Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Last Airbender

Finding God amidst all the bad press...

The reviews for M. Night Shyamalan's latest film, The Last Airbender, have been horrible - to say the least. It scores a whooping 7% amongst film critics on Rotten Tomatoes (which means that only 7% of all major reviewers thought the film was better than average).

After seeing the movie (and agreeing with most of the critics that this was, in fact, a poorly acted and directed film), I was tempted to ignore this film on my blog. I thought: If few people liked the movie, why even bother writing about it?

But this thought process reminded me of a story in the Book of Genesis, where Abraham walks with God and asks him to spare Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction if there are at least ten good people within the city (see Gen. 18:20-33). And since there are indeed people out there who did like the movie (including someone who went with me), I will not destroy this movie in this Spiritual Popcorn review.

At its core, The Last Airbender tells a captivating mythological story of a time when the earth is divided into four groups of people, each connected to one of the four elements: earth, wind, fire, and water. With the guidance of an "avatar," these four nations are balanced and at peace with one another. But when the most recent "avatar," Aang (Noah Ringer), runs from his newfound responsibility - the earth comes off-balance, peace is eradicated, and nations rise up against each other in war. For 100 years, Aang disappears - and in that time, the Fire Nation destroys the peaceful monks of the air, subjugates the simple people of the earth, and goes head to head with the arctic tribes of the water.

The movie picks up the story when Aang reappears after a century of absence. His journey is to reconcile people together by gaining mastery over all the elements (since he was raised by the airbenders before he ran away, his only tool at this point is controlling the wind). Meanwhile, the Fire Nation seeks to destroy any hope of reconciliation - for this will mean a surrender of their power and a retreat to equality with the other nations.

So, despite some bad acting, poorly executed CGI and 3D effects, and an unfortunate script, the core of The Last Airbender is one of peace and reconciliation, of balance and equality. In our own world torn by war between the West and the Middle East, this story needs to be told.

This movie reminds us to pay attention to prophets of peace in our own time and place. Throughout history, the world has had a hard time accepting prophetic voices - from the prophets of Israel and Judah in the Hebrew Scriptures to nonviolent revolutionaries in modern times such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, and Mother Teresa. In many cases, like the Fire Nation in the movie, people have tried to kill and silence those voices, fearing what might happen if people actually listened to their words and followed their actions.

So beneath the bad press and underwelming reaction among fans for this movie - there lies a message of peace and harmony.

It is like the analogy Jesus made in the Gospels: "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of seeds but when fully grown, it becomes the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush and the birds of the sky come and rest in its branches." (Mt. 13:31-32).

At its core, The Last Airbender possesses a profound truth, but without looking deeper, beyond the critics and the naysayers, one might miss this mustard seed. God speaks to us at all times - in both good movies and bad ones, in both good life experiences and even in the worst of days.

This movie reminds us not to disregard any opportunity for God to share his word with us. Let us pray that we will always seek to find him - no matter how bad the reviews are or how dark our worst day might be... for God is always there.

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