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The Avatar Scene That Went Too Far

While many debate the cultural relevancy of James Cameron's "Avatar" (via Forbes), it's hard to deny how much of a splash it made when it was first released. The sci-fi epic hit theaters in December 2009, taking audiences to the lush and rich world of Pandora. The film was praised at the time of its release for its immersive use of 3D and unparalleled visual effects and CGI, which have since become the industry standard.

Not only did "Avatar" become the world's highest-grossing film (via Box Office Mojo), but it also went on to win a handful of technical awards at the Oscars. The film was (and is still considered to this day) a technical marvel, and critics and audience members continue to discuss its heavy themes. In "Avatar," Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is sent to Pandora as part of the Avatar Program to gain the trust of the Na'vi, the native residents. On the lush moon, the government is mining precious metals and resources, interfering with the ecosystem and the lives of the Na'vi tribe.

"Avatar" doesn't shy away from portraying itself as an allegory of the horrors of Western imperialism and colonialism. The film consistently shows the human population, with their militaristic might, demeaning the Na'vi population with slurs and violence, with many explicitly mentioning their innate desire to destroy the native people. While Cameron's film puts a spotlight on the pitfalls of militarism and the West's harsh treatment of Indigenous cultures, it goes a bit too far in portraying the violence committed by the American space colonists.

Burning Hometree is a step too far

The humans in "Avatar" continue to colonize Pandora to mine the mineral unobtainium, which has the ability to power Earth and adjacent colonies. The effort is spearheaded by Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who is particularly interested in Hometree, a sacred tree that rests atop the moon's largest unobtanium deposit. Both Jake and Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) continually remind the leader that destroying the tree could damage Pandora and cause emotional strife for the Na'vi.

Quaritch refuses to follow their advice, and he and his soldiers eventually throw canisters of gas to clear the area of any Na'vi after diplomatic solutions fail before bringing Hometree down. At this point in the film, the military has already doubled down on its violent efforts, proceeding with war, in hopes of eliminating the native population.

Choosing to burn down the sacred and giant Hometree takes the military's penchant for violence and destruction a bit too far, especially considering that the original prerogative was to simply relocate the Na'vi in the area – not completely destroy the tree. Not only does this destroy one of Pandora's most important landmarks, but it also causes further destruction to the rest of the area, which houses the precious metal. Seeing as Quaritch's army is already at war with the Na'vi, it's difficult to rationalize the destruction of such an important area that supports the environment of Pandora.