My all-time favorite quote comes from Steve Martin’s character in the film Grand Canyon: “You know what your problem is. It’s that you haven’t seen enough movies. All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.” It’s my favorite because, for better or worse, I’m convinced it’s true. When word spread that James Cameron was assembling a team to solve the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, most laughed at what they thought was a pompous disconnect between real life and the CGI bombast of Avatar. I, however, turned my television up and thought, “Why, of course!”

Something about watching live feed of the oil billowing into the gulf reminds me of watching that first black scrawl of smoke unwinding in the clear Manhattan sky on the morning of September eleventh. My ribs ache with that same bracing-for-a-punch kind of dread that the repercussions of this moment will be life-long and life-altering, that as bad as it looks it’s about to get worse. I remember in the weeks after 9/11 one official said that we’d simply suffered from “a lack of imagination” and therefore could not anticipate something like this. At the same time others were saying 9/11 was like the most terrifying Hollywood films come true. Maybe our real problem is that we have the imagination, but we just don’t take it seriously.

So if James Cameron says his work on The Abyss and The Titanic has given him ideas and introduced him to innovative deep-sea engineers and technologies and that he loves our planet as much as Pandora, why not let him give plugging the damn hole a try? At this point, until those relief wells are completed, it looks as if it’s either Cameron or that chintzy saw that snapped during the “cut and cap” procedure. I didn’t hear anyone laughing, by the way, when that relief-well plan was aped directly from this scene in There Will Be Bloodclick here.

In fact, lets just make James Cameron a little to-do list. First up, oil spill. And when he’s done with that, he can get busy thwarting any and all development towards the creation of a Skynet, beginning with that monkey that’s learned to control a robotic arm with his mind: here. I know where that leads. I’ve seen enough movies.

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TNB Arts and Culture Editor CYNTHIA HAWKINS teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Most of what she thinks she knows comes from movies, including how to tango, how to take someone down with a ballpoint pen, how to curse in French, and how to catch a moving train. Her work, on movies and otherwise, has appeared in literary journals and magazines such as ESPN the Magazine, Parent:Wise Magazine, The Good Men Project, New World Writing, Strange Horizons, and numerous alternative weeklies and anthologies. You can find Cynthia on Twitter and at cynthiahawkins.net.

51 responses to “Plug the Damn Hole, James Cameron!”

  1. sheree says:

    Interesting read. Loved the subtle humor.

  2. Richard Cox says:

    Haha. When has James Cameron not accomplished what he set out to do?

    • Sarah says:

      Oscars 2010?

      Watch out for ex-wives. We can go to elaborate lengths to crush your hopes and dreams.

      • Richard Cox says:

        I don’t know if he thought he had a realistic chance to win that. But he did set out to make a new kind of movie and hit that one pretty much out of the park. I mean the dude has the two biggest grossing movies of all time so I would imagine his self confidence is pretty high.

        However, in my opinion THL wasn’t Oscar worthy, at least not the script. But that’s a whole other argument.

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          I always lose my Oscar bets … always. I have a bad habit of rooting for underdogs. Then last Oscars I put everything on THL out of resistance to Avatar (nothing against it, really, it was just the opposite of the underdog). I’m still dazed that I, I mean, Kathryn Bigelow won.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Up in the Air and Inglourious Basterds were two of the best films I’d seen in a while. I would have taken either of those. We fought about this a while back on some other piece, but for me, even though Bigelow’s direction was excellent, she was working from a script that could have used work. The film purported to explore the idea of war as a drug, but it just seemed to follow a crazy guy around for an hour and a half.

          But what do I know? My invitation to the Oscars keeps getting lost in the mail.

        • Greg Olear says:

          Richard: I agree totally. THL just didn’t stick with me the next day, and good movies always do.

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          Mine too. What’s up with that? I loved loved loved Inglorious Basterds. I thought that one matched the brilliance of Pulp Fiction and then some. That opening scene! And Christoph Waltz! It was something other than an underdog though, as far as the Academy Awards were concerned, because an underdog at least has a glimmer of a chance. So unfortunate!

        • Sarah says:

          I liked THL. I really liked Inglorious Basterds too. Haven’t had a chance to see Up in the Air yet. I try so hard not to think about movies too much after I see them. For the most part if, during the closing credits, I can say, “Hey, that was a decent way to spend two hours,” I’m pretty satisfied and try not to take it further than that.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Well, Sarah, you’re busy avoiding phone calls and you don’t have time to sit around and think about movies, do you?


  3. Richard Cox says:

    Clearly they need to send Desmond down there with the mystical stone drain plug from the island.

  4. Sarah says:

    I’m with you. No idea is a bad idea at this point.

    Except Kevin Costner’s.

    But his movies stink and Cameron’s are pretty good.

  5. Greg Olear says:

    Cameron probably has a better shot at fixing the leak, but it would be much more fun if Clooney, Pitt, Damon, and the eight other guys gave it a whirl. Maybe Andy Garcia could intimidate them from a nearby yacht? The guy’s name is Danny Ocean, for crying out loud.

    • Richard Cox says:

      This comment is made from Awesome. Capital “A” included.

      • Cynthia Hawkins says:

        Awesome, I agree! It would definitely have a better soundtrack too.

        • Richard Cox says:

          You don’t want Celine Dion under the construction lights singing “My Leak Will Go On”?

        • Greg Olear says:

          Thanks, guys.

          I love those movies. I even love the scene in “12” where Julia Roberts is playing Tess playing Julia Roberts. Matt Damon is brilliant in that sequence.

