dick does this to science fiction, changing it to meet his own needs and creativity. Coupled with his genre breaking is the fact that Dick is a bricoleur, though this is not the word Lem uses, but it is very much what he is describing. Lem describes Dick’s work as something offered for sale at a “county fair,” having been made from a variety of concepts and ideas, but making the new creation solidly his own. Dick is not a futurologist, but rather representing the very idea of futureshock in his stories. Dick is not an extrapolator who changes one thing and leaves all the rest unscathed. He shows how civilization goes on, progress forward, but having been changed radically by the events presupposed in his stories. He acknowledges that history cannot be rewound. The fusion of the natural with the artificial, a point also raised by Warrick, Leo Marx, and Sharona Ben-Tov, means that there can be no more talk of a return to nature. In this, Dick does question progress, but not by chucking the concept. Instead, he complicates it, and again, confounds it. For Dick, our technological labyrinth prevents us from returning to nature–again, connections with Warrick, Marx, and Ben-Tov. Lem conjectures on this as something beyond the scope of Dick’s work, but nevertheless should be taken into account. He thinks about how the “irreversibility of history, leads Dick to the pessimistic conclusion that looking far into the future becomes such a fulfillment of dreams of power over matter as converts the ideal of progress into a monstrous caricature” (64). It is this carrying Dick’s ideas further in his criticism that Lem attempts to practice the very thing Dick practiced in his writing. And most importantly, in his short engagement of the novel Ubik, Lem, a good structuralist, avoids the author’s interpretation of the work, and instead considers how the thing ‘ubik’ and its combination of the old and philosophical with the modern and consumer culture resulted in such a powerful metaphor and not a futurological or technical artifact (66).

Two other things that I would like to leave with you from this essay is Lem’s idea about the relationship of the critic to a work–as defender rather than prosecutor–a way that I have tried to work in my own scholarship and reviews: “I think, however, that the critic should not be the prosecutor of a book but its defender, though one not allowed to lie: he may only present the work in the most favorable light” (60).

And I would like to quote at length, Lem’s concluding paragraph, in which he gives a honest, gracious, and thoughtful tribute to Dick’s writing. Lem says:

The writings of Philip Dick have deserved a better fate than that to which they were destined by their birthplace. If they are neither of uniform quality nor fully realized, still it is only by brute force that they can be jammed into that pulp of materials, destitute of intellectual value and original structure, which makes up SF. Its fans are attracted by the worst in Dick–the typical dash of American SF, reaching to the stars, and the headlong pace of action moving from one surprise to the next–but they hold it against him that, instead of unraveling puzzles, he leaves the reader at the end on the battlefield, enveloped in the aura of a mystery as grotesque as it is strange. Yet his bizarre blendings of hallucinogenic and palingenetic techniques have not won him many admirers outside the ghetto walls, since there readers are repelled by the shoddiness of the props he has adopted from the inventory of SF. Indeed, these writings sometimes fumble their attempts; but I remain after all under their spell, as it often happens at the sight of a lone imagination’s efforts to cope with a shattering superabundance of opportunities–efforts in which even a partial defeat can resemble a victory (66-67).

I am also under that spell and happily on the battlefield, a little the worse for wear, but with kit in hand. At least, I thought I was on a battlefield until I realized that I was sitting at a desk in front of a computer wildly typing away on this very blog. I suppose the battlefields, like ontologies, can change unexpectedly and for inexplicable reasons.

Image of Lem at the top of the post is from the Wikimedia Commons, details here.

Thank You Spike Jonze for I’m Here, a robot love story

When I was in Kindergarten, I convinced my classmates that I was in fact a robot. That was nearly 28 years ago, but I have never lost my love for robots and the secret desire to be an anthropomorphized machine. I suppose my interest in robots comes from the friendly droids in Star Wars or the robot helpers in Walt Disney’s Black Hole. However, I didn’t want to be a robot who played second fiddle to anyone. Instead of Han Solo commanding the Millennium Falcon, my robot alter-ego, aided by superior intelligence, skill, and strength, would commandeer the most badass light freighter in science fiction (sorry, Browncoats). With this short robotic-biographical sketch in mind, you can see why I enjoyed Spike Jonze’s latest short film, I’m Here. This film event (it’s an online, recreated matinee experience coupled with limited ‘seating’ each day), sponsored by Absolut, presents a fully realized world in which humans live side-by-side with robots, but the robots form a racialized and classed oppressed group. The robots work, but their rights are curtailed. They are routinely damaged and hurt by humans, but there does not seem to be any recourse. Some humans are friends with the robots, and another, the doctor at the end in particular, seems to help out when that help is needed most. The story is about Sheldon and Francesca meeting by serendipity, the former waiting for the bus, and the latter illegally driving a car and seeing him by the side of the road. Sheldon is friendly, but he comes up against the limitations of robot existence imposed by humanity in the minutiae of everyday life. He seems on the edge of hopefulness; he wants to connect with others, but the realities of this parallel world prevent it from happening. Francesca, on the other hand, is a free spirit (deus ex machina?) who silently challenges human oppression (dreaming by making up dreams, making art with human trash, or posting ‘i’m here’ stickers to merely let others know that she’s here). She has friends (human and robot), loves music (human made by The Lost Trees, a mashup of Aska Matsumiya and others, perhaps a reference to Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, more could be said about Matsumiya’s theme song in the film, “There Are Many of Us”), and thinks/acts more like a young woman than a robot (but this movie reminds us to give up our preconceived notions about robots). But the story is beyond social issues and robots with emotions. I’m Here is overall a metaphor for being through sacrifice. Sheldon sacrifices for Francesca without forethought, but definitely by his own choice. He has no programming that makes him do the things that he does. He chooses make personal sacrifices, because he loves Francesca. Isn’t this the most that each of us can do for others, particularly those we love, whether they be humans, robots, or animals? I cannot think of any better message than this, and I would like to thank Mr. Jonze for making such a wonderfully fantastic film to playfully relay it to us cyborgs on the Internet.

