Star Trek: the Motion Picture
I think this was the first movie I ever watched recognizing it as science fiction. It’s an intensely boring movie by most people’s estimates, but for some reason, it grabbed ahold of my curiosity as a five year old and still hasn’t let go.
Ever since I was a kid, the kind of movies that let me know my place in the universe was small and dwarfed by the more mundane concerns of the rest of the universe has always appealed to me and triggered my sense of wonder. This is compounded by the fact that, as it turns out, the solar system sized robot is a child looking for its father.
The movie excels at its portrayal of mind bending alienness: a machine of unimaginable proportions wrapped in some kind of defensive cloud of also unimaginable proportions communicating on wavelengths simultaneously too advanced and too archaic. It simply wants information and a greeting, but this being millions of miles in length doesn’t know what it doesn’t know, and that’s lethal for those around it.
Our best human qualities are the only things that can stand being this close to this particular fire. They are best represented in the dual opposites of Ilia, the Deltan, and Spock, the Vulcan.
Roddenberry’s possible sexism aside, it’s Ilia’s perfect empathy, and her feelings that overcome the V’Ger (the unspeakable galactic monstrosity) programming, ultimately allowing the crew to resolve the drama of the whole movie. It is Spock’s indomitable curiosity that discovers the ultimate truth of what V’Ger is. The best parts of what being a human has to offer is represented here in these characters, and any foray into the unknown without either vital part is doomed to fail. But…
I never noticed this before, but Spock’s near slavish adherence to logic, reason, research, and his curiosity makes him a duplicitous character at times. In the course of the movie, he is warned repeatedly about risking the ship and its crew in the pursuit of knowledge. Eventually, he schemes his way into a flight suit and out of an airlock.
This puts everyone else in a difficult position: ultimately this kind of curiosity pays off and paves the way for ultimate resolution, but it means that intelligence ultimately believes in the rightness of its conviction regardless of what convention and authority say. So, how much do you trust the intelligence of those around you? Every great advance within culture and society is abhorred by the structures preceding it.
The movie resolves in a case study of chaos theory. Knowledge of a largely symbolic gesture nearly 300 years earlier proves to be the only thing to subdue this angry toddler of a Lovecraftian monstrosity.
Spock, in his psychedelic light trip through the guts of this mechanical creature discovers an entirely different galaxy populated by machines whose minds are so vast and alien and old as to be incomprehensible to his capable Vulcan brain. Shooting into this unknowable landscape comes our fragile ancient Voyager satellite with its inscription about a creator. A religion is made, and a timid toddler (by the scope of machines) granted a shaky kind of sentience sets out in pursuit of the creator. His only hope is to be reunited in eternity with the creator. Even machines suffer delusion.
After diligent research, the crew finds the return codes for the satellite, and it is satisfied in having found god. But, god must come with it. It must join with god and carry this experience home. It won’t leave unless the creator comes too.
Earlier in the movie, V’ger steals Ilia – her mind being most receptive to the kind of machine magic necessary for his work – and makes a perfect mechanical copy of her to investigate the Enterprise. V’ger, perhaps showing his mechanical privilege, believes the Enterprise to be the sentient being, and the humans to be invasive parasites. It’s Decker’s (above) gentle persistence and constant reminders at the relationship he and Ilia shared that overcomes the mechanical duplicate’s programming. And it’s Decker’s love for Ilia that allows him to sacrifice himself and return with the Ilia-unit and V’ger to an unknown home world. The movie closes with Kirk’s observation that we’ve witnessed the creation of a new lifeform.