The new movie of James Cameronthirteen years after that resounding success that radically changed the way of understanding technology at the service of cinema, returns once again to the theme of “connection” with others, of the possibility of seeing oneself again in another man, in a other race, in another tribe and, with The Water Wayeven in another animal species.
This time “avatar” is not only a new and different body to master, but it is the otherness from oneself in which to recognize and reflect oneself. Cameron’s cinema is once again a question of hybridization, of transspeciesism, of now residual human experiences that become a painful “phantom limb syndrome”, in which what has been removed and amputated (an image that occurs on several occasions) returns below form of obsession.
The mechanisms that regulate typically human relationships in Cameron’s cinema are almost never explainable on a biological level, because desires that arise from not being completely definable in an univocal way, but halfway between different and conflicting natures. All the more traditional dynamics of Hollywood cinema seem to be reproduced here in a hybrid way, never definitively satisfactory, but instead defective and lacking.
And so one of the most classic cinematic problems, that of the Oedipus complex, can be solved – for example – between two characters who have almost nothing in common (a Na’Vi clone and a boy who has decided to abjure his own human species ) but who equally live their phantasmatic father-son relationship beyond genetics and blood lineage, as if they ancestrally responded to rules they perceive as illogical and obsolete but which they don’t have the courage to renounce.
And it is a bit here that the whole meaning lies, for better or for worse, of this second chapter of Avatars, crossed by a nostalgia for the lost (cinematographic) future, the one that the first film tried to start thirteen years ago and which today appears perhaps irrecoverable. In the militant stubbornness of a director who perceives his outdatedness but is not willing to give it up.
Avatars | back to Pandora
Also The Water Way it is, in this game of emanations and reproductions, a mirror image of the first film, from which it slavishly takes up the narrative mechanisms, to replicate and dub them. In the 2009 film, the spectator, like the protagonist soldier, had to get used to fictitious bodies that were projections and simulacrum of the real ones (not only the alien population, but the actors themselves transfigured with motion capture). And today, again, like Jake Sully and his family, forced to leave the ancestral forest and relearn to live in their new aquatic environment, the viewer has to get used to a different breath and beat, which is that of the high frame rate at 48fps instead of the classic 24.
Cameron takes the time to shoot every creature, every flower, every little natural event as if it were a miracle to be contrasted with human flesh filmed in all its strangeness, not to mention mediocrity, accentuated by the famous “soap opera” effect of the HFR, which always makes you want to dive again, dive under water, go back to swimming with digital creatures. Hyper-realism is never deliberately accentuated and alienating as in the cinema of Ang Lee (who, unlike Cameron, wanted to experiment with this technology in contexts other than action or sci-fi), but the same every time a Na’vi holds a semi-automatic weapon we perceive all the violence and vulgarity of that gesture.
And so for every mechanical exoskeleton that enters the scene, for every military aircraft that invades the visual horizon, for every war machine that reveals itself in all its squalid greyness, we recognize the sadness of the material that constitutes the instruments of human warfare, manufactured to burn, riddle, annihilate the beauty of a world that instead appears to us as the only truly vivid, pulsating and desirable thing. Which is worth protecting.
Classicism or anachronism?
Yet the more one explores the lush world of Pandora, the more one is struck by the extreme solitude of the film and the idea of cinema it represents. Avatar: The Way of Water it is a terribly anachronistic object: the 3D revolution prompted by the first film never took place and mass entertainment has chosen different paths from those suggested at the time. Cameron, ignoring the hyper-industrialization imposed by Marvel, continues to make films as if serialization were still a marginal phenomenon, different from the cinematographic one and entirely confined to the television world. This new film of his also offers a very linear narrative, composed of a single backbone into which all the other subplots fit together, and pursues the self-sufficiency of the story despite the already announced sequels.
The Way of the Water it does not have the Promethean and elementary beauty of its predecessor – that sense of joy and curiosity in discovering a new medium, learning to run and jump with it – but it reminds us, not without melancholy, how Hollywood cinema has changed in these thirteen years, now moved away from the Chinese market (which had contributed so much to the success of the first film) and governed by production needs that require ever faster times. It is therefore not surprising that the screenplay was written to please the whole world, so harmless as to focus on such primitive and basic issues that anyone, at any latitude, can understand.
Cameron’s classicism is undeniably his strength and his weakness, what he helps to make Avatars a dross in the contemporary landscape, especially for a strange reticence to share the need to rethink gender stereotypes within the archetypal popular narrative. If his filmography has never lacked “empowered” female characters (even in the first film by Avatars), Neytiri in this second chapter she is constantly reduced to her status as a mother: each of her appearances on stage consists in affirming the need to protect one’s family like a wolf, as if there were no other reality greater than one’s private sphere.
Familism, or the defense of one’s family in a tribal way, becomes the engine of every action, to the point where his bloodshot eyes (huge, in CGI, vehicle of every more hidden feeling) will terrify one of the young characters, revealing a regression of Neytiri to a more animalistic state. The best and most effective demonstration of how war and violence can transform even those who suffer it for the worse, but also an ambiguous resignation to a universe, that of Pandora, in which patriarchy is still the only visible horizon.
It remains to be understood how some basic questions (for example the one on pacifism, a choice that characterizes the superior and semi-divine species, then apparently re-discussed in the finale) will be addressed in the next chapters.
If that glare at the Hunger Games in the last shot it will be the prelude to a belligerent continuation of the franchise or to a dangerous invasion (like the one already mentioned of Neytiri) which can undermine what these two films clearly wanted to say: that it is not up to a superhero (and not even to a white savior), the task of saving the planet, but to a fluid, interconnected collective, without beginning or end, as the water way teaches.
Have the older Na’vi lost their innocence? And will a new generation (hybrid, of course) be able to give it back to them?