“Avatar” has Sigourney Weaver puffing up a storm front and center — “Where’s my cigarette?”, she demands in her introductory scene — prompting the New York Times to offer yet another scorecard on the year in tobacco (ab)use on-screen.
Stephen A. Glantz — director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at UC-San Francisco — is more than displeased by Weaver’s post-jaunt smoke, which he says is “like someone just put a bunch of plutonium in the water supply.”
Personally, I’d like to imagine the scene is a cheeky nod to Weaver’s in-office smoking villainess from “Working Girl,” but I suppose that’s not what was intended. Per Cameron (who’s nothing if not consistently vigilant at deflecting all criticism):
I wanted Grace to be a character who is initially off-putting and even unpleasant. She’s rude, she swears, she drinks, she smokes. She is not meant to be an aspirational role model to teenagers… Also, from a character perspective, we were showing that Grace doesn’t care about her human body, only her avatar body, which again is a negative comment about people in our real world living too much in their avatars, meaning online and in videogames…
Smoking is a filthy habit which I don’t support, and neither, I believe, does Avatar.
The anti-smoking lobby’s persistent inability to establish correlation remains puzzling. Unlike the black-lung ’70s, your modern American cinematic smoker is invariably the villain — see Mr. Bean of “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” his beady face illuminated in the darkness by a glowing ember as he plots to make the countryside foxless.
SceneSmoking.com — the most humorless and vigilant of the bunch — has more of a case than usual this season, though apparently they can’t adjust for context. I know “Sherlock Holmes” is already plenty revisionist, but did he really have to ditch the pipe, too? How could (god help us) “Nine” function with a nicotine-less Guido? And aren’t we all pleased that the smokers are either in the past or the bad guys?
If I were working on this lobby, I wouldn’t waste my time on “Avatar.” This Friday’s release of “Youth In Revolt” is where I’d really be going into a frenzy, since Michael Cera’s solution for trying to win over a girl immune to his nerdy charms is to create an alter-ego who commits crime and — yes! — smokes to establish his bad-ass cred. It’s doubtful anyone could take this as anything but a joke about old noir archetypes, but maybe someone will.
The one filmmaker who really should be taking heat over this issue is Wes Anderson, of the aforementioned “Fox.” In “Rushmore,” Max Fisher takes up smoking after having his heart broken by Miss Cross; in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” Gwyneth Paltrow’s discovery of the pack of cigarettes she hid as a child is played for climactic catharsis, which, c’mon. And communal, fraternal smoking figures largely in “The Darjeeling Limited.”
In all of these, Anderson’s playing it as a joke — the smoking actually means something, which is unusual, but it’s arguably a bit feckless. Enjoyably so for me, but I could see someone having a legitimate beef with that. The rest? Not so much.
[Photos: “Avatar,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 2009; “Youth in Revolt,” Weinstein Co, 2009]