Avatar: An Institutional Analysis
The movie Avatar is a thrilling film about an ex-marine entering an alien planet called Pandora. A mineral resource company settles a base there and is mining a mineral called “unobtanium” which is said to go for 20 billion a kilo (Cameron 2009). Their only obstacle is that the indigenous population, the Na’vi, which has its main settlement on top of the largest deposits of the mineral. The company sends the main character, Jake Sully, into the native population to find out all the details of these native peoples and report them back to headquarters. He begins his mission learning about this fascinating diverse culture and slowly becomes one of them. This movie analyzed from an institutional framework reveals a critique of the motives of institutions and puts more value on the influence of an individual than on institutions (Cameron 2009).
Jake Sully enters the planet because his twin brother died and he has to take over the expensive DNA based avatar of his dead brother. The leader of the scientific community doubts Sully because he has no understanding of the world of Pandora. She sees him as a trigger happy ex-marine who will only be a liability for the program, because of his ignorance of the indigenous population. However, the head of security (who serves as the face of the military institution) sees Sully as a piece in their chess game who they need to develop strategy against their enemy, the indigenous population. The head of the company (another main institution) treats Sully as a useful resource that can bring them wealth with less backlash from investors because of ill treatment of the native population. Even the indigenous population is doubtful of Sully, they do not trust him and only accept him begrudgingly with the blessing of Eywa (their deity). The mistakes of the different institutions lead them into the conflict that results in loss for everyone (Cameron 2009).
The film also gives insight to the main problems with the institutions. The institutions do not communicate or cooperate because they do not respect the powers of the other. The military institution thinks it has full control because of it’s physical power, while the scientific institution sees that physical power as only destructive. However, these institutional problems are fixed within the individual. In Sully, his military past and his new scientific involvement blend together and become his multifaceted life experience. The blending of experiences gives Sully a necessary ability to approach the issue with an understanding of the needs and desires of all the groups. He tries to work with the military, the scientists, the corporation and the indigenous to find a solution that works for everyone. However, the different institutions completely ignore the fact that Sully is an individual and is not limited to one role. Each of the institutions see him as their own chess piece who can only work for them. By ignoring the power of the individual, they ignore the opportunity Sully represents and find more reason to resort to conflict instead of diplomacy (Cameron 2009).
As the military and corporate institutions reach the decision that they must fight the Na’vi, Sully voices his disapproval of the institutions blatant ignorance of the consequences of the destruction of the indigenous people. When Sully decides to take a stand with the Na’vi against the institutions, it is symbolic that the face of the scientific institution dies. Her death makes the statement that science can not have a role in the world of war because the emotions that lead for people to put their lives in peril aren’t scientific or measurable. Sully as a free individual is the only unit left that can make a difference in the conflict. The results of the ending bring attention to the failure of institutions because not only has the scientific institution failed, but the military institution fails despite its advanced technological warfare. The company fails because it attempts to make a profit off of the destruction of another cultures values. The indigenous also have lost significantly, and only managed to not be completely destroyed (Cameron 2009).
In the end, Sully does not even fully win, he almost dies and has an uncertain future on a foreign planet. Although the movie clearly critiques the way institutions function, there is an image of hope with the ending. The ending leaves the Na’vi to rebuild their institutions for the better and the human institutions return to earth, having learned a lesson on not respecting other cultures. The movie also has an uncanny resemblance to many events that are happening right now. The movie makes its own commentary on real world institutions while warning of the possible consequences if the real world follows the same path as the institutions of the movie. It seems to be calling for action from individuals in order to make a difference because institutions can not be trusted to make the best calls for everyone (Cameron 2009).