Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
Star Trek’s Elusive Utopia
May 24, 2013
By Josh Larsen
There really shouldn’t be this much strife in the Star Trek universe.
From the early episodes, created by Gene Roddenberry in the 1960s, to Star Trek Into Darkness, the newest film in the franchise, the series has sold a world in which advanced technology, human intellect, and a reliance on reason have resulted in unprecedented cooperation – an interstellar United Federation of Planets, no less. But why does conflict still exist, be it in the form of savage Klingons or evil clones? Considering all the advances the series celebrates, it’s ironic that the problems of Star Trek often mirror our own.
This is especially true with Star Trek Into Darkness, the second entry from director J.J. Abrams, the twelfth overall, and the best film of the franchise. Loaded with exciting action, energized by a formidable villain, and even bolstered by a few ideas, this is a real cinematic experience, not a talky TV show with a bigger budget.
The plot involves little utopia and much conflict. After renegade Federation officer John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) launches lethal attacks against non-military targets, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew aboard the USS Enterprise are tasked with hunting Harrison down. Their orders are to kill on sight, a vengeful strategy that particularly troubles Kirk’s reason-bound science officer Spock (Zachary Quinto).
A homegrown terrorist? Authorized assassination? Quandaries over how to rightly pursue justice? Star Trek Into Darkness is timely, certainly. The Harrison character is intriguing in the way he mirrors more familiar “evildoers.” A traitor who plans attacks on Federation targets, Harrison provokes a Federation response so merciless and fearful that it echoes the way the United States has responded to real-world threats. This debate taking place within Star Trek Into Darkness – how to rightly pursue justice against alleged terrorists – surely existed early on in the screenplay by Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof, yet it carries added resonance following the Miranda-rights debates that surrounded accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
But the movie’s narrative is also indicative of a reality that someone with humanist and futurist tendencies, like Roddenberry, would have been reluctant to admit: that there’s something deeply wrong with the universe, something that neither human intellect nor improved technology will ever be able to fix.
Christians find hope and, most importantly, salvation elsewhere. In his slim but guiding volume, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, Albert M. Wolters describes a universe that was created good, fell into sin, was redeemed by Christ, and is in the process of being restored through Him to its original goodness. “Creation in its entirety is ensnared in the throes of antinormativity and distortion, though it will one day be liberated,” he writes. We may be able to participate in this liberation through our Christlikeness, but in contrast to the hopes of the Star Trek universe, restoration is not something humankind – or even alienkind – can accomplish.
This may be why I’ve mostly found the Star Trek films to be dissatisfying. (It could also be that, with a few exceptions, they’re incredibly boring.) As dry space lectures on the supremacy of reason, they rarely worked, either as movies or worldviews. Despite the pictures’ hope for human improvement, dark forces always arose in opposition – be it in the form of Klingons or Cumberbatch’s terrorist. No matter how far they go or how boldly, the Star Trek films have been unable to find their utopia. That’s because it doesn’t exist in another world, but in the next.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”