Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Star Trek (2009) - Themes and Motifs

As far as Themes and Motifs are concerned, there are only two themes, and no real motifs unless you count "live long and prosper," which I only half-count because it's a Vulcan saying. I guess we could also talk about time travel. Also, the themes that were chosen were very over done, simple themes. I guess the themes were chosen because they were approachable, simple, and easy. This adds to the approachable nature this film was trying to accomplish. So I won't bash this film for picking such simple themes when it had the opportunity to discuss much more. Instead, I will bash this movie for not doing a good job discussing these themes.

So we'll start with the first obvious theme: Emotion vs. Logic. I'm starting at the peak of the mountain, so as we progress into this part of the breakdown, I'm afraid the nice things will become more and more rare. As I covered in The Overview and in The Plot, this theme is a very basic, very easy one to discuss. I also said that the movie only did an average job in discussing the theme. Let's elaborate. Emotion vs. Logic is really only discussed within Spock's subplot and character arc. In some ways, it's exciting to see Spock Prime, because with his presence we are almost doubly reminded that he's more a main character than Kirk. We also see what Spock will become, but instead of seeing like how we saw Kirk's father, we see it through time travel. This helps explore Spock more deeply, and we can really see the conflict within him. In most of the scenes we deal with Spock and his mother. It's obvious from the very beginning that Spock is dichotomous, but that he values his humanity, is proud of it, despite the Vulcans referring to it as a weakness. Still, as we see in his drive and motivation, he hides his half human side, as if it were a weakness. All of this truly helps discuss emotion vs. logic. When we see Spock as a child, beating the shit out of another kid, and then we see him choke Kirk, many years later, out of the same frustration and rage, the audience really captures and understand the conflict. And Spock's father even admits to having married Spock's mom solely because he loved her. Showing there is a time to let emotions get the better of you. But this is the deepest we dive into this long-discussed conflict. We never see Spock take a moment, think about this conflict, and reach any conclusion however ambiguous or transparent, about emotion and logic and their relationship. Sure, Spock and Spock Prime have an extremely brief conversation, but this, again, isn't Spock deciding for himself. It's future Spock cheating the natural progression of Spock's development and pushing him ahead without understanding, or at least without us seeing this understanding. Not to mention how weak an understanding it is. It's no more than, "just do what you feel is right, just this once, rather than what's logical." And then we're done. It's over. And the audience is left with something they've heard a thousand times before, and aren't moved, unless you count moved towards the exits of the theater. ...Or maybe a trash can in order to vomit up the cliche overload.

So the next theme is friendship. Again, another over done theme. Again, it is undermined by Spock Prime. His very presence in the movie, beyond fanservice, is baffling to me, and I feel like he came back in time just so he could ruin this movie. He comes back and gives the protagonists everything they need, successfully destroying any semblance of rising action. Then he ruins the friendship arc by showing up and talking to young Kirk, talking to him about being friends, letting Kirk get to know Spock but without Spock knowing it. He does show up at the end to try and make up for the fact that Spock didn't have a completed character arc, but it's still cheap and terrible. Imagine if Spock had to make a difficult decision in the showdown with Nero, where Kirk helped him, and it really pressed his conflict with Emotion vs. Logic, and THEN he had some conversation with his future self. And what if Spock Prime had destroyed Romulus instead of letting it be destroyed, because he had to save thousands of others or something for some reason? Then they'd have something deep to discuss, something worth our time, thematically, emotionally, as well as it be exciting because they're the same person. Instead nothing. Okay let's stay focused: Kirk and Spock don't slowly become friends at all in the beginning, despite working together and both coming through admirably in different ways, Kirk seeing Spock suffer hardship with the loss of his homeworld and mother, nothing. Then Spock kicks Kirk off the ship and maroons him on some magic planet where everything they needed was right there, along with Spock Prime to do all the necessary explaining, too. Here Kirk is talked to by future Spock about how they're friends, and they even have a sweet moment about cheating, which is ironic because they have successfully cheated Spock and Kirk out of the natural growing friendship. Kirk acts nicer to Spock, once he becomes captain, that is, but only because of his experience with Spock Prime. Spock is a little confused by this, but he doesn't suddenly want to be his buddy. And then they're friends at the end, after the whole ordeal, but we never see that moment where they really needed to team up, really needed to come together. They go off on a mission together, but not on agreeable terms, and they never have a moment during the mission. Even if they kept the plot the same, before Spock went off in the ship, asking Kirk to say something to Uhura if he didn't make it, this could have been a brief, real moment between them. Even a small piece of dialogue, where Kirk promises to tell Uhura something personal from Spock, anything, would have shown even the slightest bit of bonding. Instead: nothing. Quick humorous quips and keep truckin' in the action scene. We never see them truly become friends, we never see any progression into them slowly becoming friends, anything. And thus this theme is undermined as well. You know, as an after thought, we could have even just had a brief conversation with the two, after Spock's mom died, where the two characters could relate to each other, even if they didn't become friends over it. Or even better, after Kirk gets choked by Spock, and when Spock comes back, Kirk could have said something any point then or during the mission that he was sorry, that he knows what it's like to lose a parent you care about. And Kirk could have even had his own character development here by admitting his frustration and difficulty having had to grow up without a father, and telling Spock he was lucky that he at least got to know his mom, spend time with her, etc. Okay, sorry, I forgot, we're sticking with cotton candy, or a hot dog roll with no hot dog.

Look at them bonding...

As far as motifs go, I did want to discuss "Live Long and Prosper" because it is said at times that are fitting but in a strange way unfitting. Spock says them to an academic board, after declining entry into a very prestigious school. It's a common saying among Vulcans, so it sounds natural, but what he's really saying is something more like, "Suck my half-human dick, assholes." Again, Spock Prime says this to Spock, which is a strange interchange because...well...Old Spock has lived long and prospered, and he IS Spock, which kind of means at least in one universe, Spock HAS ALREADY lived long and prospered. Fun time travel contradiction. Speaking of time travel, that's the only other motif I can think to break down. Unfortunately, there isn't much to break down, here. For some reason black holes cause erratic time travel, yet somehow Spock Prime only ended up traveling 25 years later in the past than Nero. Why wouldn't he have traveled three hundred years in the future from himself? Aside from that, we have only one brief dialogue where Spock decides Nero has traveled through time with his flawless logic. After that, we only hear Spock Prime vaguely explain it a little more to Kirk. Then it's over. We never deal with it again, and time travel is a complicated ordeal. Once again, there simply is no follow through. You know what a real theme and motif to this movie is? Disappointment. An outer shell with no interior. Anti-climax. The only good thing is sexy Sylar and Simon Pegg. Mostly just Simon Pegg, since Heroes sucks after season one. Okay, I kind of trailed off on the end, there. I'll leave you with these two pictures as the summed up theme.

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