Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The Union of Man and His Creator
How marriage speaks of our existential need for our Creator
“Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound. . ."
— Ephesians 5: 31-32 (ESV)
What if 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Trek decided to merge and create a beautiful, cerebral think piece? This is essentially Robert Wise’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as we follow the indomitable heroes of the Enterprise on their most strange and unearthly adventure yet. From the very beginning featuring the devastating transporter malfunction, you immediately get a sense that this isn’t going to be the usual Star Trek enterprise (pun very much intended). The original series charmed us with its more light-hearted and campy tone, but here the stakes are very real. Our heroes are about to enter the dread of the Unknown when Starfleet detects an alien entity hidden in a cloud of energy and moving steadily towards Earth. This entity proves itself perilous as three Klingon warships and a Starfleet monitoring station are both destroyed when overtaken by this cloud – not a trace of anything left in its wake.
Although the Enterprise is undergoing a major refit, it is the only ship within range, so Starfleet Command assigns Enterprise to intercept this cloud entity. James Kirk, now Admiral (and clearly not content with this station in life), uses his authority to take command of the ship back on this dangerous mission, much to the chagrin of its current Captain, William Decker, who must now submit to a demotion to First Officer. We also see the return of Mr. Spock as Science Officer. He sweeps onto the Bridge of the Enterprise stating that while he was on his home planet, he had felt the impressions of this alien Consciousness as he was about to conclude the Vulcan ritual of Kolinar, which is the purging of all emotion. Unable to complete the Kolinar and disturbed in his spirit, Spock seeks answers from this entity, believing it may hold the key to the soul cry that lies within him.
Tensions are undeniably high, not only with the pressing danger of an unknown and seemingly hostile life form hurtling towards Earth, but also the stresses – and subsequent failures - of having to refit and test the ship’s new systems while in transit. This inflames the friction between Kirk and Decker who wrestle for authority on this mission. Their different styles of command - Kirk’s willingness to jump in head first versus Decker’s more cautious and methodical approach - cause them to be constantly at odds. These tensions prove almost too much for the Enterprise to bear. Even Spock, who is usually the voice of reason, is more stoic and inscrutable than ever, seeming to care for nothing other than reaching this alien life form.
We also come to discover that the new chief navigator of the Enterprise, a beautiful Deltan woman named Lieutenant Ilia (played by the enchanting Persis Khambatta), has a complex romantic history with Decker. It seems both have mutually resolved to keep this history in the past while maintaining a professional relationship, although it is clear they still have a strong attachment to one another. So much has been said between them, and yet so much seems unsaid. Yet miraculously, it is this intimate connection between a man and a woman, ‘this simple feeling,’ that becomes the critical link with this approaching Entity. By doing so, I believe it reveals one of the most profound mysteries of our existence.
Eventually the Enterprise intercepts the energy cloud, and through Kirk’s quick thinking and intuition it makes first contact with what they believe is the alien vessel that lies within. A Probe appears on the bridge overwhelming them, yet it seems to be uninterested in the crew, intent only on dissecting information from the Enterprise herself. Alarmed by what the Probe could be doing to their systems, they try to stop it, but to everyone’s horror, it attacks Spock and abducts Lieutenant Ilia. Before the Enterprise has even a chance of understanding what had happened and how best to proceed, the Probe returns again, but this time – to everyone’s utter astonishment - as a perfect android replica of Lieutenant Ilia!
This Probe, having somehow assimilated and reconstructed Ilia down to even the molecular level (done for the purpose of communicating with what it terms as the “Carbon-based Units”), is a representative of this Entity which calls itself V’Ger. Its purpose: to find its Creator. V’Ger seems to believe that its Creator is located on Earth, and for this reason it passes relentlessly through space seeking Him. Once found, V’Ger - speaking as Ilia - informs them that it will be joined with Him, becoming one with Him. This finding, joining, and knowing seems to be V’Ger’s primary objective, and the essence of its very being. Unswerving in this mission, having the uncompromising precision of a machine, it will not stop until it has achieved this goal.
