Slavoj Žižek argues that beneath the idealism and political correctness of Avatar, in the spotlight at the Oscars on Sunday 7 March, lie brutal racist undertones:
Given the 3-D hyperreality of the film, with its combination of real actors and animated digital corrections, Avatar should be compared to films such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) or The Matrix (1999). In each, the hero is caught between our ordinary reality and an imagined universe – of cartoons in Roger Rabbit, of digital reality in The Matrix, or of the digitally enhanced everyday reality of the planet in Avatar. What one should thus bear in mind is that, althoughAvatar’s narrative is supposed to take place in one and the same “real” reality, we are dealing – at the level of the underlying symbolic economy – with two realities: the ordinary world of imperialist colonialism on the one hand, and a fantasy world, populated by aborigines who live in an incestuous link with nature, on the other. (The latter should not be confused with the miserable reality of actual exploited peoples.) The end of the film should be read as the hero fully migrating from reality into the fantasy world – as if, in The Matrix, Neo were to decide to immerse himself again fully in the matrix.
This does not mean, however, that we should reject Avatar on behalf of a more “authentic” acceptance of the real world. If we subtract fantasy from reality, then reality itself loses its consistency and disintegrates. To choose between “either accepting reality or choosing fantasy” is wrong: if we really want to change or escape our social reality, the first thing to do is change our fantasies that make us fit this reality. Because the hero of Avatar doesn’t do this, his subjective position is what Jacques Lacan, with regard to de Sade, called le dupe de son fantasme.
Read the full piece here.
For more of Žižek‘s unique film criticism, look out for the new and updated edition of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock, coming soon.