Before and After: Witus van de Merwe and District 9

Yufang and I watched District 9 two weekends ago, but I have only just now found the time to write about it. First, I want to begin by saying how much I enjoyed District 9. I was captivated by the story of Witus van de Merwe as a quasi-corporate/governmental/military bureaucrat, who was given a monumental job that leads to his transformation into the alien Other. I found the interesting thing about the film not that Witus uncovers insight into the Other’s plight, or that he wants to ‘do the right thing’ (e.g., Jake Sully in Avatar). Instead, Witus is presented as a naive, simple fellow who gets pushed around by physically and politically more powerful men (women are largely absent from the film except for the documentary-style explanations by professionals and interviews with his wife). The film allows the viewer to see how much racial hatred has seeped into the seemingly unsophisticated Witus. Before his transformation into prawn begins, he goes about his work with joy, but unlike the joy his tormentor, Col. Koobus, in the film displays. Koobus relishes the opportunity to kill prawns, while Witus believes that what he does is for the greater good (e.g., keeping down the population by ‘aborting’ prawn eggs, and enforcing the move from District 9 to District 10 outside Johannesburg, even if it takes deception and the false belief that prawns aren’t as smart as humans, especially mid-level bureaucrats). Witus is blind to the South African world that he inhabits, and it is the viewer’s experience to see what the character cannot. In the picture above, you can see Witus at the beginning of the film on the left, and at the end of the film on the right. You would think that he would have gained some insight into being othered through this amazing transformation, and it could be argued that at the very end during his face-to-face confrontation with Koobus he does, but in large part, there is still the sneaking suspicion that Witus never develops as a character besides his superficial appearance. This is not to say that this is necessarily a bad thing–it could be a brilliant stroke of genius, because it makes the audience admit the obvious thing that Witus cannot–namely, reviling Others seems to be an almost inescapable human condition. Even in South Africa, the prawns cannot be accepted into human society. Israel cannot meet in the middle with Palestinians over East Jerusalem, and America is, I believe, as far from a post-racial reality as we ever have been. Racist hatred shifts and transforms, ghost-like, into new forms to meet a new perceived threat to the supposedly homogeneous norm. The prawns are themselves an excellent example of how an Othered group of individuals are not necessarily homogeneous either. Christopher Johnson’s escape with his son from District 9 with the mothership illustrates that while he may plan on returning to save the others, this is not necessarily a certainty. We don’t know what he’s really going to do, but I think we are left with the understanding that he will return to help the others since he’s the only character that unwaveringly keeps his word (Witus lies repeatedly, and it is only when Koobus is about to kill Christopher Johnson that he turns in the exo-suit to save him and then works to return him to his boy).

Other thoughts on the film: Witus isn’t acting out against racism or oppression of the prawns. When he dons the prawn battle exo-suit, it is evident from what he says to the UNM forces that he isn’t going to be pushed around any longer. His new prawn DNA and the powers that it affords him to use their technology, interestingly technology that the prawns don’t seem to use against the humans (much), allows him to act against the humans who would rather like to cut him into little pieces for study. He is scared and he wants to get away. While he runs, he wants to hurt the humans who would hurt him. In this action, Witus is close to understanding the oppressed, the desire to act out against the oppressor, the user, the controller. Witus was not that long ago on the other side of the human/prawn dichotomy, but it seems like he doesn’t quite make the leap, as I’ve said, until possibly at the very end of the film. The actions of the other prawns against Koobus may be the event that finally makes Witus understand–that, and his living as one of them, longing for his wife-angel while making flowers with trash.

