Ambition is a 2014 short film by Tomek Bagiński, available to watch for free on the BFI Player. In this film, which is set in the distant future, humans have learned to create with the power of their mind. But, the master explains, the key to all life remains water. Comets – celestial objects of ice, dust, and molecules – are the key to understanding water. The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission was the first to explore a comet. The student has learnt this by accessing the information in an archive. In Ambition, the master teaches the student what is most important for any creation. Then, he declares her ready and she proceeds. First: water.

Particles controlled by the human mind to shape creations. (Ambition, Tomek Bagiński, 2014)

     The creation of water starts with fire. Not one shot of the film shows water in any form or shape. The mise-en-scène is filled with particles, dust, gradations of blue, wind, and fire. For all its importance, water is conspicuously absent. This inspired a few questions that I briefly address here. How does water affect people and their habitat? How is water used in fictional narratives?

Fire to create water. (Ambition, Tomek Bagiński, 2014)

     Water is the original shape shifter: fluid, solid, and gaseous. It exists in ephemeral states yet it is ubiquitously present. On Earth, anyway. How does it affect a city? How does it affect people? There are harbors with water routes for resources and transportation. There are fountains and pools for pleasure, and indoor plumbing as an everyday luxury in the western world. It takes gallons of water for the production of your morning latte. Rain, snow, and ice are obstacles to be avoided and removed during your daily city routine.
I am about 75% water. I complain about the rain. I love the snow, but not in the city. I don’t think about ice, only ice cream. I don’t know about water vapor in the air because it is invisible. Yet, without water, I don’t exist. The city does not exist.
In fiction film, water is rarely acknowledged unless it is part of a narrative that explores extreme circumstances. In Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015), a post-apocalyptic world has become a desert desperate for water. On the opposite end of narratives imagining a catastrophic future are films like The Day After Tomorrow (Roland Emmerich, 2004) or Waterworld (Kevin Reynolds, 1995). Frozen or liquid, too much of anything, even if it is essential, is still a bad thing.
Mad Max_Immortan Joe_Water

Immortan Joe releases a huge stream of water. (Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller, 2015)

The Day After Tomorrow

New York is frozen. (The Day after Tomorrow, Roland Emmerich, 2004)

     What about outer space? Well, for one thing, we don’t do laundry in space. Water behaves differently in zero gravity. And a big part of space exploration is the search for water and inhabitable planets that man can potentially colonize. Research for NASA’s Journey to Mars shows that the red planet held vast oceans in ancient times, which makes it an ideal candidate for further exploration.
In The Martian (Ridley Scott, 2015), a human mission to colonize Mars faces considerable obstacles. Before they are forced to leave the planet in an emergency, the astronauts manage to create the basic structures for human inhabitation. This includes housing, transportation, lots of plastic, duct tape, and their trash. Just like any other city on Earth. The situation changes when one astronaut is stranded on the planet and has to grow sufficient food to survive long enough for the rescue team to arrive. Nothing grows without water so he creates an environment that is essentially a tiny eco system. Here too, the creation of water starts with fire when the astronaut burns rocket fuel in his new greenhouse. Without fire, there is no water. Without water there is no survival.
Fictional narratives that explicitly explore the relationship of humans with water invite viewers to contemplate H2O and what its availability or scarcity may mean for individuals’ daily routines. While not all narratives focus on water per se, they address vulnerabilities of human existence. This short exploration into the representations of water onscreen indicates that, if it is part of the narrative, it is because there is too much or too little of it. Otherwise, if there is just the right amount of water, it is a life-giving luxury that is taken for granted.
The Martian_Fire and Water

​A failed attempt to create water with fire. (The Martian, Ridley Scott, 2015)


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