Yes, Captain Kirk has a Character Arc

chris-pine-as-captain-kirkI don’t want anyone to miss this great discussion that Dave Wesley mentioned as a response to my earlier post.  He said that we ought to check out the discussion of character arcs in the new reboot of Star Trek

Frankly it’s a great discussion about writing.  Here’s KFM (Rogers) initial premise (SPOILERS):

“Captain James T. Kirk, the protagonist of the movie, does not have the development executive’s beloved “character arc.” He has no arc at all.

He starts as an arrogant sonovabitch, and becomes a slightly more motivated arrogant sonovabitch. He does not learn to sacrifice, he does not learn to work well with others — he takes over the goddam ship. He’s right all the time, he never doubts he’s right, and the only obstacle he occasionally faces is when other people aren’t sharp enough to see how frikkin’ awesome — and right — he is as quickly as they should.”

But read the responses and you’ll see a lot of varied ideas on character arcs.  Me, I think Kirk has a character arc.  (And I actually posted it on the responses to his post)–but in a nutshell:

Yes, he’s a sunovabitch through the whole movie, but he is a listless, aimless SOB at first, and he has to find purpose. He never thought his fighting, his rebelling, his go after the baddies ideas fit in well with tight-shirt Starfleet, ultra PC. And yet, it is a Kirk who transforms Starfleet.

Starfleet needs a person who thinks with his gut, and Kirk jumps into that role.  Both old Spock and Pike serve as catalysts to transform brawler Kirk into Captain Kirk.

I like Pike’s speech to him early in the movie:  “Have you ever felt you could be something more?”

I think this is one of the lines that resonates for the viewer.  Don’t we all wonder who we could be if we had the opportunity?  And the line from Spock’s past:  “You will always be a child of two worlds, fully capable of living in either one. “ And Spock has to make the decision where to be fully, and which side of himself to favor–Human or Vulcan.

The movie is about Destiny, and it screws around with time travel to ask the larger question about whether destiny is fixed or fixable.  I think the movie promotes fixable.

The whole discussion is worth reading, but here’s a great later post:

Both have arcs, and the arcs are definitely related because they are almost mirror images of each other. Even Kirk’s dead father is a mirror image of Spock’s dead mother.

Their arcs also cross each other when Kirk tries to gain control of the starship by picking a fight with Spock. Except this time, he doesn’t try to stage mutiny, but rather talks to Spock to get him to resign his post. Following this fight, Spock realizes that he has emotions and he can’t control them. At the end of the scene, Kirk realizes that if he is to be Captain, he has to stop being impulsive and Spock realizes that he can not be Captain with his spasms of rage, and that he will never be able to ignore his emotions.

The movie is good, but I think there’s a lot to discuss about how the movie moved towards good through the writing of characters we thought we already knew.  And character arc is important.  I don’t think that Abrams achieved his great story by NOT giving Kirk an arc–because Kirk is not static.  Kirk learns.  He learns how to adapt t0 and also transform Starfleet protocol to fit him–thereby creating the James T. Kirk of the TOS that we know, and the Starfleet that surrounds him.

In some ways, we learn a lot about how Kirk and Starfleet function with each other, and in spite of each other.

3 thoughts on “Yes, Captain Kirk has a Character Arc

  1. Dave May 16, 2009 / 9:59

    I find in my studies of the writing process, that we like to break up a story into discreet bits that we can analyze. What drives the story? Is it character, or plot, or setting, or voice, or … The reality is that it’s all those things and maybe none of those things. A story is made up of whatever it takes to resonate with the reader/listener/viewer. And for a lot of reasons, including character arcs, this movie really resonated with me. Even when things happened that were hard to believe (Ambassador Spock meets young Kirk), I laughed and simply enjoyed the hubris of the moment and kept right on going.

  2. jstueart May 16, 2009 / 9:59

    Dave, I agree. It’s hard to break down a good movie into elements and have them make sense.

    I agree about the happy coincidence of meeting Old Spock on the icy planet…

    I can believe that Nero dropped off Spock on the nearest planet to get a good show of Vulcan being destroyed. I can’t quite believe that on a big planet, two people run into each other. “It’s a small world!”

    But, you’re right. Barely registered on my radar as I wanted him (Old Spock) to get back into the movie!

  3. Greg May 19, 2009 / 9:59

    I turned off my brain going into the theater and just enjoyed the flashy effects and witty banter. Just like I did when I watched the original series.

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