Yet V’Ger also has an insatiable curiosity woven into its spirit as well, and decides to take some time to study the Enterprise and its “Carbon-based Units.” As Probe Ilia mercilessly informs them with a machine’s cold logic, this is a temporary excursion which will end with them being reduced to data patterns. However, through Spock’s keen insights and McCoy’s medical examination of the Probe, our heroes are able to discern that perhaps Ilia was replicated so exactly and so perfectly that even Ilia’s memories still exist within the Probe itself. Kirk convinces Decker to be the Probe’s guide through the Enterprise, hoping that because of Decker and Ilia’s strong bond, it will awaken the dormant memories and personality of Ilia. Decker, desiring more than anything to reach the woman he loves, seeks to revive her – the fate of the Enterprise and all of humanity resting on their relationship!
Meanwhile, Spock, as insatiable and relentless as V’Ger, takes it upon himself to do his own kind of scientific exploration, as he ejects himself into the depths of the enormous and complex alien vessel of V’Ger - a beautiful and endless spiraling mechanical landscape of metallic and silicon fractals. Through Spock’s desperation and daring, he Mind Melds with V’Ger and is able to learn that V’Ger is the “vessel” itself, an enormous non-biological living machine! Inside it has stored all of the information it collected along its journey, a being so complex and filled with so much knowledge that it seems beyond any of their comprehension. Yet for all this, Spock discovers that it has an emptiness within itself. It has none of the answers either. It is like a child, only knowing what it needs. “But like so many of us,” Spock perceptively states, “it does not know what.” V’Ger is not the answer, but like the “Carbon-based Units,” it has the same soul cry that seems to lie within all sentient beings.
“I weep for V’Ger as I would for a brother. As I was when I came aboard, so is V’Ger now – empty, incomplete, and searching. Logic and knowledge are not enough. […] Each of us, at some time in our lives, turns to someone – a father, a brother, a god and asks: “Why am I here? What was I meant to be?” V’Ger hopes to touch its Creator, to find its answers.”
Time has run out for our heroes, however, as V’Ger has finally reached Earth and Decker has been unsuccessful in his attempts at reaching Ilia. V’Ger sends out a signal – incredulously, a radio signal - but Earth is unable to reply, so V’Ger prepares to assimilate and destroy the entire world and its people. Kirk, who is not unfamiliar with being able to bluff himself out of any obstacle, informs V’Ger that they know why the Creator does not answer, but he will only relay this information directly to V’Ger itself. Agreeing to this arrangement, the Ilia Probe leads our heroes into the heart and mind of V’Ger’s core, a haunting and surreal landscape of a living “breathing” machine.
Here they finally learn the whole truth of V’Ger’s existence. V’Ger is actually a shortened form of “Voyager” - the United States NASA Voyager 6 probe that was sent so long ago into the far reaches of space and thought to have been lost in a black hole. It had been found by a race of living machines, who saw “V’Ger” as one of their own kind, albeit very primitive. They upgraded this probe so that it could continue to fulfill its mission, to learn all that can be learned and return this information back to its creator. It was in this process of its journey back that V’Ger achieved sentience, filled with a longing it did not completely understand, unable to give itself a purpose outside of its original programming.
Finally, Earth is able to answer V’Ger’s radio signal with the proper NASA code, completing V’Ger’s original objective. However, V’Ger, not satisfied with merely having the signal answered, refuses to finish the sequence until it can meet its Creator face to face. Understanding that it is humanity who is V’Ger’s “Creator,” Decker is the first to volunteer himself, set aflame by the knowledge of what he must do. He is going to join with V’Ger - through the Ilia Probe – just as V’Ger desired all along. Kirk tries to stop him, but Decker declares: “Jim, I want this. As much as you wanted the Enterprise, I want this.” And with Ilia standing before him, her eyes reflecting both the love of the woman he knows and the desire of V’Ger’s purpose, Decker makes “first contact.” In a brilliant stream of light, both V’Ger as Ilia and Decker join and become an entirely new life form, ascending and disappearing into the dimensions beyond!
This is such a transcendent and powerful climax. Yet even more than the emotions of what it means for the story, I couldn’t help but see how Decker, representative of V’Ger’s “Creator”, and Ilia, now a part of V’Ger, joining together as one Entity becomes a beautiful picture of our own relationship with our Creator. Relationship – or more accurately union - is intrinsically a part of that picture.
