Star Trek Beyond - Me & Control vs You & Chaos

Thoughts On: Star Trek Beyond

For a spoiler free talk on this film, please click here. In that previous post I said that this is a great movie, well, here's why...


Anyone who's heard of Star Trek knows that whilst these are films about space, warp drives, aliens and phasers, they're often about social issues and always have an intended depth woven into their narratives. Star Trek Beyond is no exception to this rule. What makes it a perfect blockbuster is the use of Krall and the United Federation of Planets as a subtextual means of assessing an idea of socialism, collectivism and dictatorships in respect to individuality. Before we get into this, I'd like to say again that I'm not a huge Star Trek fan and so might mess up the lore a bit. To avoid this I'm simply going to talk about this film as a singular unit. So, what the focus here will be on is Krall's motives throughout the film. It's best to start with the end and the fact that he was a human soldier apart of the Starfleet that was abandoned. He crash landed on a planet in a distant nebula and was never saved. His idea of the UFP in this moment is severely distorted. The best way to understand this is to look at any good war movie. For example, Full Metal Jacket (which I'll be covering very soon).

What led to this:

Was quite simply this:

Pyle is conditioned to be hard, to be full of hate, a killing machine. However, something doesn't align in his mind. That which he becomes destroys him as he's never really convinced of the purpose, the intentions, of the corp he serves. Krall would have believed in his corps' values. As he mentions in the film, he believes in struggle, in suffering and violence. It's this that makes people great. Not hope. Hope in his eyes is an idea of inertia, it's watching and waiting, never doing. Hope is what left him and his crew to die on a distant planet. UFP hoped, but they did nothing to help him. On top of this there's a core principal inherent to the UFP and it's that 'U'. United they believe they are stronger. Krall sees this as a lie. Again, there's an element of inherecy in unity just as there is in hope. Unity is a way of saying we're here for you. It's not an action, it's not a person by your side or a hand on your shoulder, it's an idea, a promise. It's in this regard we can look at hope and unity as inherent to social conduct, but not much more than a buried intention, again, a promise - one that can easily be broken. In opposition to hope and unity, Krall relies on pain and an organised force. Hope has you see the light at the end of the tunnel, it's motivation, something to run toward. You run away from pain. Pain on the other hand is something you must overcome, there is no motivation, it's simply do or die, a binary sense of purpose. You are, or you aren't, there's no speculative if, buts or maybes. This is Krall. He is at his core an archetype of honour and courage.

You could make the argument that everything Krall stands for is the foundation to our society. It didn't really take hope and unity to build the pyramids. It took slaves, pain, sweat and blood. The same may be said for any major human achievements. However, whilst there is almost always an element of creation intrinsically bound to human destruction, it takes ideals such as hope and unity to preserve what we create. You may build a country off the backs of slaves, off war, hatred, blood and terror, but you won't be able to populate and sustain it with the methodology and thinking of the ruinous formative past. This idea is at the core of the Star Trek universe, it's at the core of almost any utopian, or even positive view of the future. A better future presented in sci-fi films is always peaceful, unified and diverse. That's simply because this is what we want of our own future. What makes sense is that we do away with war, violence, hunger, poverty, oppression and discrimination. To bring this back to Star Trek you have to ask the simple question: how do you manage that? Well... there's two answers to this question. There's the simple one, and then there's the useless one. We'll start with the useless. To create a utopian society you need to unite the people, ensure tolerance, fairness and universal good will. This is the epitomal 'easier said than done' of our society. We've striven toward this for centuries with religion, law, rights, enlightenments, science, customs, conventions, organisations, structures, so on and so forth, so on and so forth. But, here we are, in an imperfect world after all of this time, after all of this striving toward something better. Whilst it's undeniable that the world of today is better than the world 50, 100 or 200 years ago, there's a myriad of atrocities and injustices I need not list that beg the question: how much better can it get? Will the world ever be perfect? The truth is, the world can always be a better place, but that doesn't mean it can't be utopian, it can be fundamentally ideal. Can we manage that though? Can we simply make everything united, free and tolerant? How? These are daunting questions, in certain regards, futile plights.

There is still that simple solution though. To create the perfect world you could wipe out everything impure, you could send a great rain to wash it all away and enforce one singular and central idea of what is acceptable. This, if you can't notice, is...

... yeah, please don't do that. To create a perfect society in this way you must quash diversity of opinion, motivation and intelligence - you must unify. This is the crucial critique of socialism, communism and general collectivism just as it is totalitarianism and fascism. It's the unification of the world under an idea that is too simple. When you take away meritocracy you also take away personality. When you enforce unity, you also suck away individuality. This is the fundamental struggle of human society. Haters will always hate. Yin will always have yang. Freedom of speech means you have to hear shit you don't want to. Tolerance is turning the other cheek to be hit again. Everything has an equal and opposite. However you want to say it, society functions with conflict.

