Thursday, June 20, 2013

Without Meaning, Life is Meaningless

You’re probably staring at your computer screen right now, thinking, “Duh! That’s what ‘meaningless’ means!”

Well, I’m glad to know you understand English, but I promise, I’m not crazy. As self-explanatory as this seems, life is completely and utterly meaningless without meaning. Most of us understand this on a linguistic level, but think about it philosophically. What is the point of anything if it doesn’t have some meaning? Why do we do anything if it doesn’t serve some purpose and reflect some aspect of Truth? See, the thing is, no matter if you’re naturally a deep thinker or not, this matters immensely. Everything in life requires something beyond itself to be of any consequence.

“Meaning” is the “end, purpose, or significance of something.” [courtesy:] What is the purpose in each of our actions? Going out for coffee or ice cream serves no end in itself – it’s the conversations we have and relationships we form while we’re out that last. What is the point of going to work if we don’t have something important we’re working towards? For that matter, what is the meaning of money? By itself, having money serves no point. It’s the things we use the money for that give it value. So it is with everything in life. What gives our activities value? What infuses our lives with meaning?

As a writer, this concept is incredibly important to me. Why do stories matter? Are our words merely for entertainment, or do they serve some other purpose? I firmly believe that our stories are meant to mean something. They’re supposed to teach us lessons, warn us about Evil, and remind us of Truth. Entertainment is all well and good, but if that’s all that stories contain, something is wrong. Our words are the torches burning bright to show people the path of Truth. We must not let those lights be extinguished. We as writers are called to permeate our words with meaning. Make your stories point beyond themselves. Make them last. Make them mean something.

But what meaning can we impart to our words if life itself is meaningless? If there is no point to life, then there’s no point to writing. And without God, there is no point to life. If you believe that this life is all there is and that when we die, we’re done, what purpose does your life have? If you believe that God is not real and that there is no Higher Power out there anywhere, why are you here? What can your life possibly mean? What’s the point?! Why do moral laws matter if there is no Law-Giver? Why can’t I hurt you if I don’t like you? Why is it wrong for me to take your stuff? Why does it matter what North Korea or Iran is doing? Why do we cling to our American freedoms? Why do we get emotional about things if those things have no point? Why does it hurt when we lose someone? Why do we fall in love? Why do we care?

Quite simply, it’s because our lives must have meaning. Despite the live-for-today attitude we try to cultivate, acting like this moment is all that matters, we crave meaning. We as human beings need life to mean something beyond today. That’s how we were made. Life is meant to be overflowing with meaning. That’s why our laws are important; that’s why we want to fall in love; that’s why it hurts when we encounter loss. These things all mean something. But without God, they can’t mean anything at all. If there’s not a higher purpose we are living for that will transcend the grave, our lives have no purpose. If God is not real and directing my life, nothing I can do or say has a point. Why should I even be here if God isn’t real? Pushing God out the picture makes life meaningless.

We can’t live like that. Everyone knows that there must be a point in living. There must be something in our lives that persists beyond itself, that has a purpose. The question is: Does your life have meaning?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to see Star Trek Into Darkness in theater. The sequel to J.J. Abrams’ mostly popular 2009 Star Trek, this new film is more intense and larger in scope than its predecessor. With the new alternate reality of the Star Trek universe now firmly established, there are no visits from future travellers, except a communication with Spock Prime, who chose to remain in the new reality in Star Trek. Instead, the film focuses on character development and and a villain taken from older films who may cause many to draw parallels to our own world.

Into Darkness opens with an entertaining action sequence that finds Captain James Kirk, played by Chris Pine, breaking numerous Federation rules and saving Spock’s life in the process. As the film expands, Kirk is rejoined by his crewmates from the previous movie: Zachary Quinto as Spock, Zoe Saldana as Lt. Nyota Uhura, Simon Pegg as Scotty, Karl Urban as Dr. Bones McCoy, John Cho as Sulu, and Anton Yelchin as Pavel Chekov. We soon find that, since being given command of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Kirk has gained exactly no humility. And his commanding officer, Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), is not happy about it. His most recent actions get his command stripped from him, and he’s sent back to the Academy. But Pike still believes in him and reinstates him as the Enterprise’s  First Officer, under his own command. Soon, however, they have bigger problems to deal with as a rogue Starfleet Officer, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) blows up a records office in London and begins a one-man war against Starfleet. He attacks Starfleet commanders, and Kirk is allowed to chase him into Klingon space. But things are not as they seem, and the crew of the Enterprise will soon be forced to question their loyalties and perhaps trust the one man they never thought they would.

Characters: In Star Trek, Chris Pine’s Kirk emerged as a brash, young officer with great potential for leadership. He continues this trend in Into Darkness. In general, he shows no respect for the rules and very little respect for those in authority over him. But he does show admirable qualities of loyalty and friendship, and by the end of the film, he seems to have gained at least a modicum of sobriety. Kirk is a fun character to watch – one whose successes you rejoice with and whose lines you usually laugh at. But he’s also one whose actions and attitude you probably wouldn’t want your children to emulate.

