Ten years after the events of “Avatar,” James Cameron takes us back to Pandora with “Avatar: The Way of Water” and follows Jake Sully and Neytiri’s family, along with the Omaticaya clan. Their eldest is Neteyam. Then there is Lo’ak. Their youngest is Tuk. Their adopted daughter, Kira, is born of Dr. Grace Augustine’s Avatar. In addition to that, they’ve adopted a human named Spider, who was abandoned in Hell’s Gate after the evacuation of the Sky People. Their peaceful life is interrupted by said Sky People who are back there to not just re-colonize the exoplanetary moon but also to destroy its water bodies. And with the return of Quaritch and his entire platoon as Recombinants (Avatars that are loaded with the characters’ memories and skills) who are out for revenge because of their previous defeat, the Sullys are forced to run to the Metkayina clan and seek refuge.
Major Spoilers Ahead
The Conflict Between Quaritch, Jake Sully, And Neytiri
In “Avatar,” Quaritch tasked Jake Sully with knowing everything that he could about the Na’vi and reporting back to him so that he could take his army and decimate their Home Tree, thereby allowing the RDA (Resources Development Administration) to get all the unobtanium they wanted. Jake Sully obviously betrayed him, as he sided with the Omaticaya because he respected their lifestyle and fell in love with Neytiri. During the final moments of that film, Quaritch nearly killed Jake Sully by destroying the link unit (the device that allows a human to link up with their Avatar) he was in. But Neytiri shot Quaritch up with arrows and killed him, saving Jake Sully. Now, while Jake entered his Avatar permanently during the events of the first film, Selfridge sent the genetic coding of Quaritch and his crew to Earth so that their Avatar could be ready for deployment in the off chance that they died. Since they did die, Quaritch wants to use his mission to “pacify the hostile parties” who are attacking RDA trains and helicopters to exact revenge against the couple.
When Sully’s kids sneak up on Quaritch and his team, he captures them to bait the Sullys. Jake, Neteyam, and Neytiri manage to rescue Lo’ak, Tuk, and Kiri. However, Spider falls back, and Quaritch uses his familial ties with him (yes, Spider is apparently Quaritch’s son) to coerce Spider into helping him track the Sullys. He learns the ways of the Na’vi to become more like Jake and Neytiri and beat them at their own game. By doing so, Cameron and his team of writers expertly contrast Quaritch’s arc in this film with Jake’s arc in the first film. You see, both of them are jarheads, and they want to learn more about the Na’vi. But while Jake’s educational process allows him to empathize with life on Pandora, Quaritch doesn’t. He just sees it as a means to an end. And that proves that putting a person in an Avatar and teaching him about indigenous culture isn’t necessarily going to make them a rebel. That quality has to be in their blood and psyche, which can then be amplified with some guidance. If you are blinded by your bigotry, you’ll be nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Metkayina And The Significance Of The Tulkun And The “Amrita”
The Metkayina are an ocean-based Na’vi tribe who live on the shores of Awa’atulu in huts that are interconnected with webbed passages. They have a chief leader, Tonowari, and a Tsahìk, Ronal, who look over the clan. Their hue of blue is lighter than that of the Omaticayans. They have a Spirit Tree, much like the Tree of Souls or the Tree of Voices. Their hands are broader, and their tails are like fins to help them swim swiftly in the water. The Omaticayans use horses and the Metkayinans use a creature called the “ilu” for short-distance travel. The Omaticayans have the “ikran,” and the Mekayinans have the “Tsurak,” which have the ability to fly for short periods of time and then swim at high velocities in the water. There’s a wing-shaped fish in the waters that can latch onto a swimmer’s back and allow them to breathe for longer periods of time. And then there are the whale-like creatures called the Tulkuns, which migrate in herds and serve as soul siblings to the Metkayinans. However, since these Tulkuns are being hunted by the Sky People, they aren’t coming to Awa’atulu, which the Metkayinans probably see as a bad omen. Since Jake Sully and his family, with the exception of Neytiri, are technically hybrids and not really Na’vi, they are treated harshly. That said, Jake reacts to it in a humble fashion and tries his best to win Tonowari and Ronal’s trust.
Coming back to the Tulkun, the reason they are being hunted by the Sky People is that they have a special gland in the base of their skull that secretes a serum that stops aging in humans. So, you can only imagine how valuable it is. And the serum is called “Amrita.” Now, that term may seem random. However, if you have knowledge of South Asian mythology, you’ll know that it’s a reference to the drink of the gods, which apparently gave them immortality. When they were cursed by the sage Durvasa, the gods took the help of their rivals, the “asuras,” and churned the ocean to attain a pitcher of this “amrita.” The “asuras” tried to take it, but the Hindu god Vishnu attained the form of the siren called Mohini to prevent that from happening. Mohini was given the task of distributing the “amrita,” and she used that opportunity to behead the demon Rahu, give all the nectar to the gods (to help them reclaim their immortality), and then battle the “asuras.” In Sikhism, “amrita” is the liquid that’s drunk by Sikhs to become a part of the Khalsa. Theravada Buddhism defines “amrita” as the nectar that frees one from natural processes like birth, death, grief, etc. Chinese Buddhism sees any blessed water or food as “amrita.” And in Vajrayana Buddhism, “amrita” is an important part of all religious rituals. That means two things: James Cameron and his team have done mythological research, and out of all those definitions, I think those that describe “amrita” as the anti-aging juice are the ones that are relevant to “The Way of Water.”
‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Ending Explained: How Does Kiri Use Her Link With Eywa? Does Lo’ak Surpass Jake Sully’s Expectations?
So why is all this stuff that I’ve just said about Quaritch, Jake, the Metkayinans, and the Tulkun important to the ending of the film? Well, because it shows how important it is to have perspective. Quaritch treats the Avatar body and sees the ways of the Na’vi as a means to get to Jake and kill him. Jake respects his Na’vi status and is doing everything in his power to protect his family, even if it means giving up the position of chief and following the orders of another. The Metkayinans see the Tulkun as one of their own and the Sullys as outsiders, despite the similarities they share. The Sky People treat the Tulkun as a commodity and treat them as disrespectfully as they treat the Na’vi or Pandora itself. And then there’s Kiri and Lo’ak, who rebel against every preconceived notion and find new aspects of the Tulkun and the Metkayinan habitat that probably no one knew about. The reason behind it is pretty obvious. Lo’ak feels like an outcast among his own because he fails to live up to Jake’s expectations, who wants him to be more like his eldest, Neteyam. Kiri’s mystical connection with Eywa makes her look air-headed, distant, and weak. However, they don’t let everyone’s perception of them define who they are. They choose their own path.
Lo’ak befriends a Tulkun called Payakan, who has been wrongfully outcast for killing other Tulkuns. Payakan uses the gland that the Sky People use to get the “amrita” to link up with Lo’ak and show him the real culprits (yes, it’s the humans who killed the other Tulkuns, not Payakan). That proves to be a game changer because when Quaritch kidnaps Sully’s kids as well as Tsireya (Ronal and Tonowari’s daughter) and puts them in a Manta Ray-like ship, Payakan arrives to turn the tides in the Na’vis’ favor. But it isn’t enough to truly get rid of Quaritch and his crew. So, Jake, Neytiri, and Neteyam actively attack the ship. Neteyam is the one who manages to get Lo’ak, Tsireya, and Spider out of there but gets shot in the process. His death spurs Lo’ak into action, and he saves his father after his deadly battle with Quaritch. As for Kiri, when she gets separated from Neytiri and Tuk, who get trapped in an inescapable section of the ship, she taps into her connection with Eywa, which she evidently had all this time. That allows her to create an escape route with the help of the luminescent fishes and take her mother and her sister to safety. The editing of this scene sends the message that a parent’s sole purpose shouldn’t be to protect because that sounds exhausting. Instead, they should learn to relinquish control and let their children protect and guide them through their darkest hours. FYI, Spider does something similar by saving an injured and drowning Quaritch because he cares about their familial bond, and he’s wary of the fact that, when push comes to shove, Neytiri won’t treat him as one of her children. However, he reunites with the Sullys, where he’s welcomed by Kiri and Jake.
Neteyam is buried as per the Metkayina culture, where his body is consumed by a field of seagrass. Jake Sully goes to Tonowari to let him know that he and his family will be leaving Awa’atulu the following day because he knows that Quaritch will come after him and destroy everything around him. The oceanic Na’vi tribes whose homes got torched didn’t give up Jake’s location because Tonowari told them not to. And Jake definitely doesn’t want anything like that to happen again. But Tonowari says that he’s part of the Metkayina now and that he and his family are more than welcome to stay there. This decision can be motivated by Tonowari’s prolonged neutrality, which has allowed the Sky People to encroach on the seas, and his latest realization that being non-confrontational won’t keep them safe. Tonowari knows that Jake Sully and Neytiri have faced and defeated the Sky People before. So, if they want to defeat the latest wave of human colonizers, the Metkayina will need their guidance. Also, the family has just lost their son. You can’t just tell them to go on the run after that. And, yes, Jake and Neytiri accept Tonowari’s offer. They use the Spirit Tree to meet Neteyam one last time and decide to make their stand against the Sky People from there.
Unlike “Avatar,” “The Way of Water” concludes with a personal battle between Quaritch and Jake Sully. In “Avatar,” what we saw was the final stage of years of colonization. In “The Way of Water,” we see the earliest stages of the latest insurrection. So, it makes sense that James Cameron and his team have focused on establishing a central rivalry and giving us an idea of what it’ll take to actually defeat the enemy. Apart from that, the sequels will probably unravel the mystery surrounding Kiri’s father, who has to be very powerful, spiritually speaking. As far as I know, Dr. Augustine never exhibited powers where she’d manipulate the environment of Pandora. Therefore, Kiri’s powers must have come from her father. It’ll be interesting to see how Neytiri, Spider, and Quaritch’s dynamic is going to unfold. Jake has accepted Spider as a son. However, Neytiri was and will be on the fence about it, especially after trying to kill him. And that’s bound to have some kind of impact on Spider’s psyche. Quaritch’s newfound sense of humanity is also going to play a major role, and maybe he’s going to try to bring Spider over to his side, which will make the rivalry between the heroes and the villains all the more complicated. But, hey, who wants to see simple stuff? James Cameron is free to bring on all the complexity he and his team can muster.