I believe that Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell wrote a very interesting and provocative story for District 9, and I believe that it can be a useful text in the classroom and in other venues where issues of race and cooperation are discussed. However, I would recommend you watch the special features including the interviews with the cast and crew. I take offense at Tatchell’s claim that the story was written without any political intention behind it. First, saying there are no politics behind District 9 is itself a political statement. Second, how can the director and co-writer, Blomkamp, say that it seemed interesting to place the film in post-apartheid South Africa without acknowledging the obvious parallel with racial hatred and oppression there? I realize that some movie-folk attempt to keep their work in the realm of ‘mere entertainment’, but it is ridiculous to make such claims about a film like District 9.

Read more about the film on Wikipedia here, and on the official film site here.

Further Musings on Avatar: The Na’vi Aren’t As Primitive As We May Think

Neytiri of the People. Image copyright 20th Century Fox.

Today, our good friend Masaya took Yufang and I out to lunch at Pufferbelly’s in downtown Kent. It was the first time that Yufang and I had been there, and it was certainly a wonderful treat.

While we were all talking about the Oscars and Avatar’s loss for Best Picture, Masaya mentioned a conversation about Avatar that had taken place in Kevin Floyd’s Marxism class. Another student in the class had talked about the economic imperialism presented in the film. I have already addressed this to some extent in my earlier post on Avatar, and it is certainly something that my friends and I have discussed ad infinitum. However, this got me to thinking about something that I had overlooked before.

Leo Marx, in his book The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America, argues that America, following the engagement of the Enlightenment idea of progress, desires a return to the idyllic garden, an Edenic existence, the pastoral. However, our progress, precipitated by technological subjugation and domination of Nature, paradoxically moves us further away from our desired goal of a pastoral existence. And the more that we use technology, the more incapable we will be of reaching the idyllic pastoral.

The Na’vi in Avatar live a pastoral existence, at one with nature. As Swaralipi mentioned in her comment to my earlier post on Avatar, she “will never forgive Cameron for depicting the Na’vis so simplistically in their pristine pre-colonial state.” This pre-colonial state, apparently untouched in a visible way by the human imperialistic incursion, is one form of the pastoral existence described by Marx. The Na’vi are interconnected with their world and environment, and as a result, live with that system as one within a plurality of lifeforms without regret and without malice. Seemingly, they have done this without the need of technology. In fact, they appear to be primitive–the post-Darwinian notion that social groups pass through a series of stages on their forward march to modernity.

However, this outdated notion of social evolution is exactly what I want to argue against. The thing that I noticed during our talk today, which had been staring me in the face, was that the Na’vi are not primitive despite our attribution of primitiveness and backwardness on them. Instead, the Na’vi are much further advanced than we humans are with our starships, mechs, guns, and remotely controlled avatar technology. Perhaps the Na’vi developed a sense of modernity like we experience in our future human selves in the film (i.e., reflecting on the post-Darwinian social evolutionary scale they would be very old), or, more likely, the Na’vi developed in a much different way than humanity did on Pandora. Perhaps it was a co-evolution of lifeforms to integrate into the planetwide network governed by the goddess Eywa. Furthermore, the Na’vi are more connected to ‘technology,’ at least in the human sense, through the networking capability of the life on Pandora. They fuse with the planet, and they fuse with one another. Through their connection they are able to see, not just literally see the physicality of one another, into one another. It isn’t the brain-tunneling sequence when Jake enters his avatar body that is really exciting, it is instead the interfaces made throughout the film by the Na’vi–something that Jake learns to do in time on his path to appropriating the Na’vi myths in order to effect a anti-colonial revolution, as Swaralipi discussed in the previous post’s comments.

So, my early idea is that the Na’vi are the technological gurus that we wish we could be. They have attained what is unattainable for the Americans described in Marx’s book. The Na’vi have the best of both worlds–through the ability to connect to Eywa, they have an amazing ability to communicate, remember, and coexist–something that Cameron expertly provides a sort of rational explanation for through Grace’s scientific investigations. Paradoxically, most of the humans just can’t make the leap to understand what the Na’vi have, and what Ewya/Pandora (if we can say the two are the same or pointing to the same signification) represents. The Na’vi are where we, and the other Americans in the film (something I would call, perhaps, wishful thinking on the part of Cameron), would like to be, but we cannot apparently figure out that Unobtainium and the rapacious exploitation of Pandora are not where we want to be. The capitalist drive has run the Enlightenment train of progress off the tracks, and the hybrid Jake Sully (human/avatar) is able to bridge the divide and show a way to what the Na’vi and their world have already accomplished, whether it be from some earlier design in the distant history of the Na’vi or a natural evolution that has taken place in that particular environment. Whatever the case may be, it is sufficient to say that the Na’vi represent the return to the garden with a kind of technology, at least what we think of as a kind of technology–networked communication–plugging in, that supports their natural and cooperative existence. Instead of the Na’vi’s connecting ability moving them further away from the garden, it enables their integration into the garden.

And a concluding thought: Perhaps the Na’vi are one possible solution to what we think of as the Singularity, or they could be an anti-Singularity, a controlled and conscious response to the unknowable promises and perils made possible by unconstrained technological expansion.