James Cameron’s elastic world-building creates endless possibilities for how his sequel Avatar: The Way of Water brings viewers back to the alien world of Pandora and prepares them for a journey that will span Avatar 3, 4, and maybe 5. Part of the drive for Cameron was working with actors he loved; even though the characters played by Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang both “died” (we’ll get to that) in the 2009 Avatar, they both return in the sequel in new forms.
Weaver’s new character, Kiri — Jake Sully’s teen Na’vi daughter — becomes the central mystery to the past, present, and future of Pandora. Parentage questions tend to be fun preoccupations for franchise storytelling — consider Star Wars’ obsession with Luke Skywalker’s or Rey’s parents, 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 context 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 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 girl, Tuk), they now care for a surrogate human son, Spider, and Kiri, born from the avatar of Dr. Grace Augustine (Weaver) while she’s in suspended animation. The notion that Grace’s comatose Na’vi body conceived and birthed a child while floating in an avatar holding chamber is, uh, a tough world-building nut to crack. And Cameron doesn’t really crack it! Instead, Kiri’s conception and roots blossom into The Way of Water’s weirdest plotline.
In case you do not recall the details of the now-13-year-old Avatar: Grace is mortally wounded during an escape from the human military base on Pandora, and to save her life, Jake and Neytiri attempt to transfer her consciousness to her avatar body using the power of the Tree of Souls. Except it doesn’t actually work. But before Grace crosses over, she tells Jake, “I’m with her” — referring to Eywa, Pandora’s deity, whom the Na’vi believe connects all living things. The ultimate bummer: While Col. Miles Quaritch’s persona was preserved for later cloning, either no one on the human side cared enough about the scientists to give them a full consciousness download or the scrappy human faction on Pandora wasn’t equipped to help her, so there’s no Grace Brain filling an avatar clone in The Way of Water. Oh well.
Based on what the audience and Kiri witness in The Way of Water, it’s reasonable to conclude that Grace’s spirit missed the avatar boat and instead zipped through the neural network of Pandora. Partway through the movie, Kiri — who is not only a huge nerd who loves nature, but seems to possess a supernatural connection to the ecological systems of Pandora — bonds with the underwater equivalent of the Tree of Souls and “meets” her mother (Weaver again, sans CGI) for the first time. The face-to-face connection ends in one of the film’s more shocking moments: When Kiri is zapped back to her corporeal body, she suffers a near-death seizure.
But how did Grace’s avatar become pregnant? The ending of Avatar, now shaded by Weaver’s human-self cameo, suggests that asking who Kiri’s father is — as the Na’vi kids do in the film! — might be the wrong question. Unlike the Christian notion of Jesus’ immaculate conception, Kiri seems less like the embodied child of the god and closer to the Greek god Gaea, a walking incarnation of the world itself. If Grace’s “soul” was funneled into the synapses of Pandora, then Eywa, more of a ghost inside the machine than the machine itself, could easily have been sent back into Grace’s avatar form.
Kiri’s untapped power comes into focus late in the film, when Clone Quaritch and the tulkun hunters chase the Sully kids through Pandora’s oceans. Up until this point, Cameron has illustrated Kiri’s connection to Eywa with a delicate touch — she just loves plants, and sometimes she steers animals around a little bit! She could look at the sand all day! Extremely relatable to us Beach Kids who could spend eight hours standing in the ocean, but then Cameron ups the stakes: During the action sequence, Kiri begins to wield the plants and ocean life like weapons. Kiri is an X-Man (X’vi?), and we can only imagine what that means for Jake Sully’s never-ending war against the Sky People.
This is all to say that one of the movie’s burning questions may never yield a secret-character answer like in Star Wars or Game of Thrones. The Sully bros can rib Kiri all they want over a potential Grace/Dr. Norm Spellman parentage, but Eywa’s power goes beyond the typical birds and bees. (Or ikran and tulkun, in Pandora’s case.) The mystery speaks to Cameron’s real vision for Avatar: Spirituality, biology, and technology are all intertwined, and blurred by the living moon of Pandora. Kiri lives, Eywa walks, and Avatar 3 through 5 promise to somehow be even weirder and wilder than The Way of Water.
Correction (Jan. 3, 2023): A previous version of this article misstated a plot point in Avatar. We’ve edited the story to address the error.