Monday, August 26, 2013

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Alright, I fully admit that by doing a marathon on all of the Star Trek movies, I am stepping completely outside of our stated genre, but as a life long Trekkie, this simply had to happen. Given the success of this franchise, I'm betting that at least a few of our readers are also Star Trek fans. Of course, I will stick to the usual social justice perspective, as we work our way through the series.

Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan has Ricardo Montalban reprising his role as Khan Noonien Singh. The character first appeared in "Space Seed". Khan is a genetically engineered human from India.  When he is awoken from suspended animation, instead of being thankful, Khan attempts to take over the Enterprise and as a result, Kirk maroons him on Ceti Alpha V.  Stark Trek II the Wrath of Khan begins with Chekov on a scouting mission, for a planet which meets the parameters of  the Genesis project.  He mistakenly beams onto Ceti Alpha V and is captured by Khan, who implants an alien in his ear, along with that of his captain and thus begins his plan to get revenge upon Kirk.

I have to pause to say that the entire start of this saga is absolutely faulty.  How could Chekov not remember or realize where he landed in the first place?  The set up was absolutely thin at best and was a weak excuse to introduce Khan into the story. Is this the reason Chekov didn't make captain like Sulu?

Kirk is beginning to feel his age and though the promotion to Admiral is something Kirk viewed as a positive, the end result is that it keeps him landed. At the very first opportunity, Kirk quickly takes over command of the Enterprise, though he no longer possess intimate knowledge of the ship's capabilities. In many ways, this reads as a man desperately trying to prove that he is still vital and capable.

 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, is a test of wills - a contest of masculinity.  For Khan, Kirk represents Moby Dick,  so much so that Khan's last line is, "from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee" —Moby-Dick, Chapter 135.  Though Khan has a ship and Genesis - everything he needs to start fresh, he simply cannot let go of his desire for revenge and it is in the end his undoing. 

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is very much about hyper masculinity.  What constitutes manhood and how does one prove it?  Kirk as the White male of course represents the best of what masculinity has to offer and Khan, the man of colour cannot help but to be secondary.  In many ways, Khan's race makes him just as much "other" as Spock, with the difference being that Khan refuses to be submissive to Kirk.  Khan would rather die on the Reliant than surrender. Only those who follow the headship of Kirk can possibly be considered good and this justified through the approved hierarchy of the Federation and thus once again, we have White male leadership affirmed.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan gave us to what is to this day the most controversial death scene of the entire franchise.  Spock sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise after Khan turns on Genesis.   Kirk attempts to rush to Spock's side but is stopped by Bones and Scotty.  Spock's last words are, "Don't grieve Admiral; it's logical. The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few or the one. I have been and always shall be your friend. Live long and prosper."  In Spock's eulogy Kirks says, "of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most human."  I know that this is meant as a tribute to Spock but this line continues to bother me to this day because despite being half human and half Vulcan, Spock always identified solely as Vulcan and sought to suppress as much of his humanity as possible.

When this movie first aired, I was far too young to see it in the theater, so I didn't experience the outrage of many of the fans of the series.  I can only imagine the angst they must have felt at the death of one of the most prominent characters in the franchise.  Watching this death scene, I could not help but think of I am Not Spock published by Leonard Nimoy in 1975 and how this scene must have been cathartic for him to play.  In end, we know that he could not and did not reject Spock, as he continued to have an important role in the franchise as it moved forward.  Spock is the role for which Nimoy will be most remembered and in many ways, outside of this role, too many, he has no identity. I have come to see this death scene as him coming to terms with this.

There were essentially three female characters in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  There was of course Uhura but other than being a space secretary and answering communications, she had a very small role in this movie.  The fact the Uhura is an iconic role in the franchise is something that has always been a big deal but when you think of how little this character has historically been given to do, can we really say that this representation has been progressive?  Saavik is a Vulcan and is constantly referred to in male pronouns. The use of male pronouns has long confused me because it only applies to Saavik and her presentation is anything but gender neutral, let alone masculine.  I believe it can only be explained by the fact that she is Vulcan. Finally, we have Helen the scientist and the mother of Kirk's son David.  She is significant because of her profession and of course because of her maternity.  Helen is an interesting character because she actively chose to be a single parent. We are meant to see her as robbing Kirk of a chance to be a father, though she it makes it clear that they were not together and she wanted David in her world, not jetting around the universe with his father.  Yes, Kirk followed her wishes and stayed away but it was still an active choice on his part not to insist on a role in David's life. 

Of all of the movies in the Star Trek Franchise, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is perhaps my least favorite. The dialogue is extremely heavy handed and I think it assumes an extreme level of intellectual immaturity on the part of the viewer. I didn't need to be hit over the head with Moby Dick to understand the context of the film.  The limited roles of women and people of colour are particularly unimpressive and what we are left with is absolutely a celebration of White male hyper masculinity.  There certainly were interesting bits of Star Trek trivia, like the infamous kobayashi maru test, but that in and of itself was simply not enough to lift the dark narrative of the movie.