Thanks to a recent re-release, James Cameron’s 2009 CG megahit Avatar has toppled Avengers: Endgame to regain the #1 spot as the highest-grossing movie of all time. Chances are Endgame will get a revival eventually, and then Avatar will have another, and the two films will trade places back and forth for years, all while raking in the cash. But now that we know Cameron’s sequel is finally on the way, we must acknowledge there’s one distinction no Marvel movie will ever win—Avatar will always be the highest-grossing movie to ever feature aliens who have sex with their ponytails and then stick those same ponytails into animals to drive them.
I’m not trying to be reductive here. In Avatar, the lanky, blue, cat-like aliens called the Na’vi have what are called “queues” coming out of the back of their heads. This looks like a long braid of hair, but inside is a neural appendage that ends in a variety of small tentacles that can connect with the flora and fauna of the world of Pandora, all of whom have similar appendages. The bond, also called “tsaheylu,” is a major part of the Na’vi’s lives. Here’s how the Pandorapedia—an official movie resource—describes the neural link-up these queues allow:
“This connection allows a Na’vi to sense the energetic and kinetic signals broadcast by creatures, plants, and even the moon itself. It also allows the Na’vi to access the neural network that envelops the entire moon, and thus the collective wisdom of all Pandoran life. It is difficult to overstate the importance of the queue to the spiritual and physical well-being of the Na’vi. It is used on a daily basis to connect to animals that are vital to the success and protection of the clan; the direhorse and the mountain banshee both come under the sway of the Na’vi through use of the queue.”
When Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) teaches Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) about the way of her people and his avatar/new Na’vi body, one of the earliest lessons is about how he can use his queue to connect to a direhorse’s antenna-like neural interface to control it. After the small, fleshy tentacles in Jake’s queue and the beast’s antenna have intertwined with each other, Neytiri tells Jake, “Feel her. Feel her heartbeat. Her breath. Feel her strong legs. You may tell her what to do. Inside.” When she says “Inside,” Neytiri points to her head, indicating the link doesn’t just allow access to physical sensations, but can carry mental commands. The Na’vi also use their queues to connect to, ride, and control the flying, dragon-like ikron (known to humans as banshees), which notably bond with their rider for life.
But, unless the scene depicting Jake and Neytiri’s physical romance was a major anomaly, the Na’vi also use their queues during the act of lovemaking. In the film’s most intimate scene, the two bring the ends of their queues together, the multiple pink tendrils reaching hungrily for one another. The two bond physically and mentally, and the sensation seems to nearly overwhelm Jake before they begin making out, hard, until the scene eventually fades out. See for yourself in this video of the scene; the sexiness begins at 2:20:
[Please note: according to James Cameron himself, this scene was not included in Avatar’s official theatrical release. However, it was shot and composited, and was added back into the film for its DVD release. However, multiple io9 staffers have reported that they swore they saw the tentacle sex scene during their theatrical viewings. Whatever the truth of where it was shown, its authenticity is not in doubt, and must be considered Avatar canon.]
When we return to Jake’s avatar and Neytiri, she is snuggled up next to him in a traditionally post-coital position. To be clear, this joining of the queues is not part of the Na’vi reproductive system—no genetic material is passed back and forth—as confirmed by the (again, completely official) Pandorapedia, which explicitly states “Some Na’vi elect to abstain from reproduction, despite being sexually active. It is not known how contraception is accomplished.” My point is that Na’vi queues are an essential part of their lovemaking, even as they’re inessential to reproduction. And then they also stick those sex tentacles into animals.
This is simply a statement of fact. Na’vi use the same appendage to make love as they do to control other Pandoran creatures they use for transport. If this thought unsettles you, it’s likely because you’re trying to judge them by human standards. Obviously, here on Earth, sticking our sex organs into animals for any reason is taboo, and wouldn’t help us ride a horse even under the best of circumstances. But many of the animals of Pandora evolved with an external neural interface for some reason, and as far as we know, connecting with the Na’vi does them no discernible harm.
Personally, I might hope the Na’vi would clean their queue ends before and after sexy times, but it’s not my business, and frankly, it may not be necessary; I don’t know Na’vi biology, and perhaps there’s bacteria or a secretion that sterilizes the fleshy pink tendrils after use, keeping the Na’vi and their sexual partners from being exposed to something harmful (or at the very least unpleasant). Maybe the Na’vi do wash their queues frequently, and it just wasn’t portrayed on screen. Maybe they clean their queues with their tongue, like cats, which would be fine although I sincerely hope I never see that portrayed on screen.
We just don’t know. Again, all we know for certain is that the Na’vi use the same tentacle to have sex and drive animals, and they’re the stars of the highest-grossing movie of all time. And that’s not something we should ever forget.
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