Movies

The Beauty of Brokenness

I love Star Trek. I grew up on Next Generation. I remember when the first episode aired, back in 1987. It was like a holiday in our house because my dad had been quite into the original series. I’ve never been much of an Original Series fan myself, but I’ve been sucked into the Star Trek realm for all the rest of the shows and movies and my husband and I have made our way through TOS after watching the reboots (what is with the “Spock’s Brain” episode??–really, that’s the sort of thing that would make me feel like I had egg on my face if I’d written it). My kids have seen both Tribble episodes–the TOS and the DS9. They loved Into Darkness.

Anyway! I’ve been thinking a lot about the TOS characters lately–mostly because I LOVE the movie reboots (AOS). Star Trek and Into Darkness were top drawer, cream of the crop, all that jazz. I love the characters. The plots were both fine, but the characters just blew me away. And, as I’ve been reading AOS fan fiction pretty much continuously for the past few months, I’ve found myself pondering the differences between the AOS vs. TOS characters.

Let’s just talk about Kirk and Spock because we know most about their backgrounds and it’s easy to see what I’m talking about with them. So, in the original series, Kirk grows up in a loving, stable home. His father inspires him to join Star Fleet. He goes through some serious trauma in his teen years on Tarsus IV–basically, if you’re not familiar with the story of Tarsus IV, some kind of fungus that killed all their crops and for some reason Star Fleet didn’t come right away (or wasn’t aware of the situation) and so Governor Kodos used the crisis as an opportunity to put into practice his theories on eugenics and killed half the colony so that the other half could survive (see TOS The Conscience of the King). Kirk does have this great line in Star Trek 5 (yes, I realize it’s pretty much the only redeeming part of the movie) about how his pain makes him who he is. And we do see him with an awful lot of alien women, although I’ve read someone who made the case that he genuinely gets emotionally attached to them vs. the one night stands AOS Kirk indulges in. But on the whole, this Kirk is confident, stable, and uses his genius and charm to captain the Enterprise to great heights.

Spock from TOS suffers from trying to reconcile his two halves, and he doesn’t have the best relationship with his father–although there’s not a lot of insight as to whether that’s simply because he went into Star Fleet or if it’s of longer standing than that.

In AOS, Nero’s advent does a few things. For Kirk, obviously, Nero results in the death of his father even as Kirk is born (and if you look at the star dates, he’s born prematurely; unless of course AOS just forgot when Kirk’s birthday is). Kirk’s mother is off-planet, what seems to be frequently, judging from Kirk’s delinquent tendencies. I don’t think it’s a stretch to guess that Winona Kirk probably had issues dealing with Jim simply because her husband died as Jim was being born. I’m guessing that messed up a lot of that early mother-child bonding. Jim also has an uncle/stepfather? (Frank) who is at least verbally abusive to the point that Jim’s brother runs away while Jim is young. And we don’t know about Tarsus IV, but personally, I have no problem with the idea that it still happened and he still went. Hence, you end up with a Kirk who is brash, spoiling for a fight, clearly broken… he still uses his genius and charm to captain the Enterprise to great heights, but there’s an edginess there that’s not present in TOS.

For Spock, we don’t know exactly what Nero’s advent did. The movie shows Spock being bullied on account of his mother’s heritage. Fan fic authors speculate that xenophobia increased after humans learned from Nero that Romulans and Vulcans are cousins (something that didn’t turn up in the original series until part way through season one), resulting in deteriorated Vulcan-Human relations, and thus the bullying and his path to Star Fleet. He’s not accepted by the Vulcans. Obviously, after the first movie, Spock is dealing with the loss of his planet and the loss of his mother. She doesn’t die until much later in his life in the original series. Spock too is broken.

Guess which series has more fan fics?

If you answered AOS, you’re right! On fanfiction.net alone, there are more than twice as many AOS fics as there are TOS. I realize that there are more factors at work than just the characters–TOS is TV and the fans may tend to be older and perhaps less likely to write fan fic, which is after all a relatively new phenomenon; AOS is a movie series and has garnered fans from across the age spectrum.

But looking at those facts really brought something I’ve been thinking about for a while into focus for me. As an author and a reader, I love watching characters develop, and the reality is that character development takes angst. People don’t change when life is full of fluffy happiness–there’s no reason to. If I were going to write a Star Trek fan fic, I’d write it in the AOS universe because there’s more room for character development.

As Christians, we often go to great pains to look like we’ve got things together. We think that if non-Christians see how messed up we are, it’ll somehow put them off the Gospel, or if fellow Christians see how messed up we are, they’ll judge us for it. But the reality is that brokenness is winsome to people. People like the gritty, messy reality of brokenness because they can relate to it. Nobody’s perfect. If we pretend that we are perfect, we are in effect telling people that they don’t belong in our churches (or coming across as hypocrites, since everyone knows that nobody’s perfect). If we pretend that we’re perfect, we miss out on the opportunity for true community within the Church. And everyone else misses out on seeing something beautiful as God takes our brokenness and redeems it.

I talk a bit about this in my new book, To Push on the Rock, but I love Kintsugi–the Japanese art of pottery repair where they would fill in the cracks with lacquer mixed with gold dust. Kintsugi pieces are beautiful to see. And that’s how I feel about reading/writing a story where you watch the character go through angst that changes them or talking to someone who’s in the middle of a difficult time in their lives–there’s such beauty in the brokenness.

So why hide it?

 

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