Even beyond the incoherence that mars Avatar and hopelessly confuses whatever it thinks its message may be, there is a larger flaw here—one that’s connected to [director James] Cameron’s ambivalence about the relationship between technology and humanity; one that also brings you back, in the end, to The Wizard of Oz…This is, of course, an entirely movie-centered understanding of The Wizard of Oz. In the books, once America no longer has anything for Dorothy Gale—the depressed farm economy having chewed up her family and spat them out—she moves the whole family to the Emerald City.
If it’s right to see the movie as the culmination of Cameron’s lifelong progress toward embracing a dazzling, superior Otherness—in a word, toward Oz—what strikes you, in the end, is how radically it differs, in one significant detail, from its model. Like the 1939 classic, the 2009 film ends with a scene of awakening. . . . The final image of the redeemed and healed Jake waking up to his new Na’vi life is clearly meant, then, to be a triumphant rewriting of that sour acknowledgment.
But the implications of this awakening—in a character that Cameron himself described as an unconscious rewriting of The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy (“it was, in some ways, like Dorothy’s journey”)—are not only different from but opposite to the implications of Dorothy’s climactic wakening. When Dorothy wakes up, it’s to the drab, black-and-white reality of the gritty Kansas existence with which she had been so dissatisfied at the beginning of her remarkable journey into fantasy, into vibrant color; what she famously learns from that exposure to radical otherness is, in fact, that “there’s no place like home.” Which is to say, when she wakes up—equipped, to be sure (as she was not before) with all that she has learned from her remarkable odyssey, not the least of which is a strong new awareness of her own human abilities—she wakes up to the realities, and the responsibilities, of the human world she'd temporarily escaped from.