Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Echoing Romance: James Cameron's Avatar as Ecoromance

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Echoing Romance: James Cameron's Avatar as Ecoromance

Article excerpt

This essay examines Avatar's echoing of longstanding romance conventions while creating ecocentric romance or ecoromance, providing insight into the ecological ideology that informs the movie, while suggesting how and why romance remains such an enduring and popular fictional form.

The cinema has embraced romance even as critical respect continues to elude this popular and ancient form of fiction. George Lucas's Star Wars trilogies (1977-83; 1999-2005), Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones adventure series (1981-2008), the film versions of the Harry Potter books (2001-11), and Peter Jackson's motion pictures of the beloved J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings classics (2001-03) are just a few of the successful movie romances that now constitute part of the global collective imaginary. At present another movie romance, James Cameron's Avatar, sits atop the list of the best-selling films of all time, worldwide ("All-Time"). These screen blockbusters attest to the enduring, universal appeal of romance, which, "despite its frequent demotion in literary hierarchies," offers a striking example of "the power of narrative to captivate and enchant" (Fuchs 130). Like all Western romances, Avatar can trace its ancestry back thousands of years to certain aspects and episodes of Homer's epic The Odyssey as well as to the conventions established in a cluster of now less well-known narratives generally referred to as Greek or Byzantine romances, which include Longus's Daphnis and Chloe (c. 200) and Heliodorus's Aithiopika (c. 250-380). (1) More recent, and more familiar, literary works that attest to romance's powerful appeal, as well as to the consistency and longevity of romance conventions, include, among others, Shakespeare's The Tempest (1611), Dickens's Great Expectations (1861), Woolf's Orlando (1928), Hilton's Lost Horizon (1933), and Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). Avatar thus joins a thriving family of texts and films developed by a diverse group of artists at different times and cultures for a variety of purposes.

As his first post-9/11 movie, and the first one Cameron openly acknowledged to be political, Avatar quickly became a lightning rod of sorts for the liberal/conservative political debate that continues to unfold in the media. John Podhoretz attacked the film's "anti-American and anti-human politics," while John Nolte described the movie as "Death Wish 5 for leftists." Patrick Goldstein defended the film as a "grand cinematic fantasy" with social comment and exceptional animation, while Dave Itzkoff maintained that Avatar has inspired such diverse interpretations that the movie defies simplistic labels. Cameron has responded directly to attacks from the right and rejected the accusation of anti-Americanism (Cameron), but he has also commented in much broader terms conceptually about the politics of environmentalism that lies at the heart of Avatar. From Cameron's perspective, and apparently from the perspective of much of the movie's audience, partisan divisiveness should likely be subsumed or at least mitigated by a more unifying concern with the healing of Earth's ecosystem, which has been damaged by varied forms of violence that threaten the survival of the planet: "'All life on Earth is connected, in ways which human science is still grappling to understand [...]. But our industrial society is impacting that web of life at a rising rate, which will inevitably lead to a severe degradation of biodiversity and ultimately to a serious blowback effect against humanity. We have taken from nature without giving back, and the time to pay the piper is coming'" (qtd. in Keegan 254). In accordance with these views, in Avatar Cameron has combined the longstanding conventions of romance with a clear, contemporary, ecological consciousness to create an ecoromance in which he promotes current ecocentrism, which defines human identity "in terms of its relationship with the physical environment and/or nonhuman life forms," emphasizing the web-like interconnection of these relationships, a viewpoint frequently appearing in the news and in a variety of artistic media today (Buell 101, 137-38). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.