Today would have been Leonard Nimoy’s 84th birthday. When he died last month, news outlet after news outlet, in its search for appropriate footage, seemed to reach for Spock’s death scene from the end of Star Trek II.
It’s not hard to understand why. One reason I think Star Trek II is the best of the franchise’s films is that it contains Nimoy’s and Shatner’s finest work as Spock and Kirk, no questions asked; and those minutes in the Enterprise’s engineering room, as a broken and bloodied Spock bids farewell to his commander and friend, both Nimoy and Shatner deliver performances that move me even after having seen them countless times over the last three decades.
But for all that it’s one of the greatest scenes in film, period, I don’t