          “My Leak Will Go On.” Ha! Speaking of, US WEEKLY reports that a Harris poll found that Celine Dion was the most popular musician in the USA. Yes, this does mean that Harris polls are worthless. I mean, who the fuck all did they ask?

        • Dana says:

          It’s not just Harris polls. I’m convinced that no one under the age of 60 actually answers the phone anymore so it’s just lonely old cranks answering the polls.

    • Sarah says:

      Mmm, Carl Reiner in a diving suit.

      • Greg Olear says:

        Carl Reiner would be part of the team that infiltrates BP in order to humiliate the CEO is some way. Other than, you know, being responsible for the worst evnironmental disaster in quite some time.

  6. Jordan Ancel says:

    Cynthia! Finally, someone besides me who believes movies hold all the answers to life!

    After 911, the government had hired a bunch of Hollywood Creative execs and writers to come up with disaster scenarios regarding terrorist attacks. They did feel that they needed to be more imaginative in order to prevent future attempts at destruction.

    James Cameron is certainly imaginative enough to figure out something! If he can build the Titanic, he can build something to cap the well.

    Second choice, just for a quirkier take on problem solving, would be Wes Anderson.

    • Greg Olear says:

      I met a guy once who claims to have worked in black ops for the CIA (after asking questions, I believed him). He told me that the best way to cover something up is to make a movie about what really happened. This way, if the truth comes out, it’s easily written off as “just like the X-Files,” or whatever.

      I think we all need to remember that Cameron didn’t really direct “Aquaman.” That was just on Entourage.

      • Jordan Ancel says:

        This reminds me of the film Wag the Dog, in which the President’s team, headed by DeNiro, hires a big producer to “produce” a war in order to throw focus from a scandalous affair.

        And Aquaman is in production for 2013…

  7. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    Ah, as well they should have! I did not know that (re. Hollywood execs) … or maybe I knew and forgot. This is possible. Oh, what would Wes do? Whatever it is, I’d be behind it 100%.

    • Greg Olear says:

      What would he do? He’d dress the brothers Wilson in odd outfits from the early 80s and take many gorgeous shots of them doing weird shit while the oil gushed out in the background. Then Bill Murray would appear, make an off-color joke, and throw a lit cigarette onto the spill. Then there would be another hour of odd outfits, “jokes,” and really gorgeous art direction. Oh, and a very hip soundtrack from the 70s.

      • Cynthia Hawkins says:

        Bingo. I think that is exactly, precisely what he would do. I’m sure Angelica Houston would be in there somewhere, emanating calm.

  8. Matt says:

    Given that, at this point, BP seems to be taking the “spaghetti” approach to solving the problem (i.e. let’s just throw some random shit at it and see what happens) I can’t imagine Cameron could make things worse. And I always did think The Abyss was his best film.

  9. Marni Grossman says:

    I read a New Yorker profile of James Cameron. Last year, I think? He seems like such an asshole. It’s hard for me too root for him. That said, this time I’ll suck it up.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Marni, did you happen to catch him in his MSNBC (or CNN? can’t recall) interview over the weekend? He was trying so hard not to come off like an asshole it was killing him — SO funny.

  10. Dana says:

    I loved this essay Cynthia, and the comments too! I say we take up anyone who offers to help. Costner’s giant salad spinner or James Cameron’s fleet of submarines or Desmond’s big old cork. I’ll even take the first shift in the hatch…

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Thanks Dana! I heard that Jimmy Buffet has a few ideas too. More power to them all! This reminds me that “Lost” never answered my most pressing question — why the hatch implosion would render Desmond naked. Be careful on your shift!

  11. Joe Daly says:

    You have to applaud anyone, regardless of their qualifications, who has the guts to stand up and work on a solution. When that anyone is James Cameron, you can rest assured that non-traditional ideas will be explored.

    Anyone who has a problem with Cameron exploring ideas for a solution should either propose their own solution or keep to themselves. Finger pointing is so five minutes ago.

    Good stuff, Cynthia!

    P.S. I would cast Jack Black as the oil leak and Vince Vaughn as the leader of a rag tag ship of ne’er do wells who reluctantly get pulled in to plug the leak, but not before Vince proposes to his long suffering girlfriend back home via ship-to-shore radio, then delivering an iconic call to arms to his crew before plugging Jack Black.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Thanks! I like your proposal (I say while stroking chin contemplatively). This might work. Can we replace Vince Vaughn with Jon Favreau just so that ship-to-shore call can be a send-up of his phone messages in Swingers?

  12. I’m a big fan of “Avatar” and Cameron’s ability to go from truck driver and B-movie hack to 3D technology innovator. Love it. Turn the man loose!

    As for “There Will Be Blood,” it was set near Bakersfield. I know the area well. In fact, today on CNN they talked about the Lakeview gusher (1910), which is near where the film was set. Anyway, my favorite line from that film is, “I drink your milkshake!”

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      “I drink it up!” The great Daniel Day Lewis in one of my favorite movie moments. Crazy, violent, mesmerizing. Darkly funny. Tragic. I’m always looking for reasons to quote the milkshake speech. Thanks for reading!

  13. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    By jove, I think Lindelof’s got it! This fits right into our conversation — “Lost” co-writer’s screenplay pitch for cleaning up the oil spill, ARMAGEDDONER!: http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/bp-oil-spill-update-061410

  14. If James Cameron can’t get this spill under control, send in TNB’s very own Richard Cox the golfer. When I was driving to work a few weeks ago and heard on NPR that they were literally trying to shove golf balls and tennis balls down the hole, I thought to myself, “Holy shit! We are fucked!”

    And since I just used two curse words in response, I am now slapping my face twice — hard. I’m working on taming my use of the vulgar words.

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