Ethos Education

Avatar: What constitutes a healthy life?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Explore religious attitudes to healthy living e.g. physical and mental health.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect on what living a fully healthy life involves.
  • Analyse Bible verses to determine the Christian view of holistic personhood.
  • Evaluate the choices made by a film director to communicate his message.
  • Evaluate the balance between the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual elements of our lives.
  • Synthesise learning by applying principles to students’ own lives. Encourage self-reflection by writing in response to what they have learnt.


Ask students if they can think of any ways to keep healthy. You could hold up 5 pieces of fruit and veg and ask if eating those today will make you healthier. Should it be more – could it be less? How did the government come up with the ‘5 A Day’ slogan, and does it have any scientific basis?

Explain that today’s lesson will be thinking about our whole selves, not just our bodies, and how we keep healthy in all areas of our lives.


Introduce the clip from the film Avatar (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2009, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Avatar is a film about a group of humans who infiltrate an alien tribe, the Na’vi, using laboratory-grown host bodies (the ‘avatars’ of the title) to try and win the Na’vi’s trust so they can exploit their planet’s resources. In this scene we see a group of the human scientists, headed by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), preparing to ‘put on’ their avatars.

  • Start time: 0.54.22 (in chapter 14 of the DVD)
  • End time: 1.00.13
  • Clip length: 5 minutes and 51 seconds

The clip starts with Dr Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) walking into the deserted labs and starting to switch lights on. The first line is Grace saying, ‘Welcome to camp.’ The clip ends after Jake (Sam Worthington) in his avatar body makes a huge leap down in the forest, with his fall broken by several large plant leaves. Please note that this clip includes some mild swearing, which you may consider to make it inappropriate for your students.

Ask the students to sum up Jake’s attitude towards the beliefs and values of the Na’vi. Why do they think that he regarded her spiritual belief as ‘tree-hugger crap’? Why did Grace urge Jake not just to focus on ‘the eye-hand co-ordination’? To what extent do the students think about health and learning as relating to different aspects of their lives? Are there any parallels between the differing views of the fictional Jake and Grace and anything that the students would recognise as belonging in the real world?

Ask the students if they were surprised that Sigourney Weaver’s character, a doctor, was seen smoking in the clip. Give out copies of the article Avatar joins Holiday movies that fail an antismoking test from the New York Times website. You can find the article at

Ask the students if they agree with the objections of Stanton A. Glantz, the director of the Centre for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California. Do you think that the inclusion of a character like Grace Augustine makes Avatar a film with ‘a pro-smoking message’?

Ask the students what they think of movie director James Cameron’s reasons for choosing to depict Grace as a smoker. Cameron says ‘from a character perspective, we were showing that Grace doesn’t care about her human body, only her avatar body, which again is a negative comment about people in our real world living too much in their avatars, meaning online and in video games.’ Do the students agree with him that it is undesirable to separate our bodies and minds this way? Is it possible to view different aspects of our lives as completely separate?

Read Mark 12:28-31. How does Jesus summarise the greatest commandment? What elements does it say are involved in loving God with our whole selves? Explain that the Bible describes humans as ‘holistic’ creatures – mind, body and spirit, all of which are indivisible – rather than simply minds or bodies or spirits. Other examples of this can be found in Romans 12:1-2 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.

In pairs, get students to examine the case study cards and answer the following two questions for each one:

  • Is this a healthy way of living?
  • What part or parts of their life – mental, spiritual, physical, emotional – is the person described neglecting?


Ask the students to write up a summary of their findings of the worksheet case studies. Their summaries should include their answers to the two questions above. Students should also include brief statement outlining their understanding of Christian teaching regarding a holistic view of human nature.


  • A copy of the DVD Avatar and the means to play it.
  • Bibles.
  • Case Study cards.
  • 5 pieces of fruit if you choose to use visual aids for the starter activity.
  • Copies of the article Avatar joins Holiday movies that fail an antismoking test from the New York Times website.

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