There are those who think that James Cameron squandered a great opportunity to make a statement about disability. I think he did okay. It was cool that he had a paraplegic action hero, even if he spent most of the time puppeting an avatar body.

The parts where Sully was a human being were quite well done, in my opinion. I’m certain the actor must have done some studying because he was believable as a paraplegic. I would not have been surprised if someone told me he was really disabled. Of course I was pretty certain he wasn’t just because that’s how things go. I later learned that the avatar bodies were all done with motion capture, so I suppose they really did need a non-disabled actor to do those parts. (Although I think they could have done that part with a different actor and it still would have worked great).

I read an article about how real wheelchair users responded to Avatar. There was a lot of praise for it and, honestly, I disagree with the criticisms (I know, what right do I have to disagree? Hear me out).

Here’s one quote: “He would rather stay on this island with smoke monsters than go back to Earth in a wheelchair,” said Muha. “Me? I would pick to stay here with my friends and family.”

That is not true of the movie at all. Sully didn’t have friends and family on Earth, his friends were on Pandora (the planet with “smoke monsters”). Also, most interesting to me, Sully was offered the chance to walk again if he returned to Earth.

In this future spinal cord injuries can be fixed, but it is expensive. He is told that he has done what they wanted and if he abandons the woman he loves on Pandora, he can go back to Earth and be completely healed. Instead, he chooses to stay on Pandora, not knowing that there is a way to get him permanently into the avatar body. Sully in fact chooses to stay in a wheelchair to be with the people he loves.

The other criticism was that Sully took too much effort to transfer. I chalked that up to the physically draining nature of being in that “link” thing.


  1. UrsulaWJ
    Sep 2, 2012

    I didn’t much like Avatar. I thought Sam Worthington looked bored throughout, and also the script was cliched. I know its different for you guys in the US, but any American film in which the plot largely or partially revolves around someone being unable to pay for their healthcare tends to get an ‘are you stupid?’ look from people in Europe. I found it a really depressing thought that long after the Americans had invented space flight they still hadn’t managed to sort out their healthcare!

    Also, most of the action part of the film takes place with him in a surrogate body. All the important action takes place with him really as sort of superhuman/animal. The bits where he is in a wheelchair are kind of there as a narrative device to point out how weak and pathetic he is by contrast. I don’t see it as very positive portrayal, really. At the beginning of the film he isn’t a very nice person and it’s like being in a wheelchair is given as the justification for that.

    • RuthMadison
      Sep 3, 2012

      You make some really good points!

      I didn’t even bat an eyelash at the health insurance issue. That’s so sad.

      I didn’t much care for the parts where Jake is in the avatar body. That part bored me. But I didn’t see him as weak or unpleasant in the other parts. He seemed very capable to me (particularly during the escape, shooting a gun while wheeling). But looking back at it from your point of view, I can see what you mean.

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