Avatar: The Way of Water - A Review
WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead for the movie 'Avatar: The Way of Water.'
In 1902, exactly 120 years before the release of Avatar: The Way of Water (ATWOW), George Méliès released his great film masterpiece called "A Trip to the Moon" (In French originally Le Voyage dans la Lune) making him the great-grand father of all modern special effects and visual film. Méliès lived in a time when film was still obviously silent and film language was based more on visual narrative rather than a literary one.
A Trip to Moon is a very simple plot - Scientist and team travel to the moon for exploration, are captured by a group of natives called Selenites, and the scientist ends up killing a bunch of them, including their king, and escapes, but not without capturing one of the moon natives to triumphantly display him as a trophy on his return to Earth. This plot couldn't get more imperialist (or perhaps a parody of it, if one wants to perceive it that way) and it definitely echoed the French Imperialist colonisations of Africa and Asia. Perhaps Méliès was using the film to tell us, that no matter where we go, we are going to invade someone else's home, wreak havoc, and then see what we stand to gain from it.
In case you haven't noticed this is the main over-arching narrative of both the first and the second Avatar movies. I really believe James Cameron is trying to tell with today's language and technology what George Méliès was saying in 1902. This is what I believe is the principal narrative of this whole film franchise and I do believe that it is no accident that rich, white, men are the ones with the dream of conquest of Pandora's natural resources that drive the economy of that particular future. It is also no surprise that these people fail to see what are the real riches of Pandora, destroying them in their quest for satisfying their own economy, rather than learning from the new place. If ATWOW were only about this, it would already be a great film narrative for our time.
The narrative is driven by the Sully family and each of the Sully family members has his/her own unique character and back story, making them very relatable by a variety of people. The 3 hour long film includes a love story that began in the first film and we see it reaching a climactic connection between the two, family challenges that every family can relate to, coming of age stories, the outcast of the family and his redemption and the parallel with the outcast whale-like Tulkun called Payakan, as well as the Sully family in its entirety being an outcast, the odd one and her mysterious connection with Eywa, and a great loss..... The Sully family is rich with narrative and I cannot for the life of me understand people who say that Avatar lacks plot. A good plot is not just dramatic twists and witty banter. The story-telling in Pandora made us part of a whole Na'Vi family and made us know each and every one of those family members.
Maybe people have gotten too used to short thrills and lost the patience for a 3.5 hour movie that uses visual art as a language to drive a fictional narrative. It's like people have forgotten how to read books by skipping all the world-building descriptive chunks. It is also a shame that people call the plot "derivative" when it is perhaps addressing the most urgent issues humanity needs to address in order to evolve: It is clearly saying how destructive is capitalist imperialist avarice, the disregard to our own planet and the needless cruelty towards living things.
ATWOW is also enjoying the bioethical thought experiment sub plot in which Avatars are genetically bred in order for human beings to "pilot" them remotely by transferring their consciousness to them. However, ATWOW is also making an interesting bioethical thought experiment: If we can transfer that consciousness (which is supposedly turned to code) therefore that consciousness can be stored. Can we therefore transfer a dead person's stored consciousness to another new body, thus inventing 'immortality'? It is immaterial whether it is a human body or an alien hybrid body - but this is a very interesting transhumanist thought experiment that ATWOW problematizes as every good science fiction story should. This is how Col. Quaritch returns to the story bringing about his plot to pave the way through the re-conquest of Pandora while getting his revenge on the Sullies. But Quaritch too falls part of the narrative of family, which I will not go into much detail here.
What ATWOW does really well is to make us question what it means to be a family - is it blood ties? is it the family name? or is what all life on Pandora is about - that is - connection?
I'm not at all a fan of opinions who are seeking "ground-breaking" script writing in ATWOW. It does not need it. The film is based on visual aesthetic, which is what film was meant to be for when it was created. Some people are going after literary narratives in the wrong medium because society has gotten used to replacing actually reading fiction to simply watching their narrative on film. Thus the wonder that ATWOW is meant to invoke as the imperialist regime destroys the wonderful, is completely lost on them.
James Cameron attempted to create an unreal world which is more real than the real, because he is attacking the problems that are at the heart of humanity - loss of community values, greed and power, and our divorce from nature. Maybe some people are in complete denial of all this and do not like to come face to face with it, thinking the whole narrative is bland and unimportant. In the fictional world of Pandora and the invading regime, Cameron is giving us the cold, hard truth of our true nature, but through the Na'Vi (invoking our communitarian ancient shamanistic cultures), also showing us what is also part of us and have forgotten as human beings.