Shades of Philosophy in The Last Airbender
Original Article by Muhsin Khalid
The Sanskrit legend has it that the fish Matsya killed the demon guardian of the spirit in order to save Manu or Adam the forefather of all men and the first king on earth. But this Indian legend relates Manu to the flood, which makes him the equivalent of Noah in the three major or Abrahamic religions of the world. The pleasant coincidence is that the young actor who portrayed the avatar in this movie has a similar name though pronounced slightly differently. His real name is Noah Ringer. This name, Noah, is known as the name of the prophet of the flood. Of his story the Qur'an narrates that his vessel docked on the "Judi" which is accounted for by interpreters of the Qur'an as the name for a mountain whereas the Sanskrit legend says this took place on the mountain of Malaya. The legend goes on to say, comparably to the Qur'an, that Manu was at the bottom of the mountain but the flood water carried him to its summit.When the commander kills the fish (the spirit of the moon) in the film, we see a dimming of life signs. Exactly as we saw happen in the other movie “The Avatar” when the armies uprooted the tree that was connected to the springs of enlightenment upon which was founded the splendid glow. A glow that emanates from within an internal spiritual system more significant and complex than that external system which is based on the relationship of chlorophyll to perceivable light. This, often, is the claim of ancient stories that bind life together. In the heart of this movie “The last Airbender” the screen shines with a pale red light caused by the heinous act inflicted by the Fire Kingdom. A deed that everyone is going to suffer from, according to prince Zuko.
Thus the film's atmosphere is created and the viewer is thus prepared to see the manifestation of the deity
in the avatar and watch that great scene when the boy Noah moves the ocean over the ships of the Fire Kingdom without hurting or killing any of them as stated in the words of the dragon: That the avatar does not hurt or kill and does his part equally towards all people. This preparation is necessary: the killing of the fish (bearer of the spirit of the moon), the turning-off of some of the spirit of the world, the arrival of the world to a higher peak of corruption and despair. The original Hindu scripture explains when the avatar will appear:
“Whenever righteousness wanes and unrighteousness increases I send myself forth.
For the protection of the good and for the destruction of the evil,
and for the establishment of righteousness,
I come into being age after age.” (Gita:4.7–8)
This descent of the deity, this transfiguration or incarnation and the emergence of the avatar occurs, according to the Gita, when integrity wanes and immorality prevails. It is an act to protect the good, eradicate the evil and rebuild the virtuous. This is the reason why the deity comes into existence from time to time.
As I mentioned earlier, this Sanskrit legend claims that the first such appearance was achieved through the fish Matsya which was considered 'pious' according to the concepts of that culture.
It is as sacred to the Hindu as Lyptus, Phargus or Oxworneshos was to the Pharaohs of Egypt. It was the fish Mormyrus oxyrhynchus that ate the genitals of Osiris in the famous legend of his death and the tearing up of his body which was then thrown into the Nile and how his wife went out searching for him.
There is also the goddess of fish "Hatmehit" which is depicted in the form of a fish or of a womanwith a fish emblem on her head. In the movie, note that the temple of the priests of the Air Kingdom is decorated with carvings of fish as well. Surely to rally the legend Matsya as the earliest and most known avatar of the god Vishnu. As for the linking together of the moon and the fish, the Pharaonic myth leads us to the beginning of conflict with the demon in the legend of Osiris in which the moon is more evident and does not die as in this movie.
The film, in short, is based on four kingdoms. The Water Kingdom, the FireKingdom, the Earth Kingdom and the Air Kingdom. We find this quartet embodied in the form
of separate real nations that are, at the same time, interconnected and suffering great chaos and
world wars which the Fire Nation has been able to win and impose control and enslavement over
the rest of the nations. The hypothesis is that any of these nations can control the element of which
it is made. That it has its benders or priests who implement this control of the substance of their existence. The Fire Nation can control fire and use it the way they desire. As well, the Earth Nation controls dust and soil, the Water nation controls only water. The film poses one exception to this hypothesis that only the Air Nation is able to control the four elements combined. Every person of these nations is known as a bender corresponding to his nation. Thus we have firebender, earthbender, waterbender and the boy who is the hero of the movie represents the Air Nation which had been subjected to genocide that left only him.
He is known as the airbender or the avatar.
With this construction of the plot we delve into derivations from the Bible of structures and civilizational complexities. For this airbender that we see in the movie, is in fact a priest, dressed in the attire of priests
of the eastern cultures, and because of his young age he is not fully skilled to utilize his capabilities and has been training, in what looks like the eastern monasteries of India or China or else, in the arts of the spirit associated with the body. The Fire Nation has killed his teachers and his fellow children in the monastery.
It appears that a traitor has facilitated these killings for in the later events the airbender gets arrested for the second time by the help of a priest from his own Air Nation while he was thinking no one was left alive of his colleagues and his teacher, who appears with him in many silent shots as if the relationship between them was that of great love, of affection and solid togetherness.
This priest is the traitor, then, who remained alive, and caused the fall of the monastery and all its priests whose potential exceeded those of the other Nations. Treason explains how the Fire Nation was enabled to add the Air Nation which is superior to it in terms of capacities, to nations under its control.
The priest, after luring him into the middle of the temple to be arrested, says to the airbender: "I have lived in poverty because of your absence my avatar, so you will forgive me for what happened today!" Then one of the officers stuffs a sum of money in the hands of the priest as a reward for drawing the avatar into the temple, for he is still young and has not completed his training.
Why is the airbender so young in the first place? How come he is a priest? Are there functions from other cultures that can associate childhood with fire and incarnation with offerings?