The following is an opinion piece about how the recent presidential election in the United States can compare to a movie most of us probably saw, Star Trek: Beyond. As always, the opinions stated here are the writer’s own.
“There is strength in unity.”
– Lt. Uhura
Well, here we are. We got through that circus of an election and ended up on the other side facing times ahead that are unprecedented in this country.
Some people are thrilled. Some people are scared. And no one quite knows what to make it.
So naturally the obvious thing to do is talk about Star Trek.
Right? No? OK, let me explain.
Star Trek: Beyond, by typical action movie standards, sits comfortably in something of a middle ground. The action scenes are creative and exciting but don’t break ground. The characters are three-dimensional and play their roles well with humor, emotion, and conviction – but don’t break any new molds. And as far as Star Trek movies go, it’s not the best, but it’s better than most.
And yet in spite of all that (and in some cases, because of all that) it is still one of my favorite movies of the year and stuck with me all the way through this election because, as far as I’m concerned, Star Trek: Beyond is the most important blockbuster of 2016.
Let us examine, and beware, there are Beyond spoilers ahead …
Beyond opens with Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine and his blue eyes) and his crew of the USS Enterprise three years into their five-year mission. Kirk laments that things aboard the ship are starting to feel “episodic.” Time passes but nothing seems to be getting accomplished in his mind. He’s beginning to lose sight of who he is and what he’s supposed to be doing. He is faced with, and considers taking, a promotion that would take him away from the Enterprise.
Cmdr. Spock (Zachary Quinto), faced with the passing of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Prime, feels his presence is needed elsewhere to help the Vulcan people. Again, away from the Enterprise.
The crew starts to branch off in different directions and begin having trouble communicating with each other. They become disillusioned and complacent despite living in a supposed utopia of harmony and peace. The film even introduces us to a city in space called Yorktown, a neutral hub created by the Federation where people of different planets can live and work together.
And when they finally embark on a rescue mission, they are attacked by an alien named Krall (Idris Elba). After the Enterprise is destroyed, the crew is literally separated, struggling to survive without the help of their fellow man.
“We will do what we have always done. We will find hope.”
We later discover that Krall was once human. He was a soldier who, after a war with Romulans, was made a captain in Starfleet and given a ship, the USS Franklin. He became part of a Federation that considered the Romulans an ally. He was effectively forced to accept intergalactic peace and “break bread with the enemy.” And after crash landing on an alien planet, no rescue comes and his crew starts to perish and lose what hope they had left.
They are essentially obliged to make peace with a people they once fought tooth and nail to protect themselves and others against, giving up the only way of life they ever knew. And then when they needed help the most, there was no one there to give them aid or quell their fears.
Krall, feeling abandoned and forgotten by a world that moved on without him and didn’t send him the memo, resorts to extreme measures to “take it back.” He decides that the only way to do so is to recreate the struggle in which he and his people so thrived by planning to destroy Yorktown.
In the final showdown between he and Kirk, Krall – broken and angry – tries to rationalize his need for struggle and discord, claiming it is the only way humanity can exist.
“I think you underestimate humanity. We change. We have to. Or we spend the rest of our lives fighting the same battles.”
– Capt. Kirk
The central conflict in the film is between a group of people being forced to abandon the only way of life they’ve ever known and a group of people who want to move past division and hold hands in a circle around the world.
What we saw over the past 18 months were people who were afraid of or downright resistant to the future, and people who want to move forward and embrace change and harmony. It is a fundamental dissonance of values.
While the film certainly portrays one side as the antagonists and people in real life look at the other side as the villains (and I certainly have my own strong opinions – don’t look at my Twitter feed), the film harps on one important theme: “strength in unity.”
Look, it’s hard for people to give up values that have centered them for generations, but it’s important to move forward and accept others even if you vehemently disagree with them. And it’s hard for people to fathom that other people can hold values that are so dated and exclusionary, but it’s important to not view them all as evil, even if their beliefs and actions put people’s lives in very real danger.
There are, as we’ve seen, many people who hold views that are hateful and in some cases downright cruel, but there are many people who simply feel comfortable with the way things are and are adverse to change. I certainly don’t agree with or approve of this line of thinking, and I think it’s dangerous to make excuses or normalize it, especially when people are expressing their outrage through violence and harassment. I do, however, think it is important to find a way to work together no matter how strong the opposition is.
And that’s hard for me to say. I stand firmly against most of the ideals that were endorsed and the behavior that was normalized by conservatives this past election season. And it’s hard not to view our current climate as “us vs. them,” but that’s a problem we need to overcome. I have never felt the country so divided in my lifetime, and therefore have never felt so strongly a need to come together.
It is not only your right but your duty to speak up, to shout from the rooftops, to march in the streets, to let someone know that you disapprove of or are even appalled by their rhetoric and behavior. Speak out against hatred and bigotry and stand up for oppressed peoples. Hold people to task who would stand by and allow it to happen.
And if it starts a cordial conversation with someone who disagrees with you, one that leads to understanding and concord, then we can learn to avoid strife in the future.
If all we do is try to wrestle power from the other side and vice versa without working together, we will just end up going in circles forever.
“Strength in unity” is so much more important than a throwaway line of dialogue in a summer blockbuster; it should be what we strive for. Of course it may just be something important for me to hold on to as a liberal on Staten Island, the only of the five boroughs of New York City to vote red. Which is unfortunate for my central message here, because all I want to do is grab every Trump voter by the arms and shout, “What have you done!?”
But I won’t. Because pretty soon, the reality I don’t want to accept will sink in and I will realize that the only way forward is together.
In the end, Kirk and his crew come together to overcome the anarchist antagonist, and then stick together to work together to complete their five-year mission. The film ends with the main cast sharing the classic narration one line at a time, united under one message.
Star Trek always has been ahead of its time, and always has strived for a peaceful, inclusive future. One where people of all race, creed, orientation and planet of origin can live together in harmony. One where pointless division and discord are literally a thing of the past. One where we are stronger together.
Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.
Beyond delivers a hopeful core theme that, 50 years after the television show, is still timeless, yet all too relevant. It’s almost too naïve in its hopefulness in such a chaotic, divided world – but that’s kind of what makes it so necessary.
“My wee granny used to say you cannot break a stick in a bundle.”
So be nice to each other, acknowledge one another, and most importantly, talk to each other and listen to work toward a better tomorrow.
Boldly go where no one has gone before.
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