The Last Airbender – Movie Review
The Last Airbender – Movie Review
By: Stacey Tuttle
Highly entertaining, full of action and beautiful scenery, artfully done, The Last Airbender has been a top box office draw (currently 5th), bringing in $16.6M in its first two weeks of release—and it’s no wonder. Whether or not people have seen the cartoon it is based on, parents and children alike are flocking to see it, and they’re all being equally entertained. But here is my question, are we just being entertained, or are we pausing to filter through the messages and beliefs that the movie is based on? The movie is clearly coming from an Eastern religious influence (echoing the teachings of New Age, Hinduism and pantheism), yet according to some statistics, as much as 75% of Americans consider themselves Christian with the next two largest religious groups in America being Islam and Judaism. Yet, none of those religions align with the Eastern teachings in this movie, so one can’t help but wonder at its popularity. Yet, as I already wondered: are most people even aware of the differences between what the movie propagates vs. what they believe? And are we helping our children or our friends to decipher the difference?
The following is a grid which I hope will help us to think through what the movie says/implies and how those things differ from the Truth. But I’d also like to go one step further and point out how some of those things echo Christianity. If all the teachings were blatantly wrong, we’d see it clearly, but the differences are often subtle and have whispers of truth, and parts of truth such that the error is all the more embedded and well hidden. We can use those echoes of truth to point us to THE Truth, but first we have to discern the truth from the lie.
|Quote / Concept||How it differs from Christianity||How it echoes Christianity|
|“There are reasons each of us are born—we have to find those reasons.”||God created us and He has a plan for our lives. But that plan comes from HIM, not from an impersonal cosmic force.
Ps 139:13-16, Jer 29:11, Eph 2:1
|There is a reason(s) why each of us was born. We do have a purpose. And yes, we need to find that purpose – but we find it in Christ and Christ alone.
Matt 6:33, Eph 2:1
|Air nation wants to rule all four nations. The Avatar keeps peace between them. The Fire Lord launched a genocidal campaign against all the Air Nomads, aware that the next Avatar was to come from that nation in hopes of eliminating the one who could put a stop to his reign.||There have been several instances of genocide in the Bible from power-hungry rulers who feared a rival. And similarly, they failed to kill the one they sought. Most notably you have Moses, and Jesus.
Moses, (found in Exodus) was ironically saved by daughter of the very Pharaoh who ordered the execution of all the babies. He later led the Israelites to safety away from the rule of Pharaoh.
Jesus was rumored to be the coming King, which threatened the current King, Herod. Jesus’ kingdom though was far greater than just Herod’s kingdom. Jesus is the Lord God, King of EVERYTHING. He will establish true peace on earth, beginning with the peace inside the heart of any who trust in Him. Isaiah 9:6-7, Luke 19: 28-40
|The Avatar is a reincarnated being who communicates with (and is even one with) the elements of nature. He is learning, through meditation and the teaching of other masters, how to work with those elements (earth, fire, water, wind) and get them to work in partnership with him. He is learning how to manipulate their forces.||This has some superficial similarity to Jesus – He certainly held power over the elements of nature. He calmed storms, walked on water, withered fruitless trees, turned water into wine, etc… but there is a key distinction: Jesus doesn’t communicate with nature, He’s not one with nature, He is LORD over nature. He commands nature and it obeys. He is the king, nature is but a humble subject. He doesn’t petition nature to do His will, pleading with it to help. He doesn’t have to learn and study how to work with the elements of nature. Jesus created nature; he speaks and it obeys.
Furthermore, Jesus was not a reincarnated being. He is creator God, the first and the last. Rev 22:13
|We love the idea of a being who can move water and air, etc… It is a fantastic idea, this Avatar who communicates and has power with the very elements of the earth. However, let it remind us of the Son of God who spoke the elements into existence. Jesus who can calm the storms. Jesus who said to His disciples that not only could they command a tree and it would obey, but they could cast a very mountain into the sea and it would happen, if they only had faith and did not doubt. Saying, “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matt 21:20-22). To have the power of the Holy Spirit, we don’t have to learn to communicate with nature; we need to learn to pray with faith.|
|Only the Avatar can communicate with the spirit world (and spirit creatures, if I’m not mistaken) and therefore he is the mediator between man and the spirit world.||Jesus came to bear the punishment for our sins so that through Him we could have a relationship with God the Father. We not only have communication with God, but we are called his sons and daughters (I John 3:1).
We don’t need an Avatar or a priest or any one else to act as mediator, translator or communicator between ourselves and the spirit world. We can go directly to God as His child.