Spock, as a half-Vulcan, is the most logical one aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. He has a usually unerring adherence to duty and regulations that is commendable, if a bit strict. Kirk consistently stretches Spock’s definition of allowed behavior, but Kirk also challenges Spock to accept the half of him that is human. During this film, I was glad to see Spock loosen up a little and utilize his humanity. His logical side is still intact, though, which is good, because his reason is needed to balance out Kirk’s impulsiveness.

John Harrison is a terrifying character, to say the least. He is portrayed first as a rogue agent and then as a sympathetic character. The audience is torn one way and then another, confused as to who should be trusted. Played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the highly popular star of the BBC show Sherlock, Harrison is a character fans genuinely want to like. The film caters to this reaction. But it also firmly establishes what side he is on, leaving me with a definitive opinion that I have difficulty forming with Thor's Loki, for example. Regardless of his loyalties, however, Harrison is a brutal man. He has no qualms about killing anyone, and one scene shows him crushing the skull of someone with his bare hands, though the camera cuts away before he finishes the job. The sound is horrifying, however. Cumberbatch played him to perfection, in a chilling performance that brings the audience to the edges of their seats and may very well suck their breath from them. He may be the character people remember the most when they’re finished with the movie.

The other crew members of the Enterprise are much the same as in the first film. Uhura emerges as the most compassionate person aboard, but her many talents are still clearly emphasized. Bones is still pessimistic; Scotty retains his sarcasm and his heart of gold; Sulu is brilliant and shows some leadership potential in this movie; Chekov is young, enthusiastic, and bright. Unfortunately, he has no memorable “I can do zat!” moment like he did in the first film. The newest member of the crew is Carol Marcus, a beautiful young scientist played by Alice Eve. She is serious, committed, and a bit defiant, but she does play a very important role later in the film. Kirk of course flirts with her, but nothing serious comes of it. Though important, I felt that her story had no resolution in this film; in my mind, she didn’t fit as well as the other characters do. Altogether, though, the characters of Star Trek Into Darkness are well-rounded and portrayed brilliantly. They play complement to the plot well.

Plot: I enjoyed the many twists and turns of this storyline. It is complicated, full of danger and added elements that make your head spin. It is far more intense than its predecessor, but it is a believable story that kept me spellbound.

Themes: This story is more complicated than the previous film in many ways. Among these are its many possible applications to our world and our way of thinking. The distinct reference to home-grown terrorism may or may not spell a warning to us at home. It will at least make you think. The movie includes subtle questions about genetic manipulation, the rights and wrongs of warfare, and the danger of unrestrained power. Kirk pursues a revenge trail that lands him and his crew in danger; by the end of the film, he seems to have realized that revenge is not the best path. I applaud that. Starfleet as a whole also reaffirms their commitment to exploration, not warfare. Personally, I like the return to peace, but I’m not sure what purpose exploration serves them if they’re not supposed to interfere (including help) with other space civilizations. That was the most confusing theme to me. A path of peace is well and good, but sometimes war is inevitable. It will be interesting to see how, if at all, that theme is expounded upon in future films. Along with these somewhat deep and possibly troubling strings, the film does carry themes of friendship and loyalty that give it a positive beauty. The friendship between Kirk and Spock in particular is expanded from the first film and touches gently on the heartstrings. They remind us of how special and important friendship can be. All in all, the movie may leave you scratching your head, but it will probably also make you think.

Objectionable Elements: This film is rated PG-13 for a reason. It is tremendously more violent than Star Trek, with Harrison shooting, fighting, and crushing at will. A lot of people die, and while this is necessary to understand the scope of Harrison’s actions, it is still somewhat disturbing. In addition, there is distinctly more foul language in Into Darkness than in its predecessor. Numerous instances of the s-word and the d-word dot the movie, rarely adding anything to the story. Two additional scenes serve absolutely no purpose – one shows Carol in her underwear and the other portrays Kirk in bed with someone who doesn’t even appear later in the story. I don’t approve of those types of scenes anyway, but when they are simply gratuitous, not even aiming for emotional fulfillment of some story thread, they just make me angry. The movie would have been better had these scenes just been left out.

Conclusion: I did enjoy Star Trek Into Darkness, though I left the theater feeling more emotionally drained than I felt after watching the first movie. Watching it is an up and down ride that may make you cringe, laugh, grieve, and rejoice. It is an intense movie, but it has its relaxed moments too, with familiar punchy one-liners that make you smile. The movie is certainly not for young children and requires a bit of caution for the faint-hearted. It is more violent and full of language than I would prefer, but its plot is entertaining and well-developed. It is deeper than the previous film and may ask some questions that make you search for answers. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. Essentially, if you liked Star Trek, you will probably enjoy Into Darkness as well. I personally prefer the former, but I am curious to see what J.J. Abrams will pull out of his sleeve next for the Star Trek universe.