‘For the Love of Spock’: A Most Logical Metaphor

❉ We review documentary ‘For The Love of Spock’, which celebrates the 50th Anniversary of “Star Trek” through the life of Leonard Nimoy and his most famous role. 

Between movies, books and other media, ‘Star Trek’s’ behind-the-scenes history has been documented almost as thoroughly as that of its “in universe” events. Since this equates to more information than we have about some real-world civilizations, it’s fair to question whether there are any new insights to be had. Into that discussion comes the appropriately absorbing documentary ‘For the Love of Spock’, which recently opened in US theaters, timed to mark the 50th anniversary of the original series’ premiere on NBC.

Spock and son

Director Adam Nimoy originally envisioned the film as a collaboration with his father that would explore the character of Spock and his place in popular culture. After Leonard Nimoy’s death in 2015, the younger Nimoy broadened the project’s focus to include his father’s life and aspects of his career beyond his most famous role. Though the choice to dive into the family relationships – particularly the often strained one between father and son – unbalances the film at times, there’s no denying that the personal elements add to its overall resonance.

In addition to archival clips from ‘Star Trek’ and his other roles, the film features interviews with fans, friends and family; the latter group encompassing his Star Trek family and relatives alike. The juxtaposition of the fictional Mr. Spock’s universal appeal with the reality of Leonard Nimoy – the borderline workaholic who, in his own words, had a “major in career and a minor in family” for much of his life – could easily have yielded a clichéd portrait. To Adam Nimoy’s credit, he finds considerable nuance between those two lines, making it abundantly clear that his father’s devotion to family was the underlying driver of that focus on career. Nonetheless, ‘For the Love of Spock’ is on much firmer footing when discussing his father’s alter-ego.

While Spock’s originator may have been fraught with human ambiguities, the film makes it clear that there was nothing ambiguous about the chord the character himself struck with viewers. Some of this was doubtless a function of the vision of the future he represents. Even more so than Uhura and Sulu, the presence of Spock – a “child of two worlds” as he’s often described –  continues to signify a society that’s evolved well beyond any contemporary notions of race. The closest analogue is arguably the decision to have a Klingon as a member of the Enterprise crew 20 years later on ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ with all the Cold War era implications that entailed.

It would be reductive, though, to look at Spock solely through a political lens. The character truly embodies something that’s simultaneously grander and thoroughly individual. While Captain Kirk’s observation that “of all the souls” he had known Spock’s “was the most human” is not among the wealth of clips, a variation on that theme runs through much of the movie.

Despite being the only member of the original Series’ main crew not born on Earth, Spock is perhaps the most relatable in contemporary terms. Once you strip away the science-fiction particulars, both the character and his backstory are every bit a commentary on the human condition. He speaks to everyone who’s felt torn between two cultures, between family expectations and charting their own path, or between who they are and what others might wish them to be.

Oddly enough, that last point comes into focus in a segment about the homoerotic undertones some perceive in the relationship between Spock and Kirk. The audience laughter elicited by this onscreen question echoed my initial instinct that the subject was being raised mainly as a humorous digression. George Takei’s response however, quickly dispatched that notion as he eloquently addressed the way in which a gay viewer could see both attraction and – more significantly – anguish as an element of that onscreen relationship. In this moment, and many others in the film that touch on how fans relate to the character, we can understand Spock as a metaphor not so much for the struggle to fit in but more critically for finding your place in the world on your own terms. He has been and always shall be a most logical metaphor.

❉ Starring Leonard Nimoy, Zachary Quinto, William Shatner, George Takei, J.J. Abrams, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana and Jason Alexander, Gravitas Ventures’ ‘For The Love of Spock’ opened in US theatres on 9 September, 2016, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the original series’ premiere on NBC.

Become a patron at Patreon!