Yesterday I went to see Avatar – I'd read a lot about it: for example The Times has a long article Movie Blues bylined: "Cinema goers captivated by the 3-D movie Avatar have suffered depression and even contemplated suicide after leaving the theatre and rejoining the real world." I didn't feel the same way myself (either captivated or suicidal) maybe because as well as seeing it through 3D glasses I also found myself seeing it through an organizational systems, culture and leadership lens which was somewhat surprising to me, and rather elevates a standard goody v baddy storyline, but there you go.
The Na'vi society is shown as one that values the connectedness and interdependence of everything on the planet Pandora. This is similar to the Gaia theory http://www.gaiatheory.org/ that "asserts that living organisms and their inorganic surroundings have evolved together as a single living system that greatly affects the chemistry and conditions of Earth's surface." (Substitute 'Pandora' for 'Earth' and you get the idea). In the Na'vi's case this is made explicit in that each individual can physically connect and bond to other species (trees, birds, horses, etc) in the system through a current running through their hair braid. In the case of the Na'vi bird/horse bonding it was in order for the Na'vi essentially to dominate i.e. ride, the creatures – so nothing much different from the real world there.
The US system (well they all had American accents) is shown as a mighty force intent on mining unobtanium that sells for a vast amount – $10m per kilo – on planet Earth. This system combines military, scientific, and business interests to try and get – by force, they felt diplomacy was taking too long – the rare mineral. There's little evidence that the three interest groups share any form of connection, beyond the fact that they're dependent on the same infrastructure (oxygen, food – I'm guessing – we never see them eating, and information). Giovanni Ribisi (as Parker Selfridge) is the business guy playing with a piece of the metal and saying "businesses are driven by quarterly results" the implication being that it's ok to destroy a planet to feed that drive.
That message seems to over-ride what I think was the intended, message of the film that it's not ok to destroy a planet for profit gain. And unfortunately I see no sign on the Avatar official website that any of the profits from the movie are being invested, donated, or otherwise used to do anything except drive quarterly profit. So, no walk the talk by the movie director, or company. (I hope someone will point out that I'm mistaken in this and that the Sierra Club or Greenpeace or any other save the planet organization will benefit financially from the movie's success).
The leaders are an interesting group. As formal leaders, the Na'vi put up the clan man and woman (who don't have much to say), with the leader elect man and woman (Tsu Tey and Neytiri) while the US team field a stereotypical colonel, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) – who says a great deal, a scientist Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), and the business man. The US leadership team members each have different interests and agendas – the standard pattern, while the Na'vi team seems slightly more together – but not much.
Each group also fields informal leaders. The US team has Michelle Rodriguez (Trudy Chacone) as a pilot, saying "I didn't sign up for this" as she turns against the military effort, thus setting the scene for Sully's success. (But what did she think she was signing up for in joining the military – or maybe she was a civilian pilot. This isn't clearly explained), and Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) as the infiltrator who changes allegiance from US to the Na'vi – so he's on both sides. The Na'vi haveTsu'Tey (Laz Alonso) who is supposed to take over as formal leader of the clan but is usurped by Jake Sully.
That shows a very swift organizational socialization on Sully's part although he is well coached by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, the love interest) – not only does he learn the language of the Na'vi spectacularly quickly, he also becomes culturally fluent enough to be accepted as clan leader by the clan members – although this may, in part, be because he took Tsu'Tey's place in Neytiri's heart and the leadership went with her. That aside he also has good influencing skills – despite a difficult start he convinces the clan to trust him – essential in any leader.
Additionally he brings some 'new blood' into the Na'vi organization, which organizations are often looking for, in that he is equipped with a machine gun and also knows how the US military machine is deployed. We don't hear (maybe that's Avatar 2) how the culture of the Na'vi changes from (implied) pacifists to warmongers as they defended their planet, and, in all likelihood will have to again – I can't imagine that the US is not going to return with greater power and force very soon – especially as the representatives were shown leaving Pandora as a disconsolate, defeated, humiliated group. But maybe second time round force will be met with diplomacy and diplomacy will result in a win-win – one can live in hope.