Avatar and the Classroom

I recently went to see James Cameron’s Avatar (in 3-D no less) and was visually awed. In my lifetime few movies made me feel like I had seen a change in cinema, but there have been a few: Star Wars, Aliens, Jurassic Park, and Lord of the Rings.

After watching Cameron’s groundbreaking movie, I reflected on themes that could be turned into lessons by using clips of Avatar. Here are a few ideas I came up with:

  • the preservation of the planet,
  • the connectivity of all life on Earth,
  • imperialism,
  • the western expansion of the Americans into Native American territories,
  • the bully tactics of larger nations against smaller nations in acquiring desired resources,
  • word choices (in particular, the ore sought is called “unobtainium”),
  • the idea of the white savior aiding the people of color,
  • a dependence on technology versus a life living off of natural resources,
  • military and diplomatic tactics/solutions, and
  • how this film is actually a love story.

I’m sure there are more themes in the film, but these are my initial thoughts. Any ideas from the film that you think could be added to the list? Any ideas you think don’t work? Let me know.

7 thoughts on “Avatar and the Classroom

  1. John Spencer

    I haven’t seen it, but I want to. I’ve been participating on the communal viewing process vicariously. My friends and I have had great discussions about the film and I really want to see it.

  2. Matt

    I just saw this movie in 3D IMAX. I thought the story, while quite predictable, was also enjoyable. The effects blew me away – definitely the best 3D I’ve ever seen. Also – I found myself in awe of the fact that many times there was nothing ‘real’ on the screen… the backgrounds, characters – it was ALL CG, yet the audience was invested and right there, literally thanks to the 3D. Also, from a movie business standpoint – Cameron has made a movie you NEED to see in the theatre… for today’s DVD Home Theatre market, that’s a big deal.

  3. Mrs. Chili

    I’ve been thinking about this film pretty much non-stop since I saw it last week.

    There are a lot of things to criticize about it (I’ve read several reviews that complain that it’s just another ‘white guilt’ movie). While I agree that there are a lot of typical (though distasteful) themes (racism, discrimination against the disabled, the imperialism), I also think that there is a lot of positive to be found in the film, as well. I was particularly struck by the message that we are all connected. This idea was brought home by a couple of scenes: where the Na’vi literally touching one another and extending out into the entire community during important ceremonies, and when the animals of the planet responded to help the Na’vi fight off the military attack.

    I’m thinking of going to see it again, and it’s a film I’ll certainly buy when it becomes available on DVD. I think that a side-by-side viewing of Avatar and Dances with Wolves would be highly fruitful in a film and literature course.

  4. drpezz Post author

    You’re right, Matt. This is the best 3D film I’ve ever seen as well. I was surprised that the movie is really a love story, and I actually felt for the characters. The only other animated film to make me do that was the opening of Pixar’s Up.

    Mrs. Chili, what clinched the Dances with Wolves connection for me was the voice of the Na’vi leader, Wes Studi, who was the Pawnee war tribe leader killed on his horse in the river in Dances with Wolves. Then the connections seemed to be more than coincidence.

  5. fire

    How about create avatars for your students, and place them IN a classroom in a game?
    I’ve been working on this for the past few months. Let me know what you think. I’ve added a few articles under the documentation link, that gives a better idea.


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