Christopher Faris’s reflections on Avatar and its cross-species relationship between the human and Navi characters got me thinking about the film’s other psycho-sexual pathologies.
Like Chris, I too found the inter-species romance disturbing, mostly because of the allegory’s reverse-implication that Native Americans are tantamount to a different species than Europeans. I just had to keep reminding myself that since the 1960s, Star Trek has made non-human aliens the official surrogates for non-white ethnicities in sci-fi. In most cases, therefore, I have to accept it as a genre convention. (Speaking of surrogates, Bruce Willis’s movie Surrogate did more interesting things with the same concept, like men using female surrogate bodies to be non-op transexuals.)
In Avatar, however, the cross-species intercourse cannot be excused as just an allegorical necessity because of the emphasis on the Navi hooking up (literally) with Pandoran animals of other species. Lest the audience be allowed to insist that these pony-tail USB ports are non-sexual interfaces, Sigourney Weaver jokes that playing with them is akin to masturbation.
The protagonist is also told that, unlike with Pandora’s equivalent of horses, his flying dragon will be his partner for life, whom he will identify by a combination of love at first sight and an aggressive mating ritual. Furthermore, he is told, his lifelong relationship with this animal must be monogamous. (Never mind that he trades up before film’s end.) When they do finally reach complete union, the struggling animal’s whole body tenses for a moment, then suddenly relaxes, exhausted but peaceful.
The sexual shorthand is obvious enough, but the rapey connotations make it all the more disturbing, like James Bond’s conquest of Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, a lesbian who struggles against Bond’s attempt to rape her, but once conquered, is converted to the virtues of heterosexuality and thankful for Bond’s insistence on enlightening her.
A movie subtler than Avatar might be suggesting that any taming of animals by humans for their use is a kind of exploitation if not rape, but this film’s portrayal of it in terms of the circle of life and mutual respect between species makes the other messages of the film all the more confused. Cameron’s peculiar interpretation of the motto Make Love Not War seems to be: If you want something from an uncooperative species, Penetrate Them Not Kill Them.