James Cameron Is More Sentimental Than Kathryn Bigelow

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Feb. 3 2010 10:13 AM

James Cameron Is More Sentimental Than Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker has earned as many Oscar nominations as her ex-husband James Cameron's Avatar , meaning that the media narrative of this Oscar season ( as Jess pointed out ) will surely constellate around the "Battle of the Sexes"-or "Battle of the Exes." A tiresome narrative, perhaps, but there is a way that their films do represent polar extremes. Cameron has a lavish feel for the tenderness (and violence) that springs up between men and aliens, whether the "aliens" be robotic machines or acid-blooded creatures who want to lay eggs in your throat. The dialogue in a Cameron movie is usually, as Hanna put it to me the other day, aggressively bad; Cameron is interested in dialogue only insofar as it positions the characters in his films for disaster. His characters are archetypes, always rushing onto the next archetypal moment, whether DiCaprio's Jack screaming "I'm on top of the world" from a boat, or Sigourney Weaver's Ripley growling "Get away from her, bitch!" as the queen alien menaces poor orphaned Newt.

Bigelow, by contrast, has a great directorial feel for the way dialogue creates texture and drama, and an eerie feel for the kinds of male relationships Cameron seems to care less about; you can see the evidence in The Hurt Locker and in Point Break . While Bigelow didn't write The Hurt Locker (Mark Boal did) or Point Break , she knows how to establish charged masculine space, and the dialogue between men in her films is at once natural and poignant. Perhaps that could seem like another version of men-are-action, women-are-talk, but it's not that simple, somehow. Cameron is, I think, the more sentimental filmmaker of the two; Bigelow may understand words, but it's the nonverbal energy between men she most memorably evokes.

Meghan O'Rourke is Slate's culture critic and an advisory editor. She was previously an editor at The New Yorker. The Long Goodbye, a memoir about her mother's death, is now out in paperback.

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