The Avatar Love Scene We're Still Thinking About

In 2009, James Cameron's CGI epic "Avatar" was lauded as a monumental big-screen achievement. The film was heralded as a leap forward in motion capture technology, and it went on to make more money than any other movie in history. Among its many accolades, critics praised the film's expansive world-building. But even in the film's early days, when the whole world seemed to be watching it through rose-colored glasses, some viewers were already caught up on a couple of inexplicable aspects of the "Avatar" mythology. Namely: what's the deal with sex on Pandora?

Before diving into the tail-twisting love scene that's still capturing audiences' imagination over a decade later, here's a quick refresher on the premise of "Avatar." In the year 2154, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a veteran and wheelchair-user who joins a program that allows him to operate another body — specifically, the body of a Na'vi Avatar, a sort of synthetic version of the blue aliens the movie is most known for. Jake spends much of the movie on the planet Pandora, where he falls in love with a Na'vi woman named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). Meanwhile, his coworkers back on Earth are planning to strip Pandora of its sacred natural resources.

Tender tendrils: A love story

At its core, "Avatar" is a questionably executed story about the impact of colonialism with a lot of entertaining sci-fi lore baked into it. One of the most unusual pieces of lore involves Na'vi mating habits, which Jake finds out about firsthand when he and Neytiri steal away from her Na'vi tribe to connect with nature — and one another. The pair travel to a bioluminescent forest, where hanging neon foliage and floating jellyfish-like creatures fill the air. There, they officially choose one another as mates, sealing their bond with a kiss. That's not all, though. Jake and Neytiri also link together via small tendrils that come alive at the end of their braided ponytails.

That's right, the Na'vi appear to have sex via their hair. Only, whether or not this act is actually considered lovemaking has been hotly debated in the years since the film came out, as has every other aspect of the Pandoran mating ritual. The act of connecting one's "queue," as the braids are called, is explained as more of a meeting of the minds than anything else.

Those waving tendrils are directly connected to the Na'vi nervous system, meaning the pair are connecting on a sensory level when they interlock queues. Na'vi also use their queues to tame, ride, and share senses with the dragon-like mountain banshees in the area. Na'vi can even plug their braids into their place of worship, the Tree of Souls. Still, Jake and Neytiri respond to the connection as if they're in the throes of passion, and follow it with an embrace.

Needless to say, audiences had a few questions about the Na'vi mating ritual when "Avatar" came out. Is this sex? Is it more like downloading one another's hard drives? If it is a stand-in for human intimacy, why do the Na'vi also connect their queues to animals and trees? Also, why do they wear loincloths if their genitals are in their braids? Is their human-like modesty a hold-over from sci-fi conceptualizations of aliens past, or is there a deeper reason for it?

An extended scene offers some clarity

These questions were complicated further by the news that the love scene was originally meant to be longer. In 2010, the film's script was nominated for a WGA award, at which point it was made publicly available. obtained an excerpt from the screenplay that reveals an even more intimate version of the bonding ritual. Here's a snippet of the script:

NEYTIRI Kissing is very good. But we have something better.

She pulls him down until they are kneeling, facing each other on the faintly glowing moss.

Neytiri takes the end of her queue and raises it. Jake does the same, with trembling anticipation. The tendrils at the ends move with a life of their own, straining to be joined.

MACRO SHOT — The tendrils INTERTWINE with gentle undulations.

The screenplay goes on to describe the act as "the ultimate intimacy," and also goes on to use phrases like "pulsing energy." This extended version of the scene can be found on the "Avatar" special edition DVD, but never made it to the theatrical version. Despite murmurs about Disney+ censoring the movie, it appears that the platform is actually just using the theatrical cut of the film, meaning you likely won't see Na'vi braid sex on the streamer anytime soon.

Entertainment Weekly's Annie Barrett also dug into the deleted scene in 2010, speculating that it could have been cut because including it "might imply that tendril-intertwining is what happens when the Na'vi have sex, which, I guess, by definition would mean they also had sex with the trees and the six-legged panther/dogs and the flying peacock lizards." The theatrical cut, then, presents a less muddled mythology to audiences, leaving the purpose of the queue interlinking a little more ambiguous. It's entirely possible to watch the theatrical version and think that maybe it's not meant as a stand-in for the act itself, but as an intense experience that, in this particular context, also led to romance.

Cameron's explanation for the Na'vi design

Still, none of this explains why the Na'vi have seemingly human-like genitals in addition to their queues, a question that also nagged at viewers from the time of the film's debut. It turns out, there's an answer to that too, albeit not a good one. Cameron sat down with Playboy for the magazine's December 2009 issue (also reported on by, and let the world into his thought process. Unfortunately, his thought process appears to be pretty reductive, and makes it clear the rest of the world may have been overthinking the intricacies of the "Avatar" mythology all along. In a conversation about the long tradition of teen boys lusting after fantasy women, Cameron says:

"Right from the beginning I said, 'She's got to have t***s,' even though that makes no sense because her race, the Na'vi, aren't placental mammals."

He goes on to explain that he designed the loincloths based on the garb of a real Indigenous people, but then follows that apparent commitment to realism up with an in-depth description of the characters' breast design. Cameron mentions a shot featuring Neytiri's nipples that had to be cut to keep the PG-13 rating, and elsewhere in the interview, he describes his goal of inspiring "actual lust for a character that consists of pixels of ones and zeros."

As disheartening as they are, Cameron's words here pretty much speak for themselves. Over a decade after the film's release, its initial magic has worn off for many, giving way to harsher criticisms of its handling of sensitive themes and even its then-cutting-edge visual effects. The teen boy fantasy rhetoric on display in the filmmaker's Playboy interview make it more difficult than ever to get swept away by the story of "Avatar." He technically answers some lingering questions about Na'vi reproduction, but in a way that's much more frustrating than satisfying.

With several "Avatar" sequels still in the making, Cameron will get a second chance to flesh out the finer points of Na'vi culture, and to thoughtfully represent a culture that bears more than a passing resemblance to real Indigenous peoples. Whether he pulls this task off or not, the bizarre Na'vi mating ritual in all its tendril-touching glory will likely be on audiences' minds for years to come.