I’m sure those of you who have been reading my recent movie reviews over at Aleteia have figured out by now how the deal works over there. I spend most of the article talking about the film (as spoiler free as possible) and then provide a brief paragraph or two touching lightly on a Christian theme that may have presented itself during the movie. It’s similar to what I’ve been doing here, but the reviews are shorter and not quite as heavy on the catechetical material.
That’s fine for most movies, but every now and then I run across one I wish I could blab a little longer on. Take Star Trek Into Darkness for example. While I was able to say what I wanted to about the film’s intended moral theme (just response during warfare), the no-spoiler policy and the allowed length of the article prevented me from going off on a tangent I really, really wanted to. Well, there are no such restrictions on this site, so… it’s tangent time! Now I won’t rehash what I thought of Into Darkness here because you can read all that over at Aleteia, but I am going to spoil stuff I didn’t get to in that review. So, if you don’t want to have some of the plot twists revealed before seeing Star Trek Into Darkness, it might be best to skip the rest of this post.
Alright then, let’s get Star Trekkin’…
Okay, if you’re still here that means you either already know that Khan Noonien Singh is the villain (at least one of them) in the latest movie, or you don’t mind learning it beforehand. Star Trek Into Darkness is basically J.J. Abrams’ take on the Star Seed episode of the original series with lots of visual and verbal cues from The Wrath of Khan thrown in to try and add some emotional gravitas to an otherwise lightweight script. Obviously, thanks to the changes to the timeline which occurred in the previous film, how Kirk and his crew come to meet Khan and how that encounter resolves itself is vastly different from the first time around.
But that’s where the changes end apparently. As I noted in my review at Aleteia, “after taking great pains in the 2009 reboot of Star Trek to establish an alternate timeline (and therefore an uncertain future) for the crew of the USS Enterprise, the writers of Into Darkness appear to have decided some of the previous canon is too sacred to be messed with after all. As a result, things written with the intention of being shocking twists really aren’t, the ending is telegraphed midway through the film, and some plot points make little sense outside of the fact that they have to occur in order to set up future events which didn’t necessarily even have to happen anymore (or so Abrams’ first Star Trek movie would have suggested).”
In short, the writers of Into Darkness decided that The Wrath of Khan was sacrosanct, so even though the new film is set in an alternate timeline, everything that occurs in the new movie does so to ensure that The Wrath of Khan as we know it will come to pass. That’s sweet, but it requires a bunch of increasingly ridiculous plot points in order to make it happen. Don’t even get me started on the blood serum McCoy develops which basically makes it now possible for everyone in the 23rd century to become Wolverine. (I was going to get into a number of the plot holes this movie inflicts upon the franchise, but then I noticed they’ve already driven Peter Chattaway into a nerd frenzy over at Patheos, so I’ll just let you head over there and read all about that stuff.)
You see, while Star Trek Into Darkness is an enjoyable enough action film, once it’s over and you’ve had a few moments to think about it, you realize it’s also illogical and kind of stupid. Even so, the whole thing got me to wondering about some of the philosophical conundrums presented by Abram’s two films when taken together. You see, in the first Star Trek, the changes that come from Nero’s incursion into the past suggest that events are malleable and the future can change based on our choices. In contrast, Into Darkness appears to imply that some things must always be, that some things are predestined to happen, even if those events don’t make any sense story wise. Khan must always end up in exile even though he should have been killed twenty times over, Carol Marcus and Kirk must always hook up (kind of hard to have a son if they don’t) even after all that happened with her father should have sent her running in the opposite direction, and major characters must survive to star in the sequel/prequel/whatever even after, you know, they kind of kicked the bucket during the big finale.
So one film champions free will and the other favors predestination, yet both exist in the same universe. That can’t work, can it? Well, I suppose it could be a problem for some, but for Catholics, who kind of dine on this sort of paradox, it’s not really a problem at all. As the Catechism explains it, “To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of ‘predestination’, he includes in it each person's free response to his grace.” For God, an intelligence outside of time, everything has happened/is happening/will happen. It’s all a big NOW to him, a done deal so to speak. For us linear creatures, however, everything is still a choice. The concept works even for things like the crucifixion, an event that MUST take place in order to accomplish God’s plan of salvation. Just because the crucifixion MUST happen, that doesn’t preclude the fact that it involved free will on the part of humans to bring it about. Judas had to choose to betray Jesus, Pontius Pilate had to choose to wash his hands of the affair, we all had to choose to sin to make the event necessary in the first place.
But just for the fun of it, let’s imagine that someone managed to go back in time and convince Judas not to betray Jesus. Wouldn’t that throw a monkey wrench into God’s plans? Not at all, because assuming the crucifixion is a fixed point in time (what, you can watch both Star Trek AND Dr. Who, you know), then God, being outside of time, would have already taken into account the choices made in the alternative timeline and arranged for other means to bring the crucifixion about in it. And I’ll guarantee he wouldn’t do it as sloppy as they do in Into Darkness. Magic Wolverine blood, give me a freaking break!.
Oh well, that’s probably more noodling about Into Darkness than it really deserves. Just watch it for the usual Trek stuff and try not to worry too much about the changes Abrams and his writers have made to the Star Trek franchise. And if they bother you too much, you can always fall back on Star Wars.