The Religious Elements of Star Trek into Darkness

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I can’t just sit and watch a movie. I have to sift through it, think about it, and notice its more interesting details. The more a movie gives me to ponder, the more I like it.

Star Trek into Darkness made a lot of fans mad for a lot of (understandable) reasons, but I loved it.

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to this film; the changes made to the original characters and story lines, the unprofessional side of Uhura, even the sexism . I could fire up a list of arguments for and against the remakes, balancing out the original characters with their big-screen new counterparts. I could talk about the reasons many original fans hate the franchise, and my understanding of that … but instead, let’s talk about the religious symbolism. It wasn’t intended, but it’s there.

Essentially, the movie boils down to a brutal terrorist inflicting pain on unsuspecting masses in a direct assault against Starfleet Command. His rebellion is against this force, which asks our heroes to fall into the line of fire as they chase him down, capture him, and unleash greater discoveries.

Strip away all the subplots and you have the iconic allegorical representation of God, Christ, and Satan.

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God: is represented in Starfleet Command, which governs over all planets and people in the inner-galactic alliance. While Starfleet itself is honorable and good, not everyone who takes action in its name is, like the admiral who intends to start a war. Yet, all our characters interact because they are brought together under Starfleet; it is, in a sense, their “creator and definer,” since it took them from mundane existence and gave them each a purpose on the Enterprise.

Jesus: Kirk lives an ordinary life until the attacks on headquarters and the death of his superior officer and mentor (as Jesus lost Joseph at some point before His mission began) nudges him into the role of a savior. Like Christ, his compassion is shown even when he has the right to pronounce judgment (he could kill Khan for his crimes, but doesn’t); and when asked to sacrifice his life for the good of everyone on the ship, he does so without a second thought, knowing it will cause him great pain and suffering, only to later rise again. His temporary issues with Spock (the Peter figure who challenges and doubts him at times) are resolved, and his sacrifice brings everyone on the ship life.

In many ways, Kirk’s “disciples” are strengthened through his sacrifice; it takes them all to greater heights in their war against Khan, and gives Spock the purpose-driven determination to overcome his enemy. Similarly, Christ’s sacrifice took His disciples to greater purposes, pushing Peter to a significant role in establishing the early church.

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Satan: is the figure of Khan, who comes among innocent people and causes great destruction and death for no other purpose than defiance of Star Fleet (the Fall, and the evil in our world ever since). He manipulates everyone for his own purpose, and destroys or harms them when they’re no longer useful to him. He has the upper hand with Kirk for a short time and beats him mercilessly (as Jesus was beaten), much to the dismay of innocent bystanders. Just as Satan used the sin of Eve to cause her downfall, Khan physically breaks Carol’s leg, representing amenity between Satan and women. Yet, just as Satan underestimated the meaning behind Christ’s sacrifice, Khan underestimates his adversaries which leads to his own fall. He winds up imprisoned in isolation at the end, still alive but not really living – a perfect analogy of hell.

Whether or not you like the reboot, you have to admit… it leaves the audience, particularly a Christian audience, a lot to think about.

29 Replies to “The Religious Elements of Star Trek into Darkness”

      1. Lemme cut and paste from something I wrote elsewhere, saving me typing it all again:

        ——

        The purpose of the ten minute opening sequence is to introduce you to the two main protagonists.

        I refer, of course, to Shemyaza and Azazel.

        Shemyaza and Azazel, a pair beloved to occultists and Hollywood scriptwriters for quite some time. Shemyaza and Azazel, for those who don’t know, were two Grigori. Who you say? Grigori, a class of angels appointed as Watchers of primitive man in the Garden of Eden. You won’t find these guys in the Bible, at least not under those names in Genesis, you might better know them as the serpent who tempts Eve. Later on you’ll know them as Satan and the Antichrist.

        Just like Starfleet, the Watchers had a prime directive not to interfere, a directive enthusiastically violated by Shemyaza and Azazel who proceeded to meddle in the affairs of man and were mistaken for gods, much to God’s displeasure. Because of this they fell from grace, one took a long fall into a chasm, the other was burned by fire. Later Azazel will become the “Beast From The Sea” in Revelations and will be the agent of chaos who paves the way for the more organised Satan.

