Serenity

by pegleghippie

I rewatched the movie Serenity tonight, and while I still enjoy the movie greatly, I left confused about the films message.  If you haven’t seen the film (and the rest of this won’t make much sense if this is the case), It ends with the main character giving a conservative-libertarian speech about not-bettering people, and leaving them to live their lives.  The confusion, however, arose from the actions of that same character.  Despite telling people to live their own lives, he takes action to inform and empower the citizens of the galaxy.  He takes care of those near him and seems genuinely concerned for everyone’s well-being.

So is the film conservative or isn’t it?  I did a little research into the creator of the film (Joss Whedon) and he explained Mal’s comments as Mal’s alone: not a film message.  Mal, indeed, is a libertarian, government-hating, Randian rogue.  Whedon’s galactic government, however, is largely good to people and enlightened.  Mal’s sometimes-girlfriend even works for the government–as a high end prostitute.

Additionally, Zoe, one of the crewmembers, is constantly compassionate, and questioning Mal’s motives.  River, supposedly an abomination of government excess, ends up saving everyone with her government-granted skills.  Clearly, just because Mal is the main character doesn’t mean that his views are the only ones we must contend with.

So by viewing Whedon’s universe as a convergence of diverse characters and viewpoints, Mal’s actions make more sense.  Mal is doing his best with what he knows in a situation that has a lot of grey areas.  One thing I read said that Whedon intended to convey the absolute messiness of human interaction, and he definitely did that.  There’s some hope for transcendent values, however, if Mal’s advice to River about the importance of love at the end of the movie is any indication.  

However, maybe this is a ultimately a hopeless message for our own times.  Like the Serenity universe, most of us agree on a few universal values.  But also like Serenity, that familiarity is no guarantee that we can get along on anything beyond the basics.  Instead, we get stuck playing ideological roles, convinced we’re right, and everyone else “just doesn’t get it.”  We can’t escape our role, since we need it to understand and react to whichever ideology happens to hold power at a given time.  Even while such an understanding gives us our identity, it traps us into either defending or opposing that power, sometimes winning, sometimes not, but always acting based on our role.

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5 Responses

  1. The scary thing is that nobody is right. And nobody is wrong. These are simply two words we have invented in order to make our pitifully long time on this planet less painful. It’s like the Battle at Kruger. Everyone was so fucking happy that the wittle cutie-wuttie baby buffalo got away from those mean ole’ nasty lions. In all probability, those lions had not eaten in days, and, after losing their kill, may have starved. We are all staving off the boredom of time until the inevitable end, and however painful that time may be, we always want more.

  2. But surely, there is a best way to survive? Mal would say that struggle against each other is the only way. I would say instead we struggle against our collective limitations and against the elements.

  3. Yes, exactly. There are better ways to survive, or, at the very least, less frightening ways to survive, and we have coined a phrase for this: The Right Way. But I’m not sure that this is the collective limitation. We must say that Hitler is “wrong” so that we all have the strength and vicissitude to come together and defeat him. His limitations were not our collective limitations (maybe GERMANY’S collective limitation, but I guess that’s another argument), but a limitation that threatened to harm us all. To cause us pain. His limitations caused the rest of us pain, and therefore he had to be stopped.

  4. So it seems that as long as we don’t let the idea get out of hand, right and wrong are useful markers for responsibly guiding ourselves towards happiness.

  5. Yes, that’s a good way to put it. Right and wrong, but with restrictions. If we let the pious lunitics get out of hand, it all goes swinging too freaking far in the other direction. Is 1st degree murder and rape wrong? Oh yes. Is homosexuality wrong? Not if you happen to be a fan of dicks, or have frineds or relatives who like dick, or are sane enough to know that a person’s personal dick fetishes are their own biz, yo.

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