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.

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.