        So,

        1. watchers over primitive races
        2. told not to interfere with primitives
        3. mistaken for gods
        4. one suspended over a fiery pit
        5. one takes a great fall
        6. one is an agent of chaos rising from the sea

        These are leitmotifs put there for no other purpose than for you to tick them off and realise what you’re watching here. And what you’re watching is called an inverted hermeneutic. It’s a popular trope of Hollywood scriptwriters who just can’t get enough of this stuff, this particular one being the “Good Satan/Bad Jesus” incarnation.

        Still with me? Good, because this brings us to the next establishing sequence.

        Warren Clark wakes up, with his worried wife and his worried border collie. They journey out of London to a hospital. Here they receive distressing news about their sick daughter, though we don’t know the details because all these actors are paid by the line and they’re on a very, very tight budget since most of the money went on special effects. Warren agonises over his daughter and goes outside.

        Outside Warren Clark meets Bad Jesus, played by Sherlock Holmes, the villain of the piece. Jesus introduces himself, just to hammer it home, with the line “I can save her”. Warren Clark blows his two lines of dialogue asking who Jesus is. Jesus smiles enigmatically. Jesus likes to heal the sick, see? It’s what he does. He also said “suffer the little children to come unto me”. So this is Jesus, introduced with one of his leitmotifs, just so you know you’re watching the Bible turned upside down and rewritten with the baddies as the goodies this time. And you thought it was Khan didn’t you? You poor gullible fools. Khan is only the pseudonym he’s adopting for this particular movie.

        The movie cuts to San Francisco, where Shemyaza and Azazel are about to be demoted in heaven for disobeying orders. Sorry, Kirk and Spock are about to be disciplined by Starfleet, I really must get that right, for disobeying orders. They’re summoned before Admiral Pike, so named for Albert Pike, supposed founder of the Ku Kux Klan. Pike is peeved. He’s peeved because he trusted Kirk and Kirk abused that trust. There’s some funny banter between Kirk and Spock and Pike before Spock is dismissed. Pike accuses Kirk of playing god, (starting to believe what this is really about yet? still think it’s about contemporary politics? Lol), he should know, in this scenario he’s in the place of god, for the time being. He relieves Kirk of his command.

        Meanwhile, back in future London, Sherlock Khan Jesus is preparing to save the life of a sick child. Using his blood. Yes, she will be saved by partaking of the blood of Sherlock Khan Jesus. Yes, it really is that obvious. Yes, it really is that dire. Damon Lindelof, if you’re reading this, please hurl yourself under a bus. Yes, the blood of Sherlock Khan Jesus is what makes him a saviour. More than that, and if you couldn’t guess this already in this movie you need a slap upside the head, it will be shown to conquer death itself later on. Whoopee!

        ……and later when all the Klingons are dead or dying, Sherlock Khan Jesus demands to know how many torpedoes Kirk brought with him. Spock says 72. Sherlock Khan Jesus then offers his surrender. Why does he offer his surrender? Well:

        Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

        Jesus had 72 disciples, if you know your Bible, in addition to the main twelve. And it’s these disciples he has stashed, for reasons which will remain obscure, in the very torpedoes Kirk has been issued with to obliterate Sherlock Khan Jesus. Also he surrenders because, hey, Jesus surrenders. You’ll find this happens frequently in the inverted hermeneutic, it’s another leitmotif.
        —–

        Apologies for length, but I hope you get the gist. You are right, it is a religious movie, only not how you think.

        1. I did notice some of the inverted religious symbolism of Khan but it was overwhelmed by other aspects of the plot. Still, an interesting alternate theory — thanks for sharing it with me.

          1. It’s done far more blatantly in The Chronicles of Riddick which has space Catholics “crusading” across the universe in cross-shaped spaceships, telling people to convert or die.

            The hero is sent to a pit on a fiery planet which he escapes from to come back and claim the throne from the evil Jesus figure who was resurrected.

            You also find the trope in Star Wars (Darth Vader gets the virgin birth, the prophecy, talks to elders in the temple, storms the temple as an adult etc). Luke and Han are Shemyaza and Azazel, falling down pits, blinded by light, last of the Watchers over humanity etc.

            But there are over a dozen films that use this trope, and it’s ridiculously easy to spot once you know what the leitmotifs are.

