This is the story of the end of a long-forgotten world. This world is divided into nations who live by their ability to control severally the elements. A world divided into elements which are tied magically to people tends to reduce soul to body.
The fire Nation is the great antagonist in this story. It resembles modern science: It breaks things to pieces, which explode, & are made into new things. The things themselves do not appear entirely amenable to this process. It has reduced being to power; the abstract universality of power obviously suggests world conquest.
There also appear to be spirits superior to the elements. They are partial, therefore it would appear to consist in awareness of the whole, embodied by the Avatar. He is a boy who happens to be the reincarnation. He dislikes this predicament & runs away from his monastery. What kept all other reincarnations from doing the same? His awareness is dubious. He abandoned his responsibilities, therefore he was never trained. Whatever knowledge could be had, he decided in ignorance.
The Fire nation seems to rule tyrannically. We may believe they are wrong – because cruel, violent, & too much like us – but what is the alternative? They kill the spirits which are supposed to protect the way of things very easily. It appears things could go another way than the way they previously had. Power & spirit seem so different that people’s beliefs do not prepare them to survive & power does nothing to prevent the return of barbarism.
Presumably, our Avatar is the Air nation because air is less obvious than the other elements. & because it is what we breathe to survive. Controlling one’s breath leads to controlling one’s passions; it can prevent anger in particular & save one’s life. On the other side, air is invisible & may therefore appear to be mystical. The Air nation seems to stand for Eastern mysticism, which includes the belief that there are no accidents, but everything is done by will, or spirits.
If Fire is an image of the new science, hell-bent on the conquest of nature, the rest need not be nature as originally discovered – consider that Water is not the central element – but the world as it appeared to people before nature was discovered. Reincarnation presupposes that there are no accidents – for otherwise, how could we know such a body embodies such another? – & that life does not end with death. This tends to blur the distinction between human beings & other beings, as well between one living being & others, or being as such. This seems to remove any distinctiveness of the human being, even power, & therefore undercuts human action.
A movie made after a show very popular with kids