Recent months have brought us two new alien peoples and two conflicted heroes wrestling with their identity. In Avatar, Jake Sully takes on the body of a Na’vi while in District 9, Wikus van der Merwe is exposed to an alien product that turns him into a ‘prawn’ (a humanoid-arthropod-alien).
I suspect that District 9 has more to teach us about the cross-cultural experience than Avatar for the following reasons:
- Wikus becomes an alien by accident, while Jake volunteers for the role;
- Wikus finds the process painful, while Jake finds it liberating;
- Wikus struggles to understand prawn culture, while Jake takes to being Na’vi like a fish to water;
- Wikus isn’t warmly welcomed into the prawn community in the way Jake is to the Na’vi;
- Similarly, the Na’vi are willing to teach Jake their ways, while Wikus bumbles through without much help;
- Wikus is excluded from the people he came from, while Jake finds he bonds even closer to the Scientists due to embracing Na’vi culture; and
- Wikus still longs for things (like his wife) from his previous life after becoming a prawn, while Jake happily gives everything away.
And so I have found myself scoffing at how unrealistic the representation of Jake’s experience is compared to Wikus’. However, I’ve begun to wonder if Jake’s experience is actually like that which we are promised as Christians when we become citizens of heaven: we are involved in the decision-making process; it’s liberating; we have the Spirit to help us with a new way of life; we’re welcomed as family; we have the ultimate handbook; we can love people better; and we can joyfully put off our old life…