James Cameron’s Elastic World Building Creates Endless Possibilities For How His Sequel Avatar: The Way of the Water takes viewers back to the alien world of Pandora and prepares them for a journey that will span Avatar 3, 4and maybe 5. Part of Cameron’s motivation was to work with actors he liked; even though the characters played by Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang both “died” (we’ll get to that) in 2009 Avatarthey both return in the sequel in new guises.
Weaver’s new character, Kiri – Jake Sully’s teenage Na’vi daughter – becomes the central mystery of Pandora’s past, present and future. Parentage issues tend to be fun concerns for franchise storytelling – think Star Wars’ obsession with the parents of Luke Skywalker or Rey, or game of thrones‘ endless teasing about Jon Snow’s mother. And the Avatar series is no different, with Avatar 2 raising the burning question: Who is Kiri’s father? The film’s contextual clues and Weaver’s own commentary shed light on what will likely be a key question in Avatar 3 and beyond.
[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for Avatar: The Way of Water.]
Years after the events of Avatar, The way of the water sees Jake Sully and Neytiri happily bonded and caring for a blended family. Along with their three biological children (two sons, Neteyam and Lo’ak, and a young daughter, Tuk), they are now caring for a surrogate human son, Spider and Kiri, born to avatar Dr. Grace Augustine ( Weaver) while in suspended animation. The idea that Grace’s comatose Na’vi body conceived and gave birth to a child while floating in an avatar holding chamber is, uh, a tough world-building problem to solve. And Cameron does not really crack! Instead, Kiri’s design and roots flourish in The way of the waterthe strangest plot.
In case you don’t remember the 13-year-old’s ending Avatar: Grace is mortally wounded in the final battle against the human invader Colonel Quaritch (Lang) and the human army, and to save her life, Jake and Neytiri attempt to transfer her consciousness to her avatar body by using the power of the Soul Tree. Except it actually doesn’t work. But before Grace crosses over, she tells Jake, “I’m with her” — referencing Eywa, Pandora’s deity, who the Na’vi believe connects all living beings. The Ultimate Disappointment: While Quaritch’s personality was preserved for later cloning, either no one on the human side cared enough about the scientists to give them a mindful download, or Pandora’s rambling human faction was unequipped to help her, so there’s no Grace Brain filling in an Avatar clone in The way of the water. Never mind.
Based on what the audience and Kiri see in The way of the water, it is reasonable to conclude that Grace’s mind missed the avatar’s boat and instead passed through Pandora’s neural network. Halfway through the film, Kiri – who is not only a huge nature-loving nerd, but seems to possess a supernatural connection to Pandora’s ecological systems – bonds with the underwater equivalent of the Tree of Earth. Souls and “meets” his mother (Weaver again, no CGI) for the first time. The face-to-face connection ends with one of the film’s most shocking moments: when Kiri is returned to her corporeal body, she suffers a near-death seizure.
But how did Grace’s avatar get pregnant? The end of Avatar, now overshadowed by Weaver’s human cameo, suggests that asking who Kiri’s father is – like the Na’vi children do in the movie! – maybe the wrong question. Contrary to the Christian notion of the Immaculate Conception of Jesus, Kiri resembles less the incarnated child of the god and more akin to the Greek god Gaea, a walking embodiment of the world itself. If Grace’s “soul” was channeled into Pandora’s synapses, then Eywa, more of a ghost inside the machine than the machine itself, could easily have been sent back as Grace’s avatar.
Kiri’s untapped power is on full display at the end of the film, when Clone Quaritch and the tulkun hunters hunt the Sully children across the oceans of Pandora. So far, Cameron has illustrated Kiri’s bond with Eywa with a delicate touch – she loves plants, and sometimes she’s a little bossy over animals! She could stare at the sand all day! Extremely close to us Beach Kids who could spend eight hours standing in the ocean, but Cameron ups the ante: during the action sequence, Kiri begins to wield plants and ocean life as weapons. Kiri is an X-Man (X’vi?), and we can only imagine what that means for Jake Sully’s endless war against the Sky People.
All this to say that one of the film’s burning questions may never have a secret answer like in Star Wars or Game of Thrones. The Sully brothers can rib Kiri all they want on a potential Grace/Dr. Norm Spellman’s mysterious parentage, but Eywa’s power goes beyond typical birds and bees. (Or tulkun and ikran, in Pandora’s case.) The mystery speaks to Cameron’s true vision for Avatar: spirituality, biology, and technology are all intertwined and blurred by Pandora’s living moon. Kiri lives, Eywa walks and Avatar 3 by 5 promise to be somehow even stranger and wilder than The way of the water.