I watch movies once and I’ll wait for them. Four years after Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was adapted to film, I have finally seen it. I’ve waited longer for other movies.
The movie was right up my alley; asking more questions than it provided answers. I’ve gleefully read some exuberant analyses of the ending, that have been floating around the ether for four years or so.
This was nearly a perfect movie. I’m reminded of Terry Gilliam’s comments regarding 2001: A Space Odyssey: “2001 had an ending. I don’t know what it means…I have to think about it. I have to work. And it opens up all sorts of possibilities and probably the next person I speak to has a different idea of what that ending means.” Oblique endings are extremely satisfying to me. They speak to real life more directly than any ‘happily ever after’ could.
My problem with story’s endings is deep and I really just need to sit down and hash it out one day. I can summarize it, maybe: All stories reflect the story of Christ. That’s the point of this blog. We don’t know how the story – we don’t know if the story – of Christ has an ending. It doesn’t. He’s immortal. We don’t know how the story of His work of salvation will end. We have a nice climax on the Cross, but we’re promised a lot more action to come. So if the stories of mankind reflect the story of Christ and we don’t know how the story of Christ ends, what do mankind’s endings look like?
Of the possible endings, the mysterious one best suits my worldview. I don’t know what the new creation will be like. I don’t know what my work will be like. I don’t know how much of my current understanding of who I am and what life is will continue on into that next world. It won’t be horrible, but it might be terrifying. It won’t be dangerous, but it might be painful. And I don’t know what events have yet to transpire to get us from here to there.
One theme that’s appropriately common to most endings is the new world. The new world, or the new life, of the characters can be good or bad. But the point of every story is that this part of existence needs to be told because things were one way before and they’re another way after.
A story could end on a wedding, which explicitly indicates a new way of life for characters, or it could end more subtly. A new way of thinking, after the death of someone close or the perseverance through something hard, can be suggested at the end of a movie. “After all, tomorrow is another day.” “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” “I’ll be right here.” “It’s too bad she won’t live. But then again, who does?” Even Leia’s final comments tie up the love triangle and hint at the possibilities: “It’s not like that at all. He’s my brother.”
These all indicate a larger world than the story they’re inside of. There’s more to come. There’s more here. Keep watching the skies.
Even the tidiest endings suggest a bigger world than the story can contain. The messier endings indicate a world infinitely bigger than the story. Even the author can’t conceive of this world’s scope. Endings of this type are much more sympathetic to my worldview. The implications of Christ’s work, not to mention the stuff He’s done that we don’t even know about yet, are beyond our understanding.
The mysterious ending of The Road indicates that the world of Man and Boy is much stranger and larger than their journey.
One thing that this movie, and its bizarre ending, accomplish is to make the viewer think. Not many movies can do this.
Here’s an excerpt from an interview with McCarthy:
I have the same letter from about six different people. One from Australia, one from Germany, one from England, but they all said the same thing. They said, “I started reading your book after dinner and I finished it 3:45 the next morning, and I got up and went upstairs and I got my kids up and I just sat there in the bed and held them.”
Any story that can inspire that reaction is worthy of our species’ narrative heritage. Let’s keep The Road.
Here’s a little video I pieced together, imagining Sybok’s attack on Kirk.
Sybok converted each of the Enterprise’s crewmembers by aggravating painful memories. We don’t see what he did to the four supporting players, but we do witness his attacks on McCoy and Spock. Just as Sybok is about to dig into Kirk’s memories, the captain stops it short. Kirk’s resistance may have been more impressive if Sybok had tried and failed, rather than not even getting the chance to try.
If Sybok was allowed to dig a little bit, the painful memories from Kirk’s past that he probably would have played on include the death of David, the hurt that Kirk felt at the death of Spock, and the tragedy of the transporter accident from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That may seem like an odd story to include. But one of those people is meant to be Lori Ciana, with whom Kirk fell in love, revealed in the novel The Lost Years.
The scenes from the TV show don’t fit very well visually, because of the unfortunate discrepancies in aspect ratio. I could have adjusted it, but that would reduce the image quality of the clips from the show, which already are of a lower quality from the films. For a two-minute fan compilation, I can afford to shrug that one off.
