Tag Archives: Avatar

Avatar, a Goddess Movie

The movie Avatar is setting some box office records. Since it’s fantasy/sci fi, my preferred genre, I decided to check it out.

Avatar is set at some time in the future, when humans have destroyed the green things on earth and are bent on spreading the destruction to a beautiful Eden-like planet, Pandora, six light-years away.  There’s a mineral there, “unobtanium” or something like that, which corporate greedsters will do anything to get. Unfortunately, the mineral underlies a major home base of the beings who inhabit Pandora.

The lead character, Jake Sully, is a marine confined to a wheelchair. He finds himself incorporated into a science experiment on Pandora where he guides a cloned Pandoran body from a special capsule. Although he has no ability to run in his regular body, he can command the cloned body as if it were his own. It’s the ultimate video game–he gets to become the character, at least as long as the character is awake.  I suppose this is the reason for the name of the movie. Avatar has come to mean “a computer user’s representation of himself,” according to Wikipedia.

As the story progresses, Jake’s alter ego learns the ways of the Pandorans. He falls in love.  He is supposed to be the intermediary between the colonialist humans and the Pandorans.  But the negotiations fail–the Pandorans don’t want to become anybody’s colony. Thanks to action on the part of the planet’s goddess, there is a happy ending, at the expense of the humans.

What do I think?

This movie promotes pantheism. The goddess Eywa is in everything and may respond to supplications, but she can’t be depended upon to take a moral position. She seeks balance, and may allow the bad guys their way for that reason.  She doesn’t seem to be a person, but more of a force. Actually, she seems to be The Force from Star Wars, renamed as feminine and re-cast in a gorgeous setting. I suppose she takes action here because her planet is threatened.

Clearly it isn’t a Christian movie.  So, should you let your kids see it?

Let’s compare it to the Harry Potter movies.  Many Christians objected to Harry Potter because there is sorcery involved.  The author, not a Christian, nevertheless creates a world where there are good wizards and evil wizards.  The good wizards struggle with the evil ones and eventually win. Can this be drawing our children into an acceptance of sorcery?  Could be, but I think most readers are able to see the moral tale. Of course, there is no personal God acting in the Harry Potter tales, so they are hardly uplifting.

Avatar however will tend to pull our children away from a moral way of seeing, toward a yin-yang mentality where good and evil are seen as two sides of the same coin, and the deity is in everything and inside us too. This balanced Eastern concept of God is entirely false, we know as Christians.  Where is the sinner in need of a savior?  Where is our holy God?

What’s particularly troubling is that, according to Becky Miller who did some research, there are some Christian bloggers who think this movie is Christian.  Are some in the church stepping onto the inviting slippery slope that Hollywood offers?

I would like to re-imagine this movie with Jehovah as the God who responds to supplications and saves the planet. He is holy and we are not. That would come out strongly. Through the work of Jesus, he has built a bridge to us. He hears our prayers. He acts. He heals. He guides. The resulting movie might be more like Raiders of the Lost Ark, or the Chronicles of Narnia.

Here’s my challenge to you, Christians in Hollywood:  create a new fantasy movie starring Jehovah. Thanks to the people who made Avatar, the tools are there to create a lush fantasy world that displays characters with human emotions.  Why not use this to tell the world about our loving, holy God?

Avatar, the Last Air Bender, a Review

Avatar, the Last Air Bender
The Complete Book 1 Collection: a DVD collection of the
anime cartoon series by Nickelodeon 2005
(Further DVD’s available for the rest of the series, through 2008)

Worldview:  Moral, without an apparent higher power. Eastern flavor; spirits occasionally join the action.

My kids enjoy watching DVD’s of this set of anime animated tales. It’s popular among their peers.  I think it’s time we took it apart.

One review pegs the creation of this series to the advent of Harry Potter, and a demand for more complex, fully-conceived children’s TV.  This series has an overarching story and an eventual final episode that wraps up the loose ends.  It has a well-formed story line.

It portrays a world where there are four nations. They are named after the elements: earth, water, air, and fire.  The conflict is provided by the Fire Nation, which is trying to take over the other nations and has, at the beginning of the series, succeeded in wiping out the Air Tribe–with the exception of Aang, who has been sleeping in a iceberg for 100 years.

Certain individuals in each tribe have super abilities called “bending,” which involve ability to use the element special to their tribe for martial-arts style fighting, or for feats of superhuman strength.  Others don’t have these abilities at all.  Benders in the Water Tribe can gesture to throw ice crystals. Benders in the Fire Nation can throw fire. Benders in the Earth Kingdom can gesture to throw rocks and open cracks in the earth. Air Nomad benders can create winds. There is only one individual who can learn to bend all four, and that is the Avatar.

The Avatar is assigned the task of bringing peace among the four nations.  It appears to be a position somewhat like the Tibetan Buddhists believe about the Dalai Lama.  When an Avatar dies, his spirit goes to the spirit world, and another Avatar is soon born and identified. So it’s sort of a reincarnation cycle. The Avatar dresses like a young Buddhist monk.

The Avatar at any given time has the ability to travel to the spirit world and discuss things with his predecessors. Since he can learn all types of bending, he can become very powerful. But the Avatar in these stories is only 12 years old and has a lot to learn. This is Aang.

It is never discussed where the Avatar’s assignment comes from.  Perhaps the writers of this series are assuming an Eastern sort of God, who isn’t a person at all but rather more of a life force.  In one episode the Moon is shown to be a person, of sorts, or a goddess? It’s not clear. However, my kids aren’t out to worship the moon goddess because of watching this episode. They can tell it is fantasy.

I believe the Eastern idea of morality is really more a matter of tribal loyalty. Instead of a story with bad guys and good guys, there would be a story of Group 1 versus Group 2.  The groups wouldn’t differ markedly except in their allegiances. (If I am wrong, please set me straight!)

But this set of tales is made by Nickelodeon, which is American. The writers are Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. These sound like American names, not Japanese names. I suppose this is why the bad guys, the Fire Nation, really do behave like bad guys.  The primary bad guy Fire Lord Ozai is ruthless, even to his son. My kids told me they think that the Fire Nation behaves like the Japanese did in World War II, trying to take over the world.

So the Avatar is a tale with a moral compass. It is full of well-developed characters, including plucky kids who don’t give up. There is a satisfying happy ending.  But the tale also has some Eastern mythology underlying it. You can decide whether to expose your kids to it.–Phyllis Wheeler