Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Inside-Out S(p)ock

Oh dear, oh dear.
Bad move to take Star Trek out of context.
I did not mean to imply at the end of the previous post that I think Spock's "solution" to Kirk's pain--to remove his pain-causing memories--is a good one.
In fact, it's atrocious.
But in the context of the show, what's moving isn't Spock's bungling solution but his motivation to act: his compassion for suffering.

That, it seems to me, is the only way out of, forward from, the sort of despair F. Scott Fitzgerald was writing about in "The Crack-Up":
to turns the thing, one's own suffering, inside out, so the suffering on the inside, like the rough inside surface of a sock, is now on the outside and its bumpy texture now can serve as a receptor for other people's pain.

Why that should help is some weird alchemical mystery, but it does.
What's so horrible about "The Crack-Up" is that it ends on exactly the opposite move: the sock is crumpled up. The surface area is reduced into an inward facing ball of pain.

And F. Scott knows it. He doesn't see himself as anything so elastic as a sock. He is brittle, a cracked plate. There's nothing to be turned.
At the end of the three-part essay, he writes that he no longer likes the postman, and he knows that means the postman will stop liking him.
He ends in isolation.
How you get out of that, well... I'm no Fitzgerald expert, but it seems he didn't. In that lifetime.

So, back to Star Trek.
I watched the first movie again over Christmas, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, or ST:TMP, though it is known by many less affectionate nicknames. Many people don't like the movie because it's so slow. More like 2001: A Space Odyssey than the usual active space opera.

ST:TMP is one of my favorite Star Trek movies though (along with The Wrath of Khan--they're kind of yin and yang), because it completes the arc of Spock's journey toward compassion.

"Requiem for Methuselah," the episode I wrote about, ends with Spock clumsily trying to help Kirk bear his pain, as Kirk has helped him.
He watches Kirk sleep (left), finally, after having condemned himself for having caused, through his egoism, the death of a woman he loved. And rightly so.

That's when Spock mind melds with the sleeping captain, saying, "Forget, forget."
Sort of misguided mind rape, if you think about it too much; but as I said, the larger truth in the context of the show is that Spock is motivated by compassion to try to help his beloved friend.

Right before that scene, Dr. McCoy attacks Spock with a vicious speech, sneering (left) about how Spock knows nothing, and is unable to know anything, about love.

(I've never liked McCoy--I think his bitchiness, which is supposed to be the funny cover-up of a tender heart, is instead too often veiled cruelty. I don't think he models compassion, I think he just likes to feel sorry for people. Not the same thing at all.)

"Requiem" is a third season episode--the 74th of 79 episodes--and we have seen all along that Spock is trying to figure this "love" thing out. McCoy's not altogether wrong: he's not very good at it. He grew up without it, as a Vulcan, and it's alien to him.

But McCoy is critically wrong: Spock is not unable to love.

Well into his adulthood, Spock thought he had his life all figured out. Until Jim Kirk, Mr. Emotionality, shows up, and you can see from the very first aired episode "The Man Trap" that Spock is smitten.

At the end of that first episode, left, Kirk is sitting in his captain's chair, speaking openly to the bridge crew about his sadness for the death of a species.

Cut to a reaction shot of Spock gazing at him, softly, with total adoration. (Left.)
There's practically vaseline on the lens.

I've wondered why it was put together this way. From the very beginning, did someone intend Spock to be in love with Kirk?
It doesn't seem so.
I think, from my two minutes as a filmmaker, that it was a result of the rush of television production. The editor needed a reaction shot, and that was the one at hand.

I gather that a lot of Star Trek was unintentional like that. I'm not just making that up--people involved talk about how rushed television is. It's not like there's time for deep analysis. Shatner, for instance, has said that he'd often receive script revisions for a scene on the same day the scene was to be shot.

Taking the lid off big issues, as sci-fi does, without time to control the spin, is one big invitation for trickster spirits to sneak in. Star Trek had some big trickster of transformation as its guiding spirit.

Anyway, at the end of "The Man Trap," we see Spock looking at Kirk like he's just been swept off his feet. He's going to spend the next few years being knocked off his logical feet by messy emotions, and he's going to keep getting to his feet, like Rocky, to take some more.

Until the five-year mission ends, and he goes back home to Vulcan. There we see him at the beginning of the first Star Trek movie (ST:TMP). He's had enough of emotion and is finishing his training in Kolinahr, the Vulcan discipline to strip away all emotion. We are not told why, but you can fill in the blanks.

Me, I'd say the end of the Enterprise's mission, with its necessary parting from Kirk, was so painful, he decided he'd had enough of this love stuff. I've felt the same myself. But it's not easy to get the Genie back in the bottle, eh?

So, we meet Spock again, and we see that has chosen the Way of the Crumpled-Up Sock. He has folded in on himself, reducing his emotionally receptive surface to a bare minimum.
But it doesn't work.

At the beginning of ST TMP, the little exposed speck of Spock's receptivity gets a call from outer space. Right in time to ruin the ceremony where he's to receive the tacky plastic trinket acknowledging his attainment of Kolinahr.

What consciousness is it that calls him?
It is V'Ger, a perfectly logical machine-being.
We will come to see (s l o w l y), it is not V'Ger's logic that calls Spock, but its loneliness, its sense of incompleteness. Its lack of the ability to love. Its search for meaning, which Spock shares.
This first movie could be called Spock's Search for Spock.

