It’s been hard, in the Bay Area, to get this New Year off the ground…
Reason being, we’ve been pelted with rain. The whole sky got turned into a giant faucet. Our days became a wet slog. Our bodies struggled to adjust to the shifting barometric pressure.
For me, it was a be-careful-what-you-wish-for thing. An East Coaster, I had always complained about California’s lack of rain. This winter, the goddesses said unto me, “Well, here you go, stoopid! See how you like it!”
I enjoyed it, then got sick of it. I realized my days just weren’t the same without the sun.
Speaking of water, there’s been a lot of it at the movie theater lately. “Avatar: The Way of Water” has been gushing its brilliant blue way around the globe. I actually had to talk my family into seeing it. My kids had never seen the first one. My wife and I had half-forgotten it. But this new one looked like it offered something fierce. I love James Cameron’s movies: “Terminator 2” and “True Lies” were staples of my coming-of-age years. I only recently saw “Aliens,” but that’s as good a movie as humanly possible. And it seemed like this new “Avatar” could possibly end up ranking up there with the old ones…
The days kept passing. January replaced December. Eventually, I had to tell my wife and kids, “If you don’t see it with me, I’m going alone.” It’s not that they didn’t want to – it was mostly that 3 hours and 15 minutes is a lot of time to scrape together in a busy life.
We finally got there. Truth be told, I was anxious. The whole thing had been built up too much, and it’s one of those gargantuan blockbusters that you know, love it or hate it, will just roll right over you like a (words intended) tidal wave. In the meantime, in the first half of 2022, my wife had struggled with some health issues. That makes movie theaters a somewhat daunting place. I’ll turn to her in the darkness, studying her face and making sure she’s OK. Add to this, in the case of “Avatar 2,” the presence of 3D glasses, and I knew I wouldn’t be zoned to check on her. I’d be locked in my own private 3D-scape. And even if I peeked in her direction, her own face would be half-covered by the glasses.
Whatever: I had to go with it. 2022 was over. She’d been feeling good. My friends had hyped the movie.
I had to recline in my leather seat and take the ride.
And hot damn – what a ride it was. Some people have complained that it’s too much like a video game, but I’m not having any of that noise. It’s an ancient story, classically told, of a family coming together against a common enemy, and encountering no shortage of threats and danger along the way. Video game? No. Roller coaster? Yes!
But I strapped in tight. I think a movie that feels like a roller coaster is a good thing; it’s transported you; it’s actually accomplished something. Never before, in the space of a single film, have I gone from such deep tranquility to such total terror. I went away somewhere else. I forgot my life.
Yet in places, at moments, I wondered how she was doing three seats away…
Forget it, I told myself. There’s nothing you can do…
So I remained inside “Avatar.” Got thrilled and jolted. Couldn’t believe what I was seeing, in fact – and I later realized, given the depth and power of its newfangled 3D, I couldn’t exactly remember how it looked. That was OK; the whole in-the-moment experience was a protracted shock, as though James Cameron had seized me by the eyeballs and uploaded an entire universe into my skull.
As the movie neared its end, those eyeballs wept.
The end credits rolled. I eyed my wife. Couldn’t see her expression: those 3D glasses. I shot her a thumbs-up – and I didn’t mean the movie, I meant her. And it wasn’t a statement; I was asking:
She shot me one back: “I’m good.”
Then she took off her glasses and she was sobbing.
The way of water, indeed. We cried like we were at a funeral. We cried like she’d just given birth to our third child.
Our children, they didn’t cry, or even so much as make a sound. They sat stunned. A movie had never taken them that far: into such sadness, such joy, into mortality…into another world. It would take them until the car ride home to open their mouths.
For the rest of my life, I’ll never forget that moment: how she took the glasses off and she was crying. Growing up, I always saw my mom cry at the movies: “E.T.,” “The Karate Kid,” “Schindler’s List.” Her tears might be the reason why I love cinema. In this way, I feel my kids got granted a formative experience. Maybe they’ll be movie guys, maybe they won’t (spoiler alert: they already are), but to see your mom cry at the movie house is a gift that every child should receive. It shows them her humanity; shows them their own.
I was grateful there’s a movie in the world that could do such a thing.
Then I was speechless for days. I still am, kind of. Sorry for the hype. But it was a MOVIE. And it’s our movie now: part of our family’s record.
And as we rode its shimmering, electric-blue waves, our year began.