New Star Trek movie and the Power of Myth

What I love about what seems to be Abrams’ vision is that he is turning this story into myth. He’s taken Kirk and made him into a man who is dissatisfied with his current state and yearning for a destiny, and taken Spock and made him into a conflicted man who must choose between two paths. While Abrams will no doubt rewrite some of the canon, by escaping the usual players (Shatner, Nimoy–though Nimoy does have a role in the film, Nichols, Takei), he allows these “characters” to be interpreted much like –and on the scale of–Shakespeare. Now hold with me. I ain’t saying that Roddenberry’s original show was Shakespearean, or certainly that the original episodes were on par with the Bard, only that the design of archetypal characters was hidden there all along.

Kirk as a man who leads with his gut; Spock a man who thinks with his brain; McCoy a man who decides with his heart. All three of them make up the primary triad of most every episode where a concept or idea must be batted around between these three polarities—does the gut, the brain or the heart win out?

Abrams looks as if he has captured that archetypal quality in at least the main two characters. I’m hoping McCoy is fleshed out a bit (he should have been quite a bit older than Kirk).

When Peter Jackson remade King Kong, he turned it into myth, and I loved that movie. Myth is where you know the basic gist of what will happen–what has to happen–the Empire State building throws its shadow on the whole film–which makes Kong into a tragic figure, lurching towards that building no matter what. But it gives Jackson a chance to play with the inbetween scenes–which he does.

Now Abrams is getting a chance to interpret character, much as an actor like Branaugh or Gibson or Olivier interprets Hamlet. By gutting the Nimoy from Spock, and the Shatner from Kirk, we’re left with the essence of the character—these two torn, universal, archetypal men. And I think you will see that Star Trek will move–as it has always been moving–into American Myth.

Yep, America has myths–just as profound as the Greek ones. We’re starting to see those myths coalesce. You can tell a myth–it keeps being referred to, being reinterpreted, having something new to say, becomes universal. In my opinion, American myths include: The Wizard of Oz, Batman, Superman, Star Wars, Star Trek, King Kong, Spiderman. Nearly all of them started as Art in one way or another. The Oz books got the promotion into mythos when Judy Garland put on the red slippers–but all the reincarnations of that story have mythologized it. Certainly, though, the books were illustrated and this helped.

There are other broader myths too: the cowboy, Western expansion, the American Dream–but in the fictional ones I mentioned, America gets stories. They get strong characters that can be played and played again.

I am glad that Star Trek is entering the realm of Myth, even as we come closer to the days of space exploration. I look forward to Abrams’ rendering of the characters–not the show–of the ways these men and women represent the American story, and how they keep reflecting us back to ourselves in the mirror of Science Fiction and Myth.

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