Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Star Trek for Today

May 18, 2009

Watching movies must be my all-time favorite hobby, not least because they help me think. I don’t even have to agree with a movie in order to like it. I just want it to ask good questions and attempt to answer them with some intelligence. For attention-deficient people like me, movies do what books and plays did for previous generations.

Don’t get me wrong: the medium has its limits. I recently read Twilight before I saw the movie, and the book was way better. Two-hour movies can’t always capture everything, like subtle character development or the passage of time. But movies serve as insightful windows into the thoughts and dreams of the cultures that produce them.

Consider the long stream of Star Trek episodes and movies, which saw their latest installment this month, borne out of the prolific minds of J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof (the producers of LOST). Like any franchise that survives a succession of decades, Star Trek tells us a lot about the changes that have taken place since the series began.

Stanley Grenz argued that the replacement of Spock (from the late 60’s) with Data (in the early 90’s) illustrates the shift in our cultural values from the former generation to the next one. Spock was a purely rational being (even if he was half-human), a cool, objective bystander to the human condition, who judged Kirk’s dilemmas from his unaffected left-brain perspective. (Incidentally, some have also noted how the moody Dr. McCoy personified the other half.) Data, on the other hand, is not so purely logical (despite the fact that he is just an android). In fact, he seems preoccupied with becoming human, as if he is on a perpetual search of self. Grenz explains that this mirrors the shift from modernism to post-modernism. Spock represented the fully matured product of the Enlightenment, which taught us to trust Reason and pursue Science as the solution to every problem that life can throw our way.

But then Science failed us. The closer we looked into the make-up of our universe the more our neat categories crumbled and dissolved into uncertainties. Now mystery permeates all we do, just as Data is always mystified by events and by the choices of the strange creatures around him. Data represents the postmodern recasting of Spock, Grenz says, and he represents a sea change in our ideals. I would have to agree.

In fact, Zachary Quinto’s 2009 version of Spock does much the same thing, except with perhaps even more boldness. Now we’ve become so skeptical of Reason that we feel the need to rewrite the canon, making even Spock himself as susceptible to subjective bias as anyone else. In Abram’s movie, Spock is romantically involved with Uhura (who could blame him?), something unthinkable in Leonard Nimoy’s earlier incarnation. Quinto’s Spock is flappable and sensitive to insults (don’t talk about my momma!). Therefore he is no more infallible at the helm than any of us would be. Fascinating.

But perhaps most obvious of all (to me) is that James T. Kirk’s history has been rewritten. Previously, as the story goes, Kirk became captain of the Enterprise with his own father proudly looking on. But this 2009 retelling of the story goes back and writes the father out of our hero’s life. A Romulan bad guy goes back in time and kills Kirk’s father just as the young Jim is being born. Now Kirk grows up unruly, undisciplined, thrill-seeking his way through Iowa with no father to tell him which way is up. This is the kind of protagonist that the child of today can identify with. He’s brash, irreverent, impulsive, sex-crazed, and yes, fatherless. Makes perfect sense, really.

The new Star Trek brilliantly goes where no prequel has gone before: It alters the space-time continuum, creating an alternate reality in which characters’ stories can now be rewritten at the complete discretion of the producers. That’s a masterful stroke, really. I trust the newer incarnation of Star Trek will thrill fanboys as much as the new Batman movies do the comic book crowd. I wish all reboots were in their league, but alas.

At any rate, there’s my observation for the day. The new Captain Kirk fits our generation as well as the new Spock does. We no longer worship rationality as we once did, and we no longer identify with well-adjusted heroes. But then again, what comic book hero didn’t lose his parents at some point in his childhood?

Like I said, fascinating.

The Imitation of Christ…(not)

February 6, 2007

Since I am not greatly bothered by movies that are “dark,” I happen to like a movie called The Game, starring Michael Douglas. In this movie, a mysterious business establishment provides their clients with carefully-staged situations that push them to their personal limits. It’s called “The Game,” and it freaks Douglas out. It’s like they know everything he is going to do before he does it. Before the game begins, they study their clients so thoroughly that they can predict with astounding accuracy what they will do under any imaginable circumstance. In a sense, they can control every detail of his or her life for a time, but without ever actually tampering with their ability to choose what they will.

Phillip Yancey once said that a master chess player can determine the outcome of a match by knowing his opponent so well that he can anticipate his next move. Yancey suggests that this may help explain how a God who is technically “supposed to” avoid tampering with our free wills could make all things work according to His will anyway. He’s smart enough to know exactly what we would do in any situation, and therefore can lead us where He will without actually “making” us do anything.

Of course, the whole “foreknowledge” thing is just a human idea anyway, since time means little to a God who is both Alpha and Omega. He could just as well be working backwards from the end. All of our causal relationships (that’s causal, not casual) presuppose time. This thing happens first, so then this thing happens next. But what if you lived life backwards, like Merlin on The Sword in the Stone? You’d get mixed up about what “causes” what after all.

But I suppose, to some degree, God’s timelessness helps us understand how He can do what he does. If you’ve ever seen Groundhog Day, you may remember the scene where Phil can tell Rita everything about everyone in Punxsutawney.

Rita: Is this some kind of trick?

Phil: Maybe the real God uses tricks. Maybe He’s not omnipotent. He’s just been around so long, He knows everything.

I love it. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time. And it’s not dark. Phil uses his knowledge of people to accomplish just about everything he can imagine. That’s a powerful position to be in.

But we’ve got more than a God who can just predict our every move. We have a God who comes to indwell us. Like my wife who has a little someone indwelling her right now 🙂 (Carter #4) Over time it gets difficult to say what’s happening because she wants it and what’s happening because the baby wants it. The two are mixed together for a time so that whatever happens to one happens to the other. She’s not just being “indwelt;” their lives are joined together. It’s really a beautiful thing.

Now for my C.S. Lewis quote of the day:

You see, we are now trying to understand, and to separate into water-tight compartments, what exactly God does and what man does when God and man are working together…. But this way of thinking breaks down. God is not like that. He is inside you as well as outside: even if we could understand who did what, I do not think human language could properly express it.

It won’t stop us from trying to explain it though. As Norman Grubb used to say, we’ve got God within and without. That pretty much puts Him on the throne.

And it should caution us against trying too hard to figure out whether our actions are our own or God’s. In the end, they both look the same. They even feel the same most of the time. About the only difference is that Life results from His activity in and through us. If Life comes out of what we did, you can bet He was hiding in there somewhere.

With all due respect to Thomas a Kempis, never mind the imitation of Christ. This is better than that… It’s Christ’s imitation of you.