When God created the universe and all that resides within it, it was all declared as “Good” by Him. When He breathed life into the Man from the dust of the earth, this was also declared as good. Yet the very first thing that was stated as not being good within this perfect world was when Man realized that he was alone, that he had no partner to help him. Even the creatures were given each of their own kind, but Man recognized an emptiness with himself. It was here, within this first lack, that God formed Woman out of the rib of the Man, and it was declared that as Male and Female, complete and unified together, God had created Man in His own image. In a way this moment becomes a “first contact,” when Man beheld another sentient being - like but so unalike - and spontaneously recites the first love song: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
Science fiction, and consequently Star Trek, is centered on many themes, but one of its most prominent tenets is based on the question, “Are we alone in the universe?” In Star Trek, human beings are not the only sentient beings, but the galaxy is full of a variety of life too numerous and wondrous to name. We were excited to discover each of them in our favorite episodes every week. This optimistic and idyllic future of a thriving, communal universe inevitably becomes a reflection of our own desires as human beings – almost as if, like Adam before Eve was brought to him, we are experiencing a lack, an emptiness within ourselves. Just like Spock and just like V’Ger who were “empty, incomplete, and searching,” asking questions (“Is this all I am? Is there nothing more?”), there is a deep longing in all of us, a powerful ache to find and know “Another.” Yet even more than this searching and finding, we want to join with another, like V’Ger. We desire union with this “Other.” Star Trek: The Motion Picture takes this desire a step further, for it is just not any kind of life form that V’Ger sought, but it was its Creator. Its essential need for purpose and connection found its cumulation within the face of its Creator!
“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
— 2 Cor. 4:6 (ESV)
As human beings we do not want to just to know, but to be known. “This simple feeling” that Spock ends up discovering as he holds the hands of his dearest friend, closer than even a brother, James T. Kirk, is just that: to make a connection on this, the deepest of levels. He realizes that he no longer desired the cold emptiness of the Vulcan Kolinar, but the warmth and comradery of his friends on the Enterprise. Love and friendship, knowing, and ultimately the feeling of home, are at the core of our being. Where would we not find this fully manifested, completely satisfied, and wonderfully experienced but in the face of our Beloved Creator? Our Creator God who formed us out of His love for us, who formed our inward parts, knitting us together within the womb. We are declared by David as being “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Through V’Ger’s mission we see this is where the journey ends, where the journey was always supposed to end, standing face to face with our Creator who embraces us to His bosom like a friend, like a brother, like a son. And yes, even in a mysterious way, like a lover!
Remember, this joining of created thing and creator was manifested through the joining of Ilia and Decker – a man and woman in love! They, like the “first contact” at the beginning of Creation between Man and Woman – between Adam and his Eve - are joined together to become one. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Man and Woman, two entirely separate entities, yet together represent the completeness of our God, and this completeness is fully made manifest through an act of union – sex through marriage – the love of one man and one woman!
It isn’t until later in the New Testament that Paul unveils the full meaning behind this imagery of marriage, declaring that it “refers to Christ and the church.” Wherein Paul, when speaking to husbands, declares “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” This revelation is also reflected in the imagery from the Old Testament, when God speaks of His love for and sanctification of Israel: “When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil.”
We see that since the beginning of creation God has represented His union with us, His People, within the image of the union between Man and Woman – the Bridegroom and his Bride! We know that the end of our story, just as the end of Star Trek the Motion Picture, will find its conclusion within that union! Where, at the end of days, the new Jerusalem will be seen “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,” the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Here we have come to final and complete revelation: the mystery of marriage, the oneness of Man and Woman, speaks to our intrinsic connection to our Creator – which is made complete through our union with Christ!
And what comes after this glorious union? New creation! “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” We see this “new creation” reflected within marriage too, where through consummation we have the begetting of children – new life. And what happens at the end of Star Trek The Motion Picture? Later, when our heroes return to the Enterprise after witnessing the beautiful union of Decker and Ilia as V’Ger, Kirk asks of Spock, “Did we just see the beginnings of a new life form?” Spock answers, “Yes, Captain, we witnessed a birth. Possibly a next step in our evolution.” Dr. McCoy then observes in his usual impish manner, “Well, it's been a long time since I delivered a baby, and I hope we got this one off to a good start.” Birth. New life. So, we come to end of the journey, which turns out was just the beginning. Through Man’s union with His Creator God, we are utterly transformed!
"Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye..."
— 1 Corinthians 15:51 (ESV)