Friday, December 23, 2022

“Avatar: The Way of Water” Is Split by James Cameron’s Contradictory Instincts

i think that this is inspired by a deep understanding of our sojourn in EDEN which ended 45,000 years ago.  We are all post EDEN and there is ample evidence of physical decline in our own lineages.  only now are we seeing real recovery.

Recall Terraforming Terra entails empowering the natural community to optimize its own portion of land using its natural credit.  that prospers and do this world wide and it is well done.

Avatar stands in for both our past and future.  wonderful piece of art.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” Is Split by James Cameron’s Contradictory Instincts

In the “Avatar” sequel, Cameron’s two strains—the vegan who wants to plumb the mysteries of nature, and the hard-core weapons guy—are at odds.

By December 16, 2022

James Cameron’s sequel to his 2009 film stars Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña.
Illustration by Leonardo Santamaria

Another blue movie. Thirteen years after “Avatar,” we have a sequel. The director, as before, is James Cameron, who has promised (or threatened) further installments. The new film is subtitled “The Way of Water,” which sounds like the memoir of a celebrity urologist. Once again, the center of operations is a moon called Pandora, whose inhabitants, the Na’vi, have azure skin, luminescent freckles, and magic ponytails that they plug into plants and animals. They are at one with nature and at sixes and sevens with encroaching humans, most of whom are nasty, brutish, and so short that they barely come up to the Na’vi’s navels.

The hero of the first movie was a mortal man, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who went rogue, native, and nuts for a Na’vi named Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña). In the end, he became a full-fledged Pandoran, in body, mind, and all-round spiritual oomph. The big news, in “The Way of Water,” is that he and Neytiri have been busy in the intervening period, spawning three children and adopting a couple more. (Cameron is too prim to reveal exactly how the spawning works, but I’m sure it must be heavy on the ponytails.) They all live together in a forest, bathed in bliss, until, one day, descending spaceships signal the return of Homo sapiens—specifically, a military task force, led by General Ardmore (Edie Falco), which wastes no time in churning up the soil and setting fire to innocent trees.

These early scenes of destruction recall the nuclear inferno that Cameron dramatized in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991), and they verify the strange—one might say pathological—contradictions in his instincts. On the one hand, we have Cameron the vegan, as green as the Na’vi are blue, who likes nothing better than to plumb the mysteries of the deep in a submersible. On the other hand, we have Cameron the hard-core weapons guy and tech fetishist, whose works resound to stuttering guns and the whirr, shunt, and click of metal upon metal. It’s as if Sir David Attenborough divided his time between birds of paradise and monster trucks.

The split is all too visible in the look, and in the structure, of Cameron’s latest film. To nobody’s surprise, Jake becomes the chief of the anti-human resistance, riding his mount—a dragonfly the size of a dragon, sporting pretty wings—into battle against a thundering train. (Had he been around in 1962, he would have seen Peter O’Toole pull a similar stunt in “Lawrence of Arabia.”) Opposing him is Quaritch (Stephen Lang), a marine colonel who has taken on Na’vi form: a cunning disguise, rendered utterly useless by his telltale crewcut. The only solution is for Jake, Neytiri, and the kids to quit the woods and make for the seaside; the central phase of the movie tacks back and forth, over and over, between the splashy utopia of their new home and the dark machinations of Quaritch and his ilk as they prepare to hunt Jake down.

Life by the shore is a shock. The local Na’vi are of a turquoise tint, with thick and finny tails, and they can swim as smoothly as they can run. Think of them as Na’vi seals. Jake’s children get picked on for being landlubbers, but there are compensations: the sea abounds with funky creatures, including a whale that understands sign language, and there’s a splendid moment when Jake’s adopted daughter, who is super-attuned to all sentient things, fends off a hostile human, beneath the waves, by urging a spindly invertebrate to wrap the attacker in its tendrils. Now you know: my enemy’s anemone is my friend. What, however, is the point of these marvels? Do they really advance the plot, or could it be that the film is an excuse, or at least an opportunity, for the refining of Cameron’s craft? Remember “Finding Nemo” (2003), which was a showcase for what Pixar could do with water, ripples and all? Well, this movie gives off the same proud gleam, magnified to the max.