It's having said all of this that you can recognise Krall as the simple solution and UFP as the complex, maybe useless, one. Krall wants to enforce a hive mentality, a twisted idea of dictated communism with a not-so-subtle hint of totalitarianism. Everything honourable and courageous he stands for is under the threat of his severe biases and downfalls as a person. A fascist dictatorship is certainly one way of creating a utopia, but it takes an inhumanly perfect person to do this. Everything you say and do must be impenetrably, irrefutably right, unquestionably moral, but pragmatically water-tight. However, as the core relationship in the film makes clear...

... morality and pragmatism cannot be separated - not by the human mind. For every ounce of sense there's always an ounce of emotion. This is essentially why dictatorships are fucked up. Yes, it makes sense to annihilate every stupid person and asshole on the planet and just blast them into outer space so we can all live in a perfect world. But, morality forces you to ask: what is goodness, intelligence, perfection? Who is right? This is what Krall is blind to and the Enterprise crew and the UFP alike strive toward upholding. The UFP is thus representative of chaos and Krall control. Despite all their rules and regulations the UFP employ Kirk. That's enough said really. They recognise that it takes a diversity of  intelligence and emotional intellect to explore the unknown. It's the only way to be prepared, to expect the unexpected. The same is true in deep space as it is in life. We live in uncertainty, simply waiting for what the next moment will bring us what it will. To face this great unknown it's best to have the shields up and all defenses at the ready, warp drive raring to go.

In the end, the ideas expressed through this film are universal, almost simple. The purpose of the narrative is to demonstrate that totalitarian control is, with a shift of circumstance and perspective, chaotic. On the other hand, the chaos of freedom and tolerance, whilst scary, the balance between right and wrong, safety and desolation, precarious, the drop daunting, is life. Krall whilst a strong force, seemingly insurmountable, stands on the same thin line the Enterprise crew and UFP do. He, and what he represents, is just as precariously placed and despite looking stable has no balancing pole. One swift breeze and he's gone, leaving the Enterprise crew walking the line still...

And it's here were the essay could end, but, simply can't. If we are to end on the acceptance of the great unknown, then we must also ask a question of if. What if Krall is right? Now, I'm not talking about his actions here, but the essence of his character. I'm talking about courage and honour. Is it wrong to have principals, to decide what is right what is wrong, what must be done? If you are to face the unknown is it better to have courage and honour, or is it better to have hope? I'll rephrase: is it better to have control or to blindly embrace the chaos? For everything I've said in the latter half of this essay the answer seems to be that we should embrace chaos. This idea doesn't align with human nature though. Nature, even human nature, that which we are bound to, is our enemy. So, in truth, our nature has us pitted against ourselves. We like to plant a few trees in our back gardens, stare in awe at perfectly pruned gardens, own pets, go to the zoo and so on. But, you have to be insane or utterly stupid to want to live in the forest with a tiger. It just doesn't make sense, it's not safe and it doesn't get you anywhere. To truly embrace the chaos of life you'd have to relinquish all senses of control. So, just as Kirk has Spock, the UFP kind of needs Krall. Krall is a counterbalance that brings out honour and courage in the good guys. Without Krall, there'd be no conflict and so no movie. In this regard, for this film to be solely about chaos it'd have to be a flurry of flashing lights that never stopped. For it to be about pure control, well, we'd probably just get a blank screen. This is important to recognise as the film is what it tries to talk about. It entertains as well as teaches. It tests the senses just like it does the mind (granted, the senses more than the mind (which is why it's a great blockbuster)). So, if we go to movies to see conflict, it's clear that we're wired for it. Just like human nature is pitted against itself so are human actions. There is no inertia, there is no perpetual motion. We don't accept it. Life is start, stop; up, down. This contorts the lasting message of the film. It's about individuality existing within a communal, collectivist society, but also hope living alongside control and courage. Will and foresight are key to moving with the ebb and flow, the start, stop of life. This is why the film starts with the crew bored, 3 years into a 5 year journey. They live for conflict. Kirk chooses to remain a pilot in the end because you can't have pure chaos, neither can you pure control. You've got to juggle them as they come.

So, to look back up at the tightrope walker, you can infer that chaos surrounds us, is ready to drag us down at any time. But, control is not found in the person walking the rope. The rope itself is control. There's reprieve in physical law. Just like you can transcend galaxies with a warp drive you can a canyon with a wire. It's simply our job to walk the line, not control it, hopefully not fall off it either.

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