          2. Why did you tell me this? Now I’m gonna be seeing it all over the place. =P

            I’d never thought about it as an attack on religion before, but it does make sense — that sort of thing doesn’t bother me, but it usually doesn’t escape my notice either (the midi-chloreon-created Anakin Skywalker certainly caught my notice the first time I saw it). Religion takes a real beating in Hollywood — if it’s not this, it’s that, from Star Wars to Battlestar Galactica. (I suppose it most often turns up in sci-fi.)

          3. It went entirely over my head until someone handed me the key too. 😀

            Sorry about that. Yes, you’ll see it all the time now. And not just in sci-fi. Go watch the first Lethal Weapon movie. There’s a hero who has fallen from grace, who hates God and tells Murtaugh as much, who is an agent of chaos “from the sea” as he lives on the beach, he falls, he is suspended and he’s up against a colonel and his favoured son Joshua, who is tortured to test his faith.

            They can shoehorn in the leitmotifs pretty much anywhere.

  1. Seems ironic to me that there is so much religious symbolism read into the film when in fact all the characters are Atheists. Gene Roddenberry wrote Star Trek as a type of humanist ideal.

  2. This post was FAB! I seriously need to respond to your e-mail about Star Trek…because I finally watched the first film. So good. Yeah….but Into Darkness has Cumberpatch….which will always tip the scales for me 😉

  3. Starfleet.
    Not Star Fleet.
    Starfleet.

    Also, though I can kind of see your point of Kirk more or less fulfilling a christological role, I can hardly think of a less Christ-like one.

  4. there are some TERRIBLE ones. SOME AWFUL ONE! my friends and i watched them at a cottage one weekend, with beer while it was raining the only way to do it is when mocking 🙂

    1. Dost thou slander the Trek films?! FOR SHAME! DO YOU NOT KNOW THEY ARE THE BEST MOVIES EVER MADE, AND BRILLIANT, AND INTELLIGENT AND…

      Yeah, I can’t anymore. I’m laughing too hard.

  5. I will say, though, that I cannot STAND the first classic Trek film (I’m working my way through them as time permits). So boring IMO. At least in Khan stuff happens and Ricardo Montalban kept me entertained with his scenery-chewing and all. AND I had a great time while watching Into Darkness picking out the Khan movie shout-outs. 🙂

      1. Oh isn’t that funny…the first original movie, that has skyrocketed to my top ten most loathed films…so much nothing going on there. Khan’s cheesy action kept me fairly entertained by comparison. 😉

        1. Khan’s chest hair scared me. Truthfully, I remember nothing about that film except Spock’s death at the end — because I got so bored, I started surfing the internet and probably wound up in a conversation somewhere. It’s been about two years since I went through my Trekkie obsession so I don’t remember MOST of the films. I’m not even sure I ever saw the first one — I might not have, since everyone hates it so much.

  6. i went opening night with about ten hardcore trekkies and the entire theatre was filled with people who were obviously way more familiar with the franchise than i ( i’ve seen the original movies and a few of the episodes )and they were just elated with the throw-back to Wrath of Khan and the lovely little insider jokes and the casting. I think it might be the best reboot of a television series ever. I think it plays homage to the original while enticing a range of new viewers.

    1. There was a row of Trekkie boys in front of us when we went, and when Benedict says, “I am Khan,” I watched them all go “AWESOME!!” “YISS!!” “I KNEW IT!” It cracked me up.

      It IS a great reboot. I love it.

        1. Saw it again today, and there was a row of fifty and sixty-somethings in front of us. When Benedict said, “I am KHAN,” the guy in the middle went “wooooah… awesome.” It’s HILARIOUS watching people react to that.

    1. When the first movie came out in 2009, it made me interested enough to go back and watch all the movies / original series. I like them — cheesy as they are!

      1. The first season of TOS is pretty entertaining now that I’ve gotten more invested in the characters. And it looks gorgeous on blu-ray. 🙂

        1. It really does look beautiful. I have a soft spot in my heart for it — despite Shatner’s total over-acting, and the super-short skirts. The tribbles episode is AWESOME.

  7. it’s funny because all of my trekkie-loving fans loved the re-boot. i haven’t heard a lot of flak against it; other than Uhura and Spock.

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