It finally finishes the arc we've seen begun in the TV series, of Spock figuring out that he is able to love. Turns out, it's not that hard. It is, he realizes, a "simple feeling." And while it doesn't make everything OK, it does make everything possible.
After all, its lack is what holds V'Ger back from truly understanding the universe.

In fact, V'Ger's salvation comes in turning inside out, like a sock.
V'Ger is a mammoth living machine, miles long, dark and inward, surrounded by a cloud.
In the end, it falls in love, essentially, and unites with the object of its affection (the emotional golden-boy starship captain, Decker), and explodes outward in a streaming ray of light.
(Yes... well, seems even logical machines do it. In tales told by humans, anyway.)

And Spock, too, has turned inside out, from his first return to the bridge, where he is so closed down he won't even say hello to Kirk, to his reaching out to hold Kirk's hand toward the end. And, finally, in his shedding a tear of compassion for V'Ger, for its inability to love.

He has completed the arc, the twist of the sock, and for the rest of the movies we see a man, a Vulcan, who knows who he is.
He has figured out how to love,
how to extend compassion to himself, to Kirk, and even, so to speak, to the postman who's come to call.

I'm working on that myself.


Manfred Allseasons said...

You know, I have always said that STTMP was a terrible film, but now I have to see it again. Ah, reappraisal...why was I wrong about everything when I was 18? It didn't seem so at the time!

fresca said...

Oh, well...actually... you were right, Manfred! Because it was a different movie when we were 18! Literally.

The DVD is the director's cut, and while those are often worse, this one is significantly better! A lot of the looooong boring shots of actors staring with wonder at the soundstage (V'Ger) got cut, thankgod, and some of the personal bits got restored. (I think Spock weeping wasn't even in the theatrical release.)

So, if you haven't seen it since then, you might like it more. Or not. I still seem to be one of the only people I know who like Ol' Stimpy.
Let me know, if you watch it!

Anonymous said...

Hi Fresca!

I really like your review about TMP! The director's cut is in the trail of what you wrote. If you haven't seen, take a look at the five seconds cut of the scene between Kirk and Spock , I think the meaning changes beacuse of it.
And the more, in the book, written by Roddenberry (it's canon because he was the creator!) you may see that the call from outher space is by V'ger, but the thoughts that the priestess feels in Spock's mind are Kirk's ones! Spock had felt Jim Kirk's thoughts "Spock I wish you were here to understand" and that's why T'sai says "your answer lies elsewhere Spock".
At the time I liked more the book than the film, because there were behaviours unexplained in the movie. Now I appreciate very much the work of Robert Wise, because I think it has been not easy to be able to feature so complex characters and relationships! Sigh, I would like to see alot of other things and more properly about this, but the language is an hard obstacle for me! So, I'm very glad that you wrote so clearly and smoothly in this review a lot of things that I subscibe!
Ciao! Vita lunga e prosperità
Anna (the one of siderum navis)

fresca said...

Cara Anna!

Ho scritto questo con un programma di traduzione sul Internet. Che cosa è la parola da dire "the web"?)
I wrote this with a translation program on the web.
[What is the word in Italian for "the web"?]

Grazie per scrittura!! è duro da scrivere e leggere in inglese ma parlate sempre bene in inglese.
Thank you for writing!
I know it is a lot of work to read/write in English/ but you always express your thoughts very well.

E GRAZIE per dirmi circa il libro da Roddenberry! Non lo ho letto mai e la biblioteca non lo possiede. La comprerò "online".
And THANK YOU for telling me about Roddenberry's book!
I have never read it, and it's not in the public library here, so I am going to order it online.

Ero corretto!!!
Nel film, quando Spock in primo luogo sente la chiamata da spazio, ho pensato, oh, lui sento Kirk che lo denomina...

So, I was right!
In the movie, when Spock first hears the call from space, I thought, oh, he hears Kirk calling him...
...perché lo ha bisogno di.
...because he needed him.

Ma nel film, è V' Ger. Era entrambi! Ha! Quello ha così tanto più significato. Che amano i caratteri conosciamo la storia "allineare"…

But in the movie, it's V'Ger.
It was both!
Ha! That makes so much more sense.
We who love the characters know the "real" story...

Sono felice di sapere che non sono l'unica persona che ama la ST TMP.
I'm also glad to know I'm not the only one who loves ST TMP.

Prego, scriva ancora!
Please, write again!

Vita lunga e prosperità, cara Anna!
Live long and proser!

deanna said...

I also appreciate your rendering of Spock's journey to loving acceptance of who he is. It fits so well. Now I need to see if we have the first movie on DVD. Tim and I first saw it in SC. On the way home, he floored it in the Falcon, shouting, "Worm hole!" It was fun.

fresca said...

RIght! I forgot the worm hole! I tend to overlook that stuff, but I do enjoy it. Nice you have a husband who plays with it.
I'm glad you liked my take of Spock's journey. "Loving acceptance" yes, or "loving kindness," includes oneself.

bink said...

Your italian translation makes up my mind to take Italian again this winter...
After all how can I write more Gorn stories in Italian if I don't keep it up...

fresca said...

Whatever it takes to get more Gorn silliness, I'm al for it.
I thought this translation site was pretty good:

Let's see if I can make that live:

(You remember, maybe, the Babel fish are what Ford Prefect puts into Arthur Dent's ear so he can understand alien languages.)