Digging Deeper into Film: in which we examine the underlying worldview of 2009’s Star Trek (Part 1)

Star Trek has been on my mind a lot lately. Sunday evening I watched the movie with several of the youth from church in our newly inaugurated movie discussion nights. I’m the facilitator for these discussions, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the film leading up to, and apparently well after, the end of the film.

I’ve long ranked myself among the rising tide of geekery that this country has seen in the last few decades. Star Trek is part of that, though I was never a fan of The Original Series (TOS). This may be blasphemy to some, but Picard was a better captain, folks. TOS had some very interesting ideas, but they were not executed well, in my opinion. However, J. J. Abrams’ 2009 re-imagining of TOS characters converted me. The writing and acting were great, the music by Michael Giacchino (Lost, Super 8, Mission Impossible–Ghost Protocol, and several Pixar movies) is superb, the special effects were a feast for the eyes (whereas TOS’s were distractingly poor, even if they were excellent for the time), and best of all William Shatner did not get a cameo! But those are all superficial things—things that everyone walks away thinking or talking about. But there’s a deeper level worth plumbing.

In the Star Trek universe, humanity has united. They have eliminated poverty (and currency), hunger, etc. Everyone works for the common good. Sound familiar? A place called the Soviet Union tried this experiment once. China’s trying it right now and has survived only because they haven’t been rigorous in their Marxism. Now there is nothing to suggest that Gene Roddenberry set out to push subversive Communism when he created Star Trek. In fact, Communism looks great on paper—everyone equal, working for the common good, no one in need. These are great things to wish for, but can a society actually achieve them? Star Trek essentially says— given enough education, knowledge, and technology— mankind can evolved beyond these societal problems. It makes for great science fiction, but mankind has been increasing in knowledge and technology for thousands of years—at what point will we reach this magical moment?

All of this is predicated on the assumption that people are basically good at heart. Many, maybe most people believe this. Who wouldn’t? It’s easier than considering the cynical alternative that humans are basically only interested in looking after number one. In a universe without God, without something to believe in, the best shot we’ve got is that somewhere buried under layers and layers of greed, ego, and slavery to our appetites, we have a soft gooey center of selflessness. One has only to watch young children at play to see that “mine” is a favorite word.

I’m something of a pessimist, so it’s easier for me to consider this notion than it probably is for optimists. Whatever your leaning, the fact remains that Star Trek, like most other Sci-Fi (and other kinds of movies and books as well), holds an underlying worldview. I’m not writing this to debate whether it’s right or wrong, per se, because I doubt this will convince anybody one way or the other. But I do think that we shouldn’t check our brains at the door to the theatre. (Yes, I like spelling it that way.)

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