From the show, I’ve included a shot of Kodos the Executioner, playing on Kirk’s childhood trauma which was explored in Shatner’s novel Collision Course, a shot of Kirk’s old friend Gary Mithchell in his last lucid moment, Kirk discovering the dead body of his brother, and the death of his father. This bit is non-canonical, and doesn’t make any sense to include in this timeline. But it’s cool, so I threw it in there. The greatest pain in Kirk’s life may have been the death of Edith Keeler. He loved her, but he’s loved other people who have died. The real pain associated with Edith is the terrible choice he was forced to make. Captain Kirk is a man who always finds a way out, even if the situation is grim and the odds are against him. (Okay, so he didn’t find a way out of that one either.) The death of Edith marks the first time Kirk was forced to face his own limitations. He lost a woman he loved, which is painful enough. But being forced to allow her death hits at the deepest insecurities the character has.
But of course, it was that experience that strengthened him for the challenges ahead. Steeling his will to bring justice to the frontier, nothing could scare him. If his pain was taken away then he might not have the courage to confront the evil God-imposter, or to surrender his prejudice against the Klingons.
The music is taken from the episode “The City on the Edge of Forever.” Since I believe Kirk’s pain finds it home in the events chronicled in that story, it makes sense that all of his pains would be scored likewise.
“Bonk Bonk! On the head! Bonk! Bonk!”
Kirk and Co. discover a world very much like earth, but missing one key feature: adults. The planet is devoid of adults. World of the Flies. There are plenty of old people though. They just all look like kids. Some kind of arrested development has stunted their physical, emotional, and mental growth. Though over a hundred years old, these people are really children, inside and out.
Being children, the Onlies don’t believe Kirk is there to help. A real child might believe an adult. But imagine the kind of minds the Onlies have. They’re not simply children. They are hundreds of years old. But they are trapped in their child-like bodies…It’s a strange premise. The tension between being young and old is one that grips every one of us. We tend to long for aspects of youth like being adventurous and energetic. But most of us value certain aspects of adulthood, considering the trade off to be fair. (And impossible to reverse, even if we don’t think it’s fair.) But the poor old Onlies do not retain their youthful vigor for adventure, while maturing intellectually. The Onlies are like kids in the worst ways: helpless, bigoted, and dangerous if given power. And they’re like adults in the worst ways: smart enough to bring their half-formed philosophies to fruition.
The bizarre, but likely, culture of the Onlies leads them to greet Kirk with suspicion. The potential cure from McCoy does not inspire them either. The Onlies are like those half-formed adults of the real world who have mental or intellectual problems, or haven’t been raised quite right, but aren’t needy enough to qualify for some governmental or charitable assistance. These people have the legal rights, given their age, and the financial, physical, and intellectual capabilities of living a life. Many times though, these people don’t have any kind of philosophical foundation for what kind of life they want to, or should, lead. All the power, none of the direction.
The Onlies, and their real-world counterparts, will dash furiously toward nothing in particular. Content (maybe) to live pleasure-to-pleasure, constantly threatening to sue anyone who has slightly offended them, or using violent talk (bonk! bonk!) to raise the stakes of any given argument because it will distract from actually reaching a conclusion.
Sometimes I’m a real-world Only.
But I thank God that I have His leadership and Word to guide me in the right direction. Thanks to God for the pastors, mentors, and friends He’s put in my way whenever I resort to the animalistic grunting of the Onlies.
That’s the point of being a Christian, I think. Being shown that you’re an Only, being given a new life, and then diving back into the pit of Onlies, trying to show others that there is a cure.
Of course, it’s not usually that easy.
Have you ever tried to help someone who didn’t want to be helped? Or who was just content to live with their horrible, yet fixable problem? Jahn was leading his people to their doom, for the sake of power and jealousy. But Kirk…oh man, Kirk is such a Jesus figure in this story! Captain Kirk goes in among them. He becomes infected with their disease. And he endures the mocking, backstabbing, and finally the beating at the hands of the Onlies. The very people he beamed down to save reject him, fear him, and try to kill him.
Kirk is not only a picture of Jesus and His mission. The captain also serves as an example for us! Getting involved with the real-world Onlies is a messy business. They can be annoying, dirty, dangerous, ungrateful, and are often a combination of all four. But by living among them, inviting them into our lives, we can love them. And loving unlovable people is a command from Christ.
Father Damien, the missionary to the lepers of Hawaii who eventually died from contact with them, wrote to his brother:
“I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.”
Captain Kirk truly made himself an Only to gain life for them. What a picture! Imagine Christ with those ugly purple sores all over, getting punched and kicked by over-old children. Christ didn’t come to cure our physical illnesses and jet off to His next adventure though. Christ came to cure our spiritual death first. And He did it to live with us forever. He doesn’t say, “Enjoy your health. You can live over there now.” Paul says, “But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-54)