Just got done over the weekend, for the umpteenth time, watching the titanic “death of Spock” scene in probably the best of the 1980s Star Trek films: The Wrath of Khan. It’s the tale of the return of genetically-engineered, late-20th century superhuman Khan Noonien Singh (a mesmerizing Ricardo Montalban), and his quest for vengeance against one Admiral (formerly Captain) James Tiberius Kirk (William Shatner).
Yes, this is truly a superior movie — particularly after 1979’s sterile and disappointing Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
“Sterile” is one thing this second cinematic outing of the U.S.S. Enterprise certainly ain’t! From the initial re-union between a seething Khan and stunned Kirk, to the Admiral’s taut, on-the-bridge exchanges with half-Vulcan/half-Romulan navigator Lt. Saavik, to Kirk’s taunting of his obsessive antagonist, followed by the enraged eruption at him, while trapped underground (“Khaaaannnn!)”, to the latter’s rancorously spitting out snatches of Moby Dick as he envisions the Enterprise‘s demise — this one throbs with passion all the way through.
But, it’s the final minutes of Wrath of Khan‘s final reel that seal this Star Trek installment as a high point of the series’ canon:
— “Scotty” and McCoy’s frantic (and futile) bellowing when Spock (Leonard Nimoy) plunges into a radiation-poisoned chamber, risking his life to save the ship
— The expression of silent panic on Kirk’s face when “Bones” calls him down to the engine room and the Admiral realizes something is wrong, glancing with quiet dread at Spock’s empty chair on the bridge
— Scotty and “Bones” physically restraining the Admiral from rushing in to rescue his alien sidekick:
Kirk, hysterical: “He’ll die!”
Scotty, bitterly: “Sir, he’s dead already!”
McCoy, resigned: “It’s too late.”
— Spock, blind and dying, staggering to his feet one final time to address Kirk and straightening his tunic before approaching him; (I don’t know if that subtle gesture was scripted or improvised on Nimoy’s part — in either case it’s a masterfully wordless summation of all that Spock had been for seventy-nine TV episodes and (at that point) two feature films.)
— A moment later, Spock consoling his superior officer: “Don’t grieve, Admiral. It is logical: the needs of the many outweigh…”.
Kirk finishing it for him: “… the needs of the few.”
Then Spock, concisely but dramatically: “Or the one.”
(That sacrificial sentiment sure rings a bell for the Bible-treasuring Christian: Think Jn 3:16.)
— One of the truly magisterial lines of dialogue in the history of film-making — yes, in the entire history of the art form: the supposedly emotionless Vulcan, failing now and affirming to Kirk through croaking voice: “I have been and always shall be, your friend.”
I didn’t cry when I watched that exchange this time around — but the goose-bumps definitely flared.
— Spock slumping against the transparent radiation barrier separating them, head drooping; Kirk, similarly sagging against the same partition, shoulder-to-shoulder with his now departed comrade, utterly desolate
Shatner takes a lot of heat for his often convulsive overacting, but he flatly nails this scene. It’s Shatner shattered.
— “Amazing Grace” played at Spock’s funeral? Apparently, even in the 23rd century this scientifically-advanced, resolutely secularist bunch can’t get away from reminders of … God!
— At the same memorial, Kirk’s eulogy offering parting words of honor for his other-worldly companion: “Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most — HUMAN.”
Okay, I concede, on this viewing I still choked up at that part.
For all its admittedly cheesy special affects (those Styrofoam boulders!) and sometimes listlessly realized plots (“The Savage Curtain”? “Spock’s Brain”?), Star Trek: the Original Series has aged surprisingly well, even in our sophisticated, jaded entertainment era. It stands an enduring, constantly re-broadcast television legend, in main part, because of the inimitable chemistry that crackles between Shatner and Nimoy, between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. The greatness of those two main players — and to a lesser degree, Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelly) — generates the greatness of the series which turned out, ultimately, to be a character driven affair more than anything else. It was, bottom line, a weekly, prime-time account of the travels and travails of loyal friends, experienced together.
And that marvelous dynamic is captured in winsome — and finally heartbreaking — fullness in this 1982 film.
My favorite movies and television programs regularly center around a “friendship” theme. It’s why I’m crazy about the likes of Gladiator, Shawshank Redemption, Master and Commander; and yes, Star Trek: Wrath of Khan.
With the contemporary mania over homosexual male relationships, this vital need for men to have old-fashioned, heterosexual friends is too often scanted, even eradicated altogether. I’m friendly with lots of folks, I know multitudes of people and probably like most of them — but, candidly, those I’d number among my genuine” friends”? A mere handful. As I’ve gotten older, “friend” has evolved for me from a means of categorizing anyone with whom I’m somehow connected personally into a nearly sacred word.
The writer of Proverbs, I suspect, would agree with my evaluation. Scores of generations ago, he penned, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” and “A friend loves at all times.”
Many years back, when one of my best buddies was relocating from his residence a few miles from my house to a distant spot half-way across the country, just before driving out of sight the morning he left, he handed me a card. Inside he’d inscribed the familiar, valedictory words of an alien Star Fleet officer who’d also been saying goodbye to someone dear to him: “I have been, and always will be, your friend.” A memorable scrap of dialogue cribbed from a film we both appreciated, it became for both of us at that farewell moment the perfect encapsulation of our then-decade spanning relationship — a relationship I deeply prized; and still do.
Do you possess a genuine friend (or a few of them?). Cherish that, nurture that.
Don’t have anyone you can call a real friend? Ask God to send you one, aim to make one.
Friendship is good stuff, one of life’s preeminent blessings. Millenia of human experience and the Bible confirm that.
As do Kirk and Spock.
Image: Screen Courtesy of You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVIt0DYKssI