|This is how to do religious metaphors on film.|
I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness and mostly enjoyed it in a mindless, well-executed explosions and imaginative visual style sort of way. There were some clever touches for old school Star Trek fans as well, but one of these set off the inner critic in my head who had been sleeping comfortably until that point. By the time the credits rolled, I wanted to scream, "Enough with the Messiah metaphors already."
If you saw the movie, you know what I'm talking about. Captain Kirk interrupts his uninteresting cowboy role in playing by his own rules but still getting things done to actually sacrifice his life for his crew. This isn't the part that bugged me. It was actually a clever re-working of Spock's story arc in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, and, as this Wired article suggests, it's kind of perfect.
Then there's the damn Tribble. I knew that would play into the movie, but part of me was enjoying the fact that, for a brief moment, this movie meant something pushed it to the back of my mind. But Khan's blood can resurrect the dead, Spock needs his blood to save Kirk, blah blah blah. And lucky us, we end the movie with Kirk alive and Khan stowed away for a sequel. If you spotted the plot hole there, that was one of many I was willing to forgive. But the problem with this kind of Messiah metaphor, the kind that involves bringing the movie messiah back, is death no longer means anything. There are no stakes, unless the business bottling and selling Khan's miracle blood runs into too much overhead or something. Except there's no money in the Star Trek universe, so that doesn't work either.
I had the same issue with the otherwise compelling Game of Thrones. A character dies in a duel, so he's gone, right? I mean, there was some magic that conveniently solved plot points last season, but at least you can't magically bring people back from the dead, right?
Wrong. A priest [Ed. note: Thoros of Myr, a red priest of R'hllor] says a prayer, and his buddy's back to the living. We've now entered The Princess Bride territory.
Granted, I make an unfair comparison here. Death in Game of Thrones is more nihilistic than sacrificial, and the "resurrection", while convenient, only works for one character (as far as I know) and is far from pleasant for him. Still, ever since the third X-Men movie, I'm done with people dying and then not in fiction. It's one of the reasons the Left Behind books didn't work. The authors built up dramatic moving deaths for the Christian characters and I was thinking "I'll see them at the end anyway." It's like living in a world with no consequences; nothing has meaning anymore.
I get the appeal for these stories, I do. Some of my favorite movie scenes involve brilliant use of these metaphors, like the one from Cool Hand Luke I posted a picture from above. But whether it happens to a wizard, vulcan or human, I buy it a lot more if there's a sense of stakes, and I think somewhere in our obsession with happy endings we've lost the plot. So Hollywood, please. Scrap the movie messiahs for now. Watch Cool Hand Luke for starters, and take notes. Or if you just can't wait, at least take a hint from the original Wrath of Khan and keep the hero dead for a while.