Let’s look at the officers of the Enterprise. Kirk is captain. His second in command is Spock. His medic is Bones McCoy, his engineer Scotty, then are several lesser officers commanding the various functions of the ship. Two criteria of order emerge: Hierarchy & expertise. These may seem to describe the two meanings of order. But hierarchy implies merit, whereas expertise leads to equality, as the different experts need each other to survive.
Kirk’s great enemy is a man who may have superseded this problem. Khan is genetically engineered to be superior. Kirk is a man of action, that is to say, one who kills people with whom he disagrees, but he cannot kill Khan. Who can? Khan was created in order to save mankind. He is a creature of fear of necessity. Is it unreasonable of him to conclude that he should rule mankind? He is not merely fearless.
Khan designs advanced weaponry & a ship that he could pilot by himself, & which dwarfs the capabilities of the Enterprise. This man might be humanity’s best bet. If he waged war on the Klingons, how could mankind lose? Or if that war is not coming, why should any weapons be necessary?
The political context of the story is the war against the Klingons. There is no talk about this because nobody wants to think about it. The admiral who does talk seems to think that war is about building weapons – but war is not a conspiracy. One wonders whether ignorance or this delusion is worse. War is about finding out who is the enemy of peace & how best to remove him. The peace sought determines the war to be fought, the war determines the weapons.
Why does not Khan kill everyone on the Enterprise? Why does he not kill his enemies when he has them in his grasp? His savagery is on show occasionally, as is his martial prowess. But the truth is his superiority makes him contemptuous of his enemies. Kirk’s awareness of his inferiority makes him resourceful. But at the same time, it must kill him, because he does not see what necessity requires. It is astounding, but obvious – the Enterprise is not made for war, her officers are too afraid of doing the unthinkable.
The theme of sacrifice is ambiguous. How about victory? Why not earn victory? Does not incompetence mar the nobility of sacrifice? How about defeat? Cannot that be earned? Sacrifice is ambiguous. The father who sacrifices his life so that Khan will save his daughter is proof. Kirk seems to ignore all such problems, thinking to swoop in & save entire civilizations, if necessary, even if they try to kill you.
The year’s best action movie.