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Movie Critic Article (4/5): On The Last Airbender


Shades of Philosophy

 in "The Last Airbender"

 Original Article by Muhsin Khalid*

Part Four

Our previous questions at the end of part three have positive answers to them. Leviticus of the Bible can provide a lot of inspiration in this matter. The purpose of recalling all these religious, philosophical, historical and legendary materials  is to prove that the origin of all these human conceptions, as I see it, must have been one and the same niche. The ancient Egyptian concept of relating the start of life to water can help explain all subsequent conceptions, which branched or evolved from this vision or was inspired by it. This vision, in my view, clearly bears reference to the story of Noah.

So Thales' (635 B.C.) principle of the basic unity as the origin of existence which is evident in his famous mantra (water is the origin of all things) is nothing but an idea derived from this first Pharaonic spring of water chaos or Nu from which the god Atum came into being. Ancient Pharaonic beliefs are abundant in Thales' philosophy for he belonged to the school of Alexandria and lived in Egypt for some time but this is a long chapter that does not concern us for now. My focus is being on his adoption of the idea of ​​water from the Pharaohs, in order for it to proceed as an idea into the future, and be expressed by the Qur'anic verse (We made from water every living thing) verse 30, Surat Al-Anbiya.

This mantra of Thales had an exceptional importance in Greek philosophy due to the fact that the famous philosophers which were known as natural philosophers based their work primarily on expanding this argument of Thales that traced existence back to water.They added to this concept the other founding elements: air, fire and earth. Hence Greek philosophy was able to generate a dialogue with existence and study it as a reality rather than a mythology. Those natural philosophers established a new idea that the authority or reference point for existence involves these four foundations: earth, water, air and fire.
Noah's Ark- Courtsey

In order not to overload  the article suffice it to reach this stage of the natural philosophers and their perceptions of the nature of existence, and the emergence of the singular wordair’, which also appears in the name of the movie in conjunction with the other singular word ‘bender’.
Going back to the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, or Torah, as in the Muslim culture, we find that it consists of twenty-seven books, which are in turn, subdivided into many chapters.  Among these many books we find one that is called Leviticus. So the layman or the group of Levites (priests and laymen) have an entire book of their own inside the Old Testament.
It is that same book which contains the famous commandment urging  people to love their relatives as much as themselves {Do not avenge nor bear any grudge to the children of thy people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord} Leviticus 18-19. Which is prescribed later by Islam in what Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had said that was narrated by Bukhari and Muslim {None of you believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself}.

I find clarifying this point necessary to deconstruct the codes in this film because we have said that the airbender was a priest in the eastern way who lived in a monastery and that he was left alone and lonely after his people were exterminated. Despite all this he had to salvage these nations with all their different elements from the grip of the Fire Kingdom and also to love the Fire nation as he loved himself. And this love was made clear when the son of the chief of the Fire Nation captured the avatar for the first time and directly upon finding him. He was captured three times during the movie. The young avatar could have resisted on the spot but the prince threatened that if he thought of resistance, the soldiers would destroy the village of the Water Nation which gave refuge to the avatar. This, of course, was after he was found exhausted by the young man and his sister who brought him home on the back of the bison which is portrayed as a legendary creature that was trapped with the airbender under the ice for a hundred years. It is worth contemplating that legendary bison.  For besides its strange shape it was able to walk, swim and fly which reflects a hidden symbolism of the power of the airbender which makes him able to control all the four powers.

White Buffalo Woman
The word bison roots back to the ancient Greeks. The animal itself is an undisputed symbol of the American West and its cultures just as the rhinoceros is to the Sudanese of Africa. Its appearance in the heart of this film is not without significance. It is inspiring to many viewers in its white color and much so when we realize that the film is completely devoid of horses. The buffalo in American Indian mythology, especially a white-colored one, is considered a sacred animal just like the bull to the Kushites (it is the logo of the Archaeolgy periodical-Arkamani). The bull was in fact the logo for many old civilizations. As such we remember the winged Assyrian bull which is a pagan distortion to the entrance of the town of Torit in South Sudan as I have shown in my article "the Cities of Names".
The film has this old name bison and not buffalo. In the dictionaries the word "buffalo" is a modern name coined by the French. The bison in the times of myths was thought to bring luck and to be a good sign especially among tribes such as the Lakota Sioux.

White Bison
I want to stress on the point that there are no horses in this movie by reviewing the myth of "The White Buffalo Woman" the most famous in the American Indian heritage. This legend usually begins with the stock phrase: "Once upon a time before horses were created..." It tells that  a strange woman approached a meeting of the council of elders of the buffalo nation in one of the days of famine and gave them a sacred pipe made from the bone of a calf (link this to the sacred calf in Jewish and ancient Egyptian cultures). Then she knelt toward each of the four directions of the earth and told them "You are from mother Earth". On leaving them she turned into a white female buffalo!  A white bison in the American Indian culture was thus associated with the "seven sacred council fires" of the Lakota Sioux who are also known as the Buffalo Nation or "Tatanka Oyate”.

Then this boy who rides a weird bison that is able to walk, swim and fly and who mentally controls the quadruple authority of existence and is named the airbender is, in the language of contemporary physics, the hero of all things or The Grand
Unified Hero
This is to borrow from the research in the great Grand Unified Theory (GUT) which is a comprehensive theory that is adopting the ways of early natural philosophers in trying to limit the forces of existence to three basic forces: strong nuclear power, weak nuclear power and electromagnetic power in an attempt  to unite these forces in one whole that makes it easy for us to grasp the question of existence all at once.

It is evident here that legend is the origin of all knowledge, or rather, there is basically no legend, but an eternal dream to understand and interpret the universe. A dream that is still going on although intermittently. A dream that is vague in itself  but suitably labeled in accordance with the specifications of the current myth which itself is only relatively true. I have tackled such a notion my novel "Coordinates of a Man”.
To confirm this question of a quadruple legend on which are built the structures and the essence of existence, Physics has retracted and amended the triple number of the forces to make it exactly quadruple just like the ancient natural philosophers of whom Empedoclis (490-430 B.C.) was the first to postulate a theorem of four founding elements for existence. This  development in physics is hailed as the all effective theory and named The Theory of Everything (TOE).

After the scientists have added the fourth power (gravity) to the above-mentioned three , the powers consolidated, that could explain the universe are: strong nuclear power, weak nuclear, electromagnetic power and gravity. Thus we have a theory of all things (TOE) or, if you will, the myth of all myths, relative to our time!

I must draw your attention and reiterate that the film literally adopts the views of the Greek philosopher (Anaximane of Milet) who believed that it was air that was the origin of existence and not , as believed Thales, water. Anaximane was afilliated  to the Ionian school of philosophers which was somewhat older than the school of natural philosophers of whom Empedoclis suggested the four elements: air, fire, water and earth.
The Four Elements
On going back to the movie, we find that this young hero could have total control of the four elements, but nevertheless his name is based on only one them, airbender. So we can say that he draws from the views of Anaximane but the design of the movie is based entirely on the views of the natural philosopher Empedoclis as it deals with the four worlds although it assigns a leadership role to this priest of the Air Nation that gives him alone the ability to unite and subordinate the other elements.

Once again, why was the hero of the film a child? 
This reading which derives, and sometimes, invents philosophical shades for the movie in a parallel structure, without arriving at an answer to this question will lead us, I believe, into the details of Leviticus of the Old Testament.
* Muhsin Khalid is a novelist, short story writer and a scholar. He lives in London, UK.


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