Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day and Star Trek

I was going to write something like a standard Mother's Day post, maybe with a few references to the Divine Feminine thrown in.

But then I went to see Star Trek on Friday night. Where is the connection, you may ask?

Now, the movie is stacking up so much critical acclaim you would think it was a Bollywood-crossover hit in Oscar season, and I won't deny Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are easy on the eyes. But that's not what caught my attention about the movie...


What really struck me was the central role that birth, mothers, and motherhood played in the movie. Just think about the opening sequence, where Jim Kirk's mother gives birth in a shuttle, under attack from enemy spacecraft -- when was the last time you saw that in a science fiction blockbuster?

Amanda Grayson, Spock's doomed mother (played by Winona Ryder) gets mega screentime. Via flashback, we even see the pregnant wife of the villainous Romulan spaceship captain.

Birth and pregnancy are common motifs for director J.J. Abrams, as anyone knows who has even casually followed the television show Lost. He must be aware that these are themes with immense emotional resonance, that have been largely ignored by traditional male modes of storytelling.

A small number of action films, such as the Terminator and Kill Bill movies, feature mothers as lead role ass-kickers. But I cannot think of another action movie where protecting or avenging the hero's mother is important to the plot. Compare to Inigo ("You killed my father") Montoya in the Princess Bride, not to mention the genre's other sacred text -- I mean, really, how can Luke go through nearly two entire Star Wars movies all hot and bothered about Darth Vader killing his father without it occuring to him that he killed his mother too? Adding insult to injury, the only dialogue about Luke's mother gets relegated to a scene in the third movie, in the sucky Ewok Village, of all places.

By contrast, in the current Star Trek movie, Spock's relationship with his mother is the emotional core of his character, at least as much so as his nascent friendship with Kirk. Spock only loses control of his emotions when his human mother is involved -- from schoolyard taunts to the anger and grief he finds impossible to contain after her death. By the end of the movie, Spock argues for leaving a defeated foe to die, rather than rescue him. His emotions have propelled him from cool Vulcan logic almost to a Romulan code of vengeance.

Could we finally be at a point in time where our storytellers value mothers as much as fathers? If so, that time has arrived not a moment too soon. The way in which the current Star Trek feature conflates the death of Spock's mother with the catastrophic implosion of her adopted planet is surely not accidental.

Tiamat was murdered. Eve was framed.

If we can conceive of a new and different set of myths, then perhaps our planet has a fighting chance to survive.

Postscript: Mad props to my mother and grandma and all the other amazing moms I know (including my friend Crystal, with whom I saw the movie) -- you carry out a truly heroic mission every day with courage, perseverance, love, and grace.

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