“A friend of Plato, but more friends with the truth.”
When reaching the omega point of self-consciousness it seems like climbing up the Himalaya and reach the top of the Everest. The following question is what to do once you get up there. It can be very lonely: time is cold, not to mention that Sasquatch might appear at any given time.
It is a matter of starting the descent, but a dialectical descent, if we are allowed such expression. You climb down, you descend without losing in the process the condensation point –also known as wisdom– achieved at the top. This is resolved by making a “life” out of the work: concrete, carnal and spiritual; or seeking to reduce to scale the wisdom obtained and distribute it in small fragments or footnotes. It is when one decides to become a master, rather than a bananafish clogged with quotes and fragments.
We confess that the first thing that crossed our minds was a critical note by Henry James on the chronological path of Kipling stories “(…) from the least simple to the most simple, from the Anglo-Indians to the natives, from the natives to the soldiers, from the soldiers to the quadrupeds, from the quadrupeds to the fish, from the fish to the machines and the screws.”
Something like that circulates in James Cameron’s films. Certainly –and we have expressed it so in our seminars–, his cinema always brought a double relationship regarding the technical. You could find a rather childish fascination for a series of inventions and devices –that are also dispositions, as Heidegger would say–, like an according criticism; that is keeping a distance from the titanic temptation of its employment for sinister and perverse ends.
In due rigor, there is nothing new since the tardy humanist speech made a repeated ramble –and ethically rather reneged– the day after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The difference lies in that since Griffith, the very concept of cinema resolved this contradiction right out of the gate: by employing and accepting its surrender to the technical tool but diverting it from the use for which it was created by a mentality controversially opposite to his. This is the “spiritual etymon” and the basso continuo of the whole concept of cinema, until reaching self-consciousness, founded in the early seventies of the last century with two films, The Godfather and The Exorcist.
Cameron belongs to the second generation of self-consciousness. Therefore, he found cinema and its concept at a degree of knowledge and of knowing that it was almost impossible to be surpassed. Or when cinema –like all arts preceding it– was made, became World, History or, to the contrary, entered into an inevitable and cyclical decadence.
His work began with a thought on genre or “state of transparence” with a primacy lucidly set on the fantastic (Terminator, Aliens); but also with works that already shown or spread a slight stench of politicism. “Blowing hot and cold at the same time”. Where what was expressed operatively on both films, added –even smuggled– a speculative, didactic and unnecessary coda about what he had expressed before. ¿To not be mistaken? ¿With what or who?
Therefore we have the final preach of political romanticism he stuck to The Abyss, as well as the correction –as in the actual use of that term– he stuck to the first Terminator, through a sequel that worked as a pacifist vulgate.
To the decisionism of his early stage, he seemed to inject the deliberative state of his later stage. There it was where some of our doubts arose.
But then Cameron had a stroke of genius. He understood that self-consciousness found itself at a paradoxical alley, given that it had a way out. Or several ways out. A situation that, to emotional-spiritual ends as well as vital, is much worse than being at a cul-de-sac.
So he gave in or he was pushed to that repeated question that appears after an organic construction reaches a fulfilled effectiveness, which for the same reasons hits straight on with the speculation surrounding it. Once there, what are the options? Repetition or Inflation?
Just like Verdi after his “Othello” –from which it was drawn the opinion that Opera had reached its Omega point–, Cameron said to himself –changing what needs to be changed– “torniamo all’ antico: sará un progresso”. “We return to the earliest: it will be a progress”.
So he put forward “a return to Griffith”. Self-consciousness ran with the risk of becoming self-indulgence. The first stories, those that had to be transparent so they make place for a second story –of a symbolic nature– were losing that indispensable transparence. Therefore we will reduce the complexity of the first story; let us go back to the “boy-meets-girl” for instance, but on top of that primary base one can –for that very apparent simplicity– operate a more complex mythical-poetical symbolic in parallel. Hence Titanic.
Naturally that first story had to display –its times demand it so– a novelty that serves as coverage for its hermetical drifting. Therefore, it appeared the necessity, the imperative for the extreme utilization of the technical.
