Avatar 2, when science fiction democratizes ecology and animist thought

The sequel to the biggest success in the history of cinema arrives in theaters with a second opus entitled “La Voie de l’eau”. 13 years after the lush forests of the planet Pandora, Avatar takes us there this time to discover marine ecosystems. Two specialists analyze us for Green the film’s ecological message and the power of science fiction to think about the future.

The return of Avatar to the cinema marks the revenge of 3D glasses in dark rooms. But above all, Canadian director James Cameron invites us to take a new look at the world – our own. For three hours, we discover the marine ecosystems of Pandora through the eyes of a family of the Na’vi people in exile. From huge whales to small jellyfish-anemones, the harmony between the indigenous peoples of the planet Pandora and the rest of the living is at the center of the story.

“The film helps to raise public awareness of the ecological damage”, says Yannick Rumpala, director of the Research Team on Changes in Europe and its Societies (ERMES). By offering a non-Western vision of nature, Avatar joins the work of anthropologist Philippe Descola, which highlights the spiritual unity between all living beings among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.

A futuristic world to talk about the present

This is “a reversal of classic science fiction, where humanity does not get invaded by aliens, but becomes the aggressor”, explains Yannick Rumpala. Because if the great themes of ecological thought are always approached in this second part, it is only through the adventures of a Western-style family. “It’s called the “transportation” in English. We are given a point of attachment to immerse ourselves in the universe and go with them to talk to the trees », illustrates Anne-Caroline Prévot, researcher at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. Like all works of science fiction, Avatar stages a futuristic world to evoke the present.

“A way to think long-term”

“Science fiction has first of all a warning role”, says Yannick Rumpala. The extraction of minerals or the hunting of whales that destroy life on Pandora invite us to reflect on the origin of the objects we consume. It is also a means of emancipating oneself from the dominant models, by discovering animist spirituality on the big screen. “It’s a way of thinking long-term, supports Yannick Rumpala. The army, for example, calls on science fiction authors to have scenarios that have not yet been imagined..

The young children of the people of the land discover the richness of the sea. © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

However, fiction can also accustom viewers to certain catastrophic situations. “We have seen so many zombie films that the strict sanitary measures during the covid did not shock us”, ahead Yannick Rumpala. To encourage action, Anne-Caroline Prévot leads creative committees around science fiction in order to propose new stories. “The majority of students come out of it really changed with a new relationship to the world and to the ecological transition”, she says. If the study of SF is in full development, the two specialists still regret that the discipline is not taken seriously in the academic world. “For many people, it comes down to Star Wars, while the subjects are very serious, since it is a question of thinking about the future and getting out of presentism”, tries to convince Yannick Rumpala. The return of Avatar to the cinema could well give a boost to this developing legitimation.

Avatar 2: The Way of the Water, James Cameron, 2022, in theaters since Wednesday.

Avatar 2, when science fiction democratizes ecology and animist thought