Furthermore, Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to aid us in that communication. He is our helper, our guide and our teacher (John 14:26) and when we struggle to find the words to talk to God with, the Spirit speaks on our behalf (Rom 8:26).
|If you find it cool or fascinating that Aang can communicate with the spirit world, be encouraged! God desires that we would all be in communication with Him! It is not a privilege He reserves for one special person. He wants it so much He sent His son Jesus to die on the cross to make it possible! And He sent us the Holy Spirit to help us!|
|The Fire Nation doesn’t wish to live by the Spirits.||We don’t live by the spirits (plural) but the Spirit (singular). In fact, the Bible says we live “by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4).||There are a lot of people who do not wish to live in submission to God. They hate the things of God and do their best to ignore or even destroy them. They want power for themselves. Romans 1 says that they “suppress the truth” and “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him,” “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie,” “they did not see fit to acknowledge God.”|
|“The Avatar can change hearts and it is in hearts all wars are won.”||As Christians, we certainly believe that it is through Jesus that hearts are changed and no one else.||Wars are won through the heart, which is why Jesus’ Kingdom begins not with a political coup as the Jews of the day expected, but with a liberation of the hearts of man, set free from sin and death and filled with His love.|
|“The ground is an extension of who you are” the Avatar tells the earth benders.||God did use the earth when he formed Adam (Gen 2:7), but then he gave Adam the responsibility of working in the garden and maintaining it (Gen 2:15). He did not tell Adam to be one with the earth, or that the earth was an extension of himself. Rather, Adam was to rule over it, command it and take care of it. Man is to have responsibility over the earth, not partnership with it.|
|Aang ran away from the ceremony in which he was crowned Avatar when everyone began to bow to him.||The very first of the Ten Commandments says that “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20: 3). And the only one to whom everyone will bow is Jesus. Philippians 2:9-11 says, “9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Aang was frankly right to run away when everyone began to bow to him. That is an honor that belongs only to Jesus. And rest assured, Jesus will not be afraid or overwhelmed by the responsibility and run away when we bow to Him.
|There will come a time when we all bow before our Jesus, recognizing Him as our rightful leader, our Lord and King. There will come a time when all will finally recognize Him for who He is and bow in submission before Him.|
|“Let your emotions flow like water…water teaches us acceptance.”||To say that we should just accept our emotions and let them flow is silliness. There are a lot of emotions that are not worthy of such unrestrained freedom and power. What about the emotion of jealousy, of bitterness? What about a person who has romantic feelings toward someone who is off-limits, already married, for example? Or what about a two year old who is angry because they were told not to touch the hot stove? Should those feelings be encouraged to just flow and run rampant? No.
In fact, emotions are usually a response to what we are thinking about. This means that if we think about true things, we are more likely to have good, right, true emotional responses. But if we think about things that are lies, or negative or hurtful, our emotions follow suit.
Therefore, we need to train our thoughts to think about the right kinds of things, such as things that are “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable,… excellent or praiseworthy” (Phil 4:8). Only emotions based on these kinds of thoughts will be the kind we should just “let flow”.
|Acceptance, when accepting the right things, can be great. There are things you cannot or should not fight against. However, there are things you MUST fight against.
The Avatar had to learn the difference. He didn’t simply accept the domination and cruelty of the Fire Nation, he fought against it. However, he had a calling on his life that he had run away from and been loathe to accept—and he was wrong to do that. He should have accepted his role as the Avatar much sooner than he did.
As Christians we are to do battle against the enemy, the spiritual forces of evil (Eph 6:10-20). We are to defend our faith (I Pe 3:15) and the defenseless (Ps 82:3-5). This means we are not to accept the enemy, or attacks on our faith or doctrine, or unfair treatment of the weak and the defenseless.
However, we are also commanded to turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39), and to forgive those who persecute us (Matt 5:44). This means there are things we should accept and forgive. The key is to know when to accept and when to fight and defend.
|Before going into battle, Aang retreats to meditate and talk to / seek advice from the spirit dragon.||The practice of seeking out God and His will before any major event, battle, decision, etc. is a good one. However, it is God whose advise we seek, not a spirit dragon, not any other spirit, not the universe…it is the Creator of the universe.||There are many examples of people in the Bible who went to get alone and seek God’s will and advice before going into battle all throughout the Old Testament. There’s the cool story of Israel fighting the Amalekites – as long as Moses’ hands were lifted to God, the Israelites won (Ex 17:8-16). And of course there is the example of Jesus who went to the Garden of Gethsemane to seek the Lord before his crucifixion (Matt 26:36-46).|
|Aang frequently enters a trance-like state. His eyes blow and he appears to be almost possessed, but is shown in a positive light as he is accessing the power and wisdom of the ancient ones and the spirit realm.||While Aang meditates before the battle, he is so deep in his trance-like state he loses all awareness of his surroundings. I don’t mean to be an extremist or an alarmist, or to make a mountain out of a mole hill, but I can’t ignore the nagging feeling that his meditative, trance-like states and then his glowing eyes and sudden rush of super-natural power seems an awful lot like demonic possession.||Aang seems to realize that he needs a higher source for power, strength and direction – he is not enough in and of himself.
Similarly, we are not enough. We do not have enough power or wisdom for the tasks at hand. And we too have a source of power. Our source of power is the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) whom God gives to us as a helper.
|The spirits take the form of benign things (such as the fish) to teach lessons like humility and kindness.||God uses the things of the earth, the benign, every day things to teach us lessons. However, he uses them to teach a lesson, he does not inhabit them or become them to teach a lesson. God does not hide himself in the forms of the things he created. Those things are not God, they do not carry God within them.
