Avatar 2: When Herman Melville’s Moby Dick meets James Cameron’s Titanic.

Lokesh Kannan
6 min readDec 18, 2022
Google Image

Avatar 2: The way of the water:

I did not have much expectations for Avatar 2 and somehow with age, the sequels and prequels to movies you once worshipped just becomes a little pointless and less important to care. Thanks to Marvel, for successfully illustrating twice a year that all hero stories are essentially just the same through their many movies. They just find new ways to tell you the same story visually.

With less expectations, I went to see the movie with my friends yesterday and to my surprise, I enjoyed watching the movie. In my own mind, I found so many intricate stories and emotions as the movie progressed. I watched the movie in my native language, Tamil [ Also one of the oldest languages in the world], the dubbing artists had done some justice after all.

Here are the many things I felt watching Avatar 2, Way of the water.

Retelling Herman Melville’s Moby Dick:

Image source : Google Images

The lone, banished Tulkun that Lo’ak befriends in this movie is so much similar to the legendary white whale, Moby Dick from Herman’s classic book. Even before we get to know the real nature of this creature, the water tribes believe this Tulkun to be rogue and dangerous and advice the Sully’s from engaging with it any further. Just like the book where the crew members speculate and pass tales about the troublesome white whale many months before encountering it.

This large Tulkun is also a deformed creature that has survived an earlier hunting rally, just like Moby Dick which had a noticeable deformed jaw and many bruises left by harpoons from previous failed attempts to capture it.

The origins story of Captain Ahab:

In this movie, the captain of the ship [ Did not quite get this name] is in pursuit of Tulkuns to extract a yellow substance from their brain which is rare and valuable. While the scene where he separates, captures and kills a large Tulkun was very disturbing to watch if you are an animal lover, it also hints his unmatched skill in hunting them with swiftness coordinating with the many teams above and underwater.

Towards the end of the movie, we see Loak’s Tulkun intelligently beating the captain at his own game and cutting his arm using the harpoon lines before throwing him into the water. I have a strong feeling that this captain will be back in the upcoming Avatar instalments and now he has a stronger motive to hunt and extract his revenge to claim his glory back as the most skilful Tulkun hunter ever. We see that the mantel of the mad and fearless captain Ahab, from Melville’s book descending on this man.

Interestingly there is also a mention of an english ship captain who loses his arm during a fight with the whale in Moby Dick and when he meets Ahab, advises not to pursue the leviathan.

Shifting the perspective to the hunted:

A Tulkun in Avatar 2: Way of the water. Image source : Avatar fandom

It’s very interesting to observe that the Tulkun very much looks like a large whale and I have a feeling that its designed on purpose to look similar.

The hunting scene is where we get Mr.Cameron’s brilliant storytelling through visuals and it felt like being on a whale boat in the 18th century. The part of the movie that touched my heart the most was when the Tulkun shares its traumatic memory with Lo’ak and show’s how its entire family was murdered by humans and the pain it has to undergo all these years. It reminds me of a line in Moby Dick where Melville writes.

“Imagine how terrifying the huge shadows of the ship must be to the numerous creature swimming below”

The current decimating population of whale species is due to the overhunting phenomena that happened in the early 18th century where whale oil lit up most of the western world. Imagine being a blue whale at that point in time and being hunted by humans, the stories they’d tell are the visuals we see from the Tulkun’s memory.

The Three brothers :

In Moby Dick, captain Ahab nails a coin to the mast and announces it as a reward to the first person who spots Moby Dick. The coin has 3 cliffs with distinct characteristics. One cliff has a strong fort on the top which signifies strength, the one with the rooster exemplifies courage and the last cliff is an erupting volcano which is a symbol of destruction that can only be stopped by the ocean.

Everyone on the ship has an eye for the coin and on multiple occasions they all have a different perspective about the coin. Melville’s gives us the narrative that the coin reflects the person and what they see is a mere reflection of their own self.

The Three Cliffs on the famous Moby Dick coin. Image Source : Google Images

It’s interesting to see that “The three brothers” rock in the movie Avatar way of water, is where the most important events of this movie is staged.

In Moby Dick, the ownership of this coin means that the whale was spotted and in Avatar, the three rocks cliff is where Lo’ak first meets his Tulkun.

Lovak and the Tulkun share a similar personality trait. The creature is abandoned and left behind like Lo’ak and they are both trying to make friends with someone who understands them. In many ways, they forge a strong bond near the rock.

During the climax scene, we also see that Lo’ak and the Tulkun find courage and strength to fight humans at near this rock where we see that the first ship is destroyed and also the death of Neteyam, one of the brothers.

Towards the end, we see Jake hugging both Lo’ak and Spider as his own sons and saying “ A son for a son” as they movie ends. That makes it two brothers in total and I am assuming that the Tulken is the third unsaid brother.

And last, the Titanic reference :

The last few minutes of the movie is where we see the effect of a sinking ship and the hardship of a family that is trying to escape from it — sounds familiar?

Sinking the Titanic.( Google Image)

When Spider crushes the control panel, the massive ship glides through the water before smashing into a large rock and thereby starting to sink slowly. We see that Neytiri is trapped in the water and the water level rising slowly as she loosed all hope. We see the entire ship suspended vertically as Neytiri runs to the top with her kid to save her life, much like the electricians in titanic trying to help each other in turning off the power. While all this is happening, we also see Jake and Qartich engaged in a duel fight. We get to see glimpses of humans getting away safely in smaller inflatable boats.

Conclusion:

Personally I enjoyed the movie, felt that the first half of the movie was a bit lengthy and slow but the beautiful shots that explore the oceanic life of Pandora was breathtaking and kept me occupied while ever wondering what had happened to Qartich who is closer to the their actual home base and also now has an Ikran.

The movie managed to inspire me again to revisit and read one of my favourite books from the past and also looking forward to the upcoming Avatar movie sequels. It also is a reminder of the old days of humanity where hunting whale for their resources was common.

Fundamentally, James Cameron’s exploration of the cruelty that we humans do this beautiful planet is a recurring theme in all his Avatar movies and hope we learn to respect and honor the natural world as it is.

Please feel free to add your comments below,

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