July 2nd, 2017

spock: logic is sexy

Star Trek Nostalgia

I rewatched Star Trek: Into the Darkness last night, and...I really love the movie. I wish that Kirk and McCoy did not sexually harass women. I wish that the role of Khan had not been given to a white guy. But in the storytelling sense, I think it's a really good movie.

I love that the characters' strength and maturity are tested by impossible dilemmas. Of course Spock wouldn't be willing to let a planet die after witnessing the destruction of his home world. Of course Kirk wouldn't let his first officer perish for the sake of a rule. Their response to those dilemmas creates a huge conflict rooted in their underlying cultural assumptions. Kirk, the brash American rule breaker, thinks it's just common sense to lie to Starfleet. Spock, on the other hand, has fought so hard to be considered Vulcan and now feels obligated to be the living embodiment of a culture someone tried to destroy. His response is totally Vulcan: tell the truth, make someone see the logic of the situation, and take full responsibility for it. Neither Kirk nor Spock understands each other's perspective, which puts a huge strain on their friendship. This is the kind of thing that happens all the time, both between individual personalities and different cultures trying to get along.

Another impossible dilemma appears when a beloved character is murdered, and the crew receives questionable orders to execute the killer. The right thing is to refuse completely, but only the oldest member of the senior staff -- Scotty -- can bring himself to do that. The rest of the crew goes with Kirk's "halfway" plan that actually makes matters worse. Chekov takes on responsibility he's not ready for. Sulu feels ambivalent about being in the captain's chair. Uhura behaves unprofessionally by starting a relationship argument on a dangerous away mission. After that, you get the second half of the movie, which is basically everyone repairing their mistakes. Uhura tries to negotiate with the Klingons by herself. Spock tricks Khan to save the Enterprise. Kirk immediately calls Scotty to admit his mistake and ask for help, then sacrifices himself for his ship. All this contrasts with Admiral Marcus, who responds to his mistake by trying to kill everyone. He claims he's looking out for Starfleet, but he's really trying to avoid responsibility for his decisions.

I've heard people claim it's not a Star Trek movie because they characters do not behave admirably. I agree. It's better than the original movies because the characters make mistakes and have to fight their way back from them. Underneath all the character conflicts is the moral dilemma of targeted killing and clandestine warfare, which we have engaged in heavily since 9/11. The movie concludes by telling us that seeking revenge is natural after loved ones have died but will turn us into the very thing we are fighting against. As someone who lived less than a mile from the World Trade Center after 9/11, I find that a very powerful message.