47 Great Movie Moments #11 – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Continuing with this series of 47 moments in film that I love (Why 47?), today we hit #11 with a 1980’s geeky classic!

Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Directed by:  Nicholas Meyer

Admiral Kirk faces Khan, his old nemesis who now threatens everyone with the power of a new technology that creates life out of lifenessness…

The Set-up

Kirk and Khan face off off in their respective ships, the Enterprise and the stolen Reliant.  Both ships are damaged, but the Reliant has the advantage.  In an attempt to even things up, Kirk hides in a nebula, which obscures both ships’ shields and sensors.  Eventually, through superior tactical experience, Kirk wins the fight, crippling the Reliant.  But Khan is not done–he activates the experimental Genesis device, which will turn the nebula into a planet, but destroy everything within it.  The Enterprise, badly damaged as it is, cannot fly out in time.  Kirk’s friend and first officer, Spock, slips quietly down to engineering, and against the protests of everyone else, enters a radiation-filled engine room to effect repairs.  He is successful and the Enterprise warps away at the last second.  But then Kirk receives a call from Dr. McCoy, who with a broken voice tells him he’d better get down to engineering…

The Moment

Kirk arrives, and is prevented by McCoy and chief engineer Scott from opening the engine compartment and exposing everyone to deadly radiation.  He can see Spock in the clear-walled room, lying in a heap, but cannot reach him.  Groggily, Spock stands, adjusts his tunic, and walks over to Kirk.  After determining that the ship is safe, Spock tells Kirk not to grieve:  “The needs of the man outweigh the needs of the few.”  “Or the one,” Kirk finishes.  Then Spock notes that he’s never taken the Kobayashi Maru test, a Starfleet exercise that tests a commander’s character in the face of a no-win situation, until now.  “What do you think of my solution?” he asks.  Finally overcome, Spock sinks the floor, telling Kirk that he has always been his friend.  “Live long and prosper,” he states at last, and then dies.

The power of this scene comes from the brilliant creative decision to have Kirk and Spock able to communicate, but not in physical contact with each other.  The imagery of Kirk, helpless leaning against the glass while his friend dies in front of him is a potent one, and truly presents itself as the man who has always cheated death being forced to confront his own limitations.  Diretor Nicholas Meyer treats the moment with the appropriate mix of gravitas and restraint.  Leonard Nimoy was always good as Spock and this scene is no exception.  And say what you like about William Shatner, in this sequence, (indeed, in the whole movie), his performance is excellent.  It’s impossible to watch that funeral scene without getting a little choked up:  “Of my friend I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most…human.”

The Payoff

In a movie about growing old and facing death, the grief over the loss of Spock ultimately gives way to inspiration and purpose.  “I feel young,” says Kirk as the movie comes to a close.  And of course we know that this movie was not the end, and Spock will be back.

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