Shades of Philosophy in 'The Last Airbender'
Original Article by Muhsin Khalid*
Original Article by Muhsin Khalid*
Upon reflecting, I see its importance as arising mainly from the complex intellectual grounds that lay the foundations for various shades of meaning in the course of events of the movie. These foundations are only visible through
very delicate encodings concealed in the techniques employed in the making of the film.Such techniques that are unique par excellence allow us to glimpse through the film components into the visual and the audible and to grasp the idea that stitches these components neatly together in a grand intellectual design and aesthetic cinematography that is stunningly well-conceived and beautiful.
The hero of the movie, a twelve year old child portrayed by Noah Ringer, is the last airbender or avatar. With each of these words the structures of the film's intellectual and aesthetic concept which is both
inspiring and complex, begin to develop and branch out intricately.
So what is an airbender? How can we understand this word in terms of etymology, the science which teaches, among other things linguistic, how to analyze the component parts of a word and trace it to its earliest occurences.
What is an avatar and what roots, particularly those derived from the collective human history of mythology does this word have?
Airbender is a newly devised word that is a merger between two singular words: air and bend(er).
The first word is obvious even in non-English speaking socities: airways, Egyptair, Swissair, AirCanada etc.
The second word is the present participle derived from the active verb "bend", which has many meanings most important of which is 'to twist' or 'strain by curving'. But this literal meaning is not pursued here. Rather the less current meaning of being able to direct the energy of the mind and render it more focused is the one in question. Sometimes it is used in the meaning of subjugation or subordination. In the movie "bending" is the compilation of both meanings sited for directing the mind in order to subjugate the...air!
So an airbender is a person who has the ability to control the air by his sheer strength of mind.
But why control the air 'specifically' through mental energy?
Here we pass under the shades of huge philosophical, scientific, religious and mythological
conceptions that had laid the foundation for this calculated importance of the air since time immemorial
in the history of human civilization.
Both intellectual and mythological human history that had perched under the shades of this
film would take us back, in the simplest of accounts, to at least three thousand years before
the birth of Christ. Or to the time of mythological belief in Osiris, god of the afterlife in
Both Pharaonic Egyptians and Pharaonic Cushites held the vision that believed life to have
come from "vortical chaos that afflicted the legendary waters". This chaos is expressed in
a singular word "Nu" from which the Arabic word anwaa أنواء and subsequently other derivations and usages were made. From this chaos came into being the first god Atum, known as the mysterious or hidden god and portrayed as a frog among many other portrayals of him.
In latin languages the term Autumn was generated from the god Atum by early pagans who wrongly believed this word to date back to the time of the legendary whirlpool.
Following this legendary conception, Pharaonic kings/gods took ancestry in and attributed themselves to the (water) more generally but also to other elements as well. This point of ancestry with water is mentioned for example in the book "prt m hrw" which was mistakenly known as the "Book of the Dead" although it did not acknowledge death and described the dead as "weak". In this book Osiris-Ani, the writer is mentioned to have said:
"It is me. Truly it is me who emerged from the flood and made it flow as Habi, the great Nile."
This represents an affiliation of the Pharaoh of the North Valley, current Egypt, to the water. And below is the affiliation of a Pharaoh of the Cushitic civilization of the South Valley, present-day Sudan, discovered on an ancient tablet ascribed to King Amani Piye which states: "And I will seize (the city) in my capacity as the flood. I have been ordered"
Here Piye also associates himself to the flood water. The city in question is the city of "Memphis" in Egypt and this was at the time when he (Piye), invaded the north and besieged the cities of Egypt one after the other until all Egypt fell under his tight control.
The god Atum himself was a champion of three issues of which one concerns us in regards to the airbender. "He was the defender of three: Egypt, fertility and air." He is therefore a legendary airbender from ancient human conceptions that date back to thousands of years. But he is not the only airbender in the Pharaonic civilization, never!
For there is also the god "Ra", who practiced masturbation and from his seminal dischage were made a daughter (Tefnut) and a son. The daughter is deemed the goddess of moisture or dew. The son of Ra came to be known as the god Shu: the god of the air!
The old gods of the air who were true gods in the standard sense of the word- the air being only one of their characters must be acknowledged as different from all other types of avatars who were not gods and of which the airbender represents only one type.
In mathematical lingo and specifically the theory of groups (the Set Theory) the avatar group is a 'comprehensive group' and also an infinite one as long as we are not able to predict surprise acts from these legendary gods. Whereas the Airbender is a partial group out of the many avatars.
So what is the avatar? Why do the film makers call their kid hero the airbender and also call him the avatar?...
To be followed by Part Two....
Information On The Movie
The Last Airbender (2010)
USA 103 min., Color
Sound: Dolby Digital
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Original Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography by Andrew Lesnie
Film Editing by Conrad Buff IV
Stars: Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone
* Muhsin Khalid is a novelist, short-story writer and avid scholar of arts and philosophy.
He resides in London, UK.