Although, they do reveal the nature and character of God, just as a work of art will reveal something of the nature and character of the artist who created it. Romans 1:18-32 says that God’s qualities and his nature have been clearly revealed by His creation.
However, it immediately cautions that there are those who have refused to acknowledge His divine nature and instead have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things…. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (emphasis mine).
Sounds a bit like the Last Airbender, doesn’t it? We are on very dangerous ground when we start to worship the creation instead of its creator. If you read Romans 1:18-32 you can see the consequences for such behavior.
|God’s ways are not our ways (Is 55:8-9). He does choose benign things to teach us lessons. He spoke in parables about every day things such as fishing and farming to teach great truths. In fact, the Bible says that God chose the “foolish things of the world to shame the wise… the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (I Cor 1:26-31). For example, in Proverbs 6:6 (NLT) it says, “Take a lesson from the ants, you lazy bones. Learn from their ways and become wise!” You can learn a lot of practical lessons from simply paying attention to the creation and listening to what it has to say about its Creator.|
|Once the spirit fish was killed, one of the Fire people declared, “We are now the gods.”||Satan rebelled and rather than submit to God, he wanted to be God. He then enticed Adam and Eve with the same idea. He told them they could be like God (Gen 3:5) if they ate of the fruit. And then when Jesus came to earth, Satan incited mankind to crucify him. The motivation was the same, if God is dead, if there is no higher power, then we become the highest power, therefore we become gods.
The rebellion of the Fire Nation echoes the first rebellion, Satan’s rebellion. And that same rebellion has been repeated throughout history, literature and epic stories through out time.
|“Nothing is ever truly lost.” – spoken as the Princess Yue gives her life back to the spirit fish who first gave it to her. The fish spirit god was saved and resurrected by the sacrifice of the life of a princess.||The idea that nothing is ever lost, it just changes forms is very Eastern. It lends itself to the teaching of reincarnation. You don’t die, you simply recycle to another form, another life. Christians don’t believe in reincarnation, they believe in resurrection. For those who believe in God, they have the gift of eternal life (Rom 6:23). Not of another life here on earth in a new body, a new form, but a life in heaven in your own body, resurrected and improved.
Also, it’s a small god that needs a young girl to die to give it life. The fish spirit gave the Princess Yue life when she was born, but then needed to take it back when his own was threatened. Seems like that is what we called an “Indian-giver” when I was a kid (before we knew anything of political incorrectness – so please forgive any offense!). Compare that with Jesus who willingly sacrificed his life so that mankind might have life.
|Princess Yue willingly laid down her life that others might live. It is shown as a peaceful, very serene, almost beautiful and instantaneous death.
Jesus too laid down his life. Jesus too is royalty, a prince; his father is King of Kings. But, Jesus’ death wasn’t peaceful or serene. It was a bloody scene. He was beaten beyond recognition, mocked, scorned, spit upon. He was nailed to a cross and hung to suffer for hours until his eventual death. Yet, for all the gruesomeness and hatefulness, for all the wrong and injustice of it, still Jesus willingly, peacefully, serenely and lovingly laid down his life.
|“You stand alone and that has always been your great mistake.” Uncle Iroh said this to Commander Zhao of the Fire Nation right before Zhao was killed.||Uncle Iroh is right on this one. We are not meant to be alone. From the very beginning of time, in the garden of Eden, God said it was not good for Adam, the first man, to be alone (Gen 2:18).
In the New Testament, believers are commanded not to forsake getting together (Heb 10:24-25). It is a great mistake to stand alone. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto –even he didn’t stand alone.
I encourage you, especially if you go see this movie with your children, to take some time to discuss it afterward. Ask them to try to think of their own examples from the movie of ideas and concepts which echo truths in scripture, and those which are contrary to what the Bible says. You can use this grid to get started or come up with your own. The process will teach you and your kids to think more critically and to guard more carefully your minds.
Questions for Discussion:
- What were some of your favorite scenes and/or quotes from the movie? Would you say those scenes/quotes point you to something you have heard about in the Scripture or is it contrary to what the Bible teaches?
- Who do you think were the most noble characters in the movie? What made them noble?
- Do you have a habit of going to God in prayer and reading His word for direction before you have to go into a “battle” of some sort or make a big decision in your life?
- Do you try to stand alone or do you lean on others in partnership? Which comes more naturally for you? Which do you prefer?
- What are some of the simple things of the world which God has used to teach you lessons about his nature and his character?
- What do you think about the Avatar’s power to control the elements? What is your reaction to the concept (the truth!) that you can move actual mountains through your faith in Jesus?
- Have you thought about what it would be like to have to go through an Avatar or someone else to talk to God and never be able to talk to him directly yourself? Does it amaze you that you can talk to God, and that he wants to talk to you? Does it surprise you that you don’t have to be someone with special talents or powers in order for God to want to talk to you?