The original “Avatar” inspired a resurgence of 3-D, which soon subsided, in less audacious hands. Now it’s back for the sequel, and if you’ve missed the rare sensation of being poked in the eye by an arrow tip, or of 3-D spectacles slipping sweatily down your nose, enjoy the ride. The film is more than three hours long, some of it dangerously close to dawdling; not until the final third does Cameron apply the whip and remind us that, in the choreographing of action sequences, he remains unsurpassed. We are treated to a straight fight between Quaritch’s men, who are on board a flying boat equipped for the slaughter of whales, and Jake’s oceanic troops, roused to fury from their love of peace. The moral combat could not be more simplistic, yet all the Cameron trademarks are in play: the thrill of the chase, the eruptions of flame, the near-feral rage to protect the young—Neytiri is akin to Ripley, in “Aliens” (1986), shielding a little girl from a beast—and, as in “Titanic” (1997), the vertiginous tilt as a vessel is sucked down into the gloom. Factor in “The Abyss” (1989) and you have to ask: What is it with James Cameron and H2O? Did he almost drown in the bath as a boy? Is he part sponge? “The way of water has no beginning and no end,” Jake is told. Brace yourself, and breathe in.

There is a poem by William Empson, “This Last Pain,” in which the poet imagines that we could “learn a style from a despair.” Useful advice, I have always found, and it certainly comes to mind, crystallized in the glint of minor gestures, whenever Bill Nighy appears onscreen. His manners—the fidgety languor, the politesse, the way that he delivers a line of dialogue as if trying to cross a busy road—would be mannerisms, were it not for the pressure of feeling that gathers behind them. All of which renders him fit for “Living,” in which he plays a very British civil servant, Mr. Williams, who receives a diagnosis of terminal cancer. Or, as he prefers to phrase it, “This is rather a bore, but the doctors have given me six months.” His last pain, indeed.

The movie is directed by Oliver Hermanus and written by the Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro. It is adapted from “Ikiru,” Akira Kurosawa’s sorrowful tale of a doomed Tokyo bureaucrat, which was released in Japan in 1952. Hermanus’s version is set in the nineteen-fifties, largely in London, where Mr. Williams heads a Department of Public Works. Custom demands that any private works—the unpleasantly dramatic fact of mortality, for instance—be kept under wraps. Even the journey to the office requires discretion: when a new employee, Mr. Wakeling (Alex Sharp), meets his colleagues on a suburban station platform, all of them clad in suits and topped with bowler hats, he is advised against conviviality. “Bit like church,” someone says. Amen.

So diffident is the care with which “Living” is arranged that I began to wonder if it was actually made by Mr. Williams, in secret, from beyond the veil. “Mr. Zombie,” he is called by Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood), the cheeriest member of his staff, when he ventures to take her out for lunch. “Sort of dead but not dead,” she adds. He seems unoffended. Only gradually do we realize that he’s a widower; the film sidles up to him, in lieu—or in fear—of confronting him head on. In contrast to the starkness of “Ikiru,” which opens with an X-ray of a diseased stomach, it takes a while before we even notice Mr. Williams in a doctor’s waiting room, sitting quietly and preparing for bad news. We keep approaching him via other people, including his son, his daughter-in-law, Mr. Wakeling, Miss Harris, and the lone bohemian of the story, a fellow named Sutherland (Tom Burke), in whom our hero confides on a trip to the coast, and who drags him along on a nocturnal binge. So compelling are Nighy and Burke that I will watch them in anything, yet their spree, drenched in rich and hazy colors, doesn’t quite ring true. Maybe Mr. Williams is dreaming the whole thing.

“Living” carries echoes of “The Remains of the Day,” the 1993 film of Ishiguro’s famous novel, in which Anthony Hopkins stars as a butler whose soul has been ironed flat, like a tablecloth. Both films face the same challenge. When actors as resourceful and as intuitive as Hopkins and Nighy play wilted or limited men, do we honestly believe in the result, or are we spectators at a brilliant show? Mr. Williams asks Miss Harris if his new hat will “go down a storm,” and takes her to see “I Was a Male War Bride” (1949)—Cary Grant in drag!—at the pictures, but those are hardly Williams-like activities. They speak of something more precious: a gentleman dandy with one foot, beautifully shod, in the grave. The end is Nighy. ♦

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