Lessons in Friendship: Courtesy of Kirk and Spock
By Steve Pauwels
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 reunion 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.)
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