Most sci-fi thrillers have an obsession with religious symbolism. Throughout literature, many authors have given their protagonists "savior" complexes. In ancient civilizations, heroes were modeled after demigods and gods. In the perfect Greek tragedy, the hero always has a fatal flaw. For Achilles, it was his heel. It is only natural that as society moved away from mythology it would reinvent heroes and heroines from religious symbolism.
Growing up, I was always fascinated with the prevalence of religious symbolism in the "secular" world. In college, my analysis of Young Goodman Brown and Hard Times's Sissy Jupe centered on the savior analogies and symbolism. Religious symbolism in literature during the Victorian age is not shocking. However, what amazed me was religious symbolism in thriller and suspense novels, particularly while reading John LeCarre's A Small Town in Germany. It was my first time straying from "classical" literature. It was required reading from my eclectic Freshman Seminar professor. The reading list started with Something Wild, A Small Town in Germany, On Christian Liberty, Dialogues in Two Sciences, to the Making of the Middle Ages. By the end of the semester, Gregorian chant music made an entrance.
A Small Town in Germany utterly intrigued me. It is the only LeCarre novel that I have read and I went down the rabbit hole with him. Unlike D.H. Lawrence, LeCarre's use of symbolism is not blatant, but a subtle use of naturalism, realism, and symbolism combined. I followed LeCarre's cue and wrote a paper about the Christ-like symbolism, starting with "Good Friday" and the descent into hell ("the glory hole") as the death and resurrection.
After reading LeCarre, I began to pay attention to sci-fi movies that became block busters, like Star Wars, Matrix, and Lord of Rings. One theme was consistent: there was a fallen world, a dark presence taking over, and the need for a savior (sound familiar - Riddick and Terminator). As we enter the Easter season, indulge me while I analyze Sci-Fi's obsession with the crucifixion, death, and resurrection through five thrillers: Avatar, Star Wars, Matrix, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.
Let us begin in the Garden of Eden, or sci-fi's Avatar. The premise of Avatar sounds so reminiscent of the book of Genesis that it is hardly a stretch of the imagination to see the similarities and symbolism. In Genesis, God makes man and woman and gives them dominion over the beasts of the field and fowls of air. He places them in the Garden of Eden and tells them of everything they are free to eat except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the movie Avatar, the indigenous Na'vi tribe is one with nature and animals. They have a connection to all living things from their tree of life, HomeTree, and mother goddess, Eywa. Just as in the Garden of Eden, a serpent enters the Na'vi tribe, the RDA using former Marine, Jake Sully, to deceive Eve (aka Neytiri) to manipulate HomeTree.
Although Jake Sully initially starts out as an agent for evil, in the end he finds redemption to save the Na'vi tribe and HomeTree. It is essential that the Jake Sully is a flawed individual physically and morally. Throughout Biblical history, flawed men are used to show God's love for humanity through grace and redemption. The disciples were a rag tag group, not from the religious elite but ordinary men who had an encounter with the extraordinary spiritual being. Jake's lack of faith in Eywa and HomeTree is necessary. Unlike Dr. Grace Augustine and her followers (John the Baptist like), Jake is not sure of Eywa or HomeTree. He simply wants to walk again and if delivering HomeTree to RDA will give him his life, he will betray the Na'vi. Fortunately, his end is not that of Judas, but of a redeemed Paul who after persecuting believers has his own transformation becoming the cornerstone for reconciliation with Neytiri and faith renewal among the Na'vi. He is born again and made whole by Eywa after his sacrifice for the tribe.
Avatar's symbolism is rather blatant. In Part 2, we shall discover the dark side that exists in all of us. We must choose to follow good (the Force) or give in to the dark side of humanity.
This originally appeared on Ronda's blog, Ronda-isms: Good Bad Ugly.