Exodus, Sci-Fi., and the Colonial Impulse
I think it was a good decision to get rid of cable this past fall and just have the internet as my sole source of entertainment. I signed up for Netflix the same day I got rid of cable. Needless to say, I've been watching a whole lot more movies. In fact, Janka and I so enjoyed our winter evenings together, cuddling by the fire, turning on the Christmas lights, and watching movies with the laptop on our laps. Well maybe that last part isn't so romantic. In any case, we caught up on a wide variety of films. I've been contributing some articles on the Bible and film to the forthcoming Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception History, so I've been thinking a great deal about how movies convey and repackage certain biblical themes.
One of the movies Janka and I watched this past week was Dune, the David Lynch film based upon the novel by Frank Herbert. Neither of us had ever seen it before. I was struck by how the story encompassed key narrative themes of the Exodus event. The main character, raised in a royal household, exchanges his power to become the redeemer for an oppressed race whose resources are being exploited by an oppressive imperial power. When you think about it, this is quite a common narrative for science fiction flicks. The wildly popular Avatar had the same basic storyline. The Matrix films also shared a similar narrative. All of these films portray a main character undergoing personal sacrifice for the redemptive purpose of a group, a sort of retelling of the Exodus and Passion stories.
What strikes me in particular about Dune and Avatar, however, was that the main character was an outsider, one who came from a supposedly more advanced society to learn the simple native ways. Both Dune and Avatar played on the "noble savage" motif that one often finds in accounts of encounters between Westerners and Native Americans in films like Dances with Wolves. This element bothers me, maybe because it is so blatantly colonial. But is it part of the Exodus narrative? True, Moses had an Egyptian sounding name, and was raised in the oppressor's household--but there is no doubt that he was an Israelite. Why are contemporary audiences captivated instead by narratives in which the person from the more "advanced" or "developed" society comes to "natives" to learn their ways and lead them to redemption. I wonder if my post-colonial theorist friends would reply that the Moses story is just too dangerous for colonial imaginations. A "native" learning the oppressors' ways and then returning to liberate his or her own people is a far more subtle and dangerous narrative, probably not the stuff of fantasy-laden Hollywood movies. Fancy that! Exodus just might tell a narrative so subtly dangerous in its prophetic call for liberation that even David Lynch had to tone it down.