What is extraordinary and, it seems, unrepeatable about Titanic is to have achieved a perfect equilibrium; an alchemic marriage between the maximum-technical and a simple fable that, at the same time, results in a totalizing symbolic effectiveness.
Not only that, he achieved to infiltrate the television medium and create the two seasons of his serial Dark Angel, his absolute masterpiece alongside Aliens and Titanic. To this date, the only literally brilliant creation ever transmitted on that medium.
A dangerous but necessary game is the one that follows: to imagine what thing, medium or fantasy, the devil, or one of his scribes, might tempt us with. Cameron was tempted with a machine that did nothing but grow in power and mimetic ability. In return, the devil requested the soul of Titanic and the spirit of Dark Angel.
This machine, like an untamed Golem, or like an alien who unceasingly devours and reproduces, grew in virtuality while in parallel it annihilated reality.
Provided with such a mechanism, Cameron fell in the temptation of climbing up the stairs he was climbing down. Possibly he told himself: if self-consciousness by reaching its Omega point seeks to become, to make History, World, but that does not happen, then we will invent a whole new world. With its own history, inhabitants, and conditions, both linguistic and biological.
It seems logical. But the issue here is that all kinds of ucronias, utopias and dystopias and other topias have been tirelessly and venomously manufactured for decades. And, naturally, is not abundant with Jonathan Swifts or C.S. Lewises, or is even easy to conceive a brief and synthetic “Tlön”.
Set to that task, Cameron tried to conceive a fantastic universe, but only gave birth to a magical one. And both are irreconcilable children of the mind. They are the Cain and Abel of the imaginary. If in Titanic he achieved a return to Griffith, here –in Avatar: The Way of Water– he relied on Georges Méliès.
Being magical, he populated his fictional world with already repeated ecological simplicities. He sought to be a Jules Verne, but he is closer to Greta Thunberg; the girl with braids, who loves the environment and the little birdies.
Already in Avatar, those who possess goodness were rather elemental, given they were nothing more than copies manufactured in the green kindness industry; fatally, the necessary evil that has to oppose them turned out to be as trivial as their kind pandorians. Yelling G.I. Joes, clad in leather and with shaved heads; always wearing an expression on their faces like if they had hemorrhoids. What my Aunt Carlota still calls “fascists”.
Without a doubt, the first entry of this saga –although splattered with common places– turned out to be “satisfactory”. Because it had something –or possibly we believed it so–, a little bit of that old music with their initiation rites and their still operational axis mundi, although peppered with botanic and ichthyologic hallucinogens; variations of the fairies and the elves of the Victorian nurseries.
However, in here that is too much. We are flooded with every environmental and progressive filling that has been circulating on the west for more than half a century.
Rather than dialogue it has chants. It would be interesting to keep a tally on how much times the characters use the word brother (often shortened to bro), with which he attempts to convince us of the value of fraternity, as well as the huge proliferation of Go! Go! The unforgettable Gogo Andreu would have celebrated such an homage…
Furthermore, despite the skilled and efficient use of religious symbolics in his prior work, Cameron claims to be an atheist; as well as pointing it out punctually and sufficiently. Perfect. That is his thing. Freedom is free, so on and so forth.
Now well, if you are an atheist, you must settle with conforming and preparing yourself to live according to such belief. “To deal with it on your own”, as Bioy would say. But not inventing a pseudo-religion, stud with “mystic” worthlessness, manufactured to serve his needs.
A spirituality that in this case is not forged by any existential trance, but by a computer.
Avatar: The Way of Water contains almost all the empty words abounding in self-help manuals, respiratory exercises, improvised yoga and alternative therapies. Is regretful he forgot to include Bach flower remedies.
In summary, this work of James Cameron had everything to be a companion to Mircea Eliade; but now he seems closer to Paulo Coelho.
(United States, 2022)
Director: James Cameron. Script: James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver. Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, CC Pounder, Eddie Falco, Giovanni Ribisi. Producción: James Cameron, Jon Landau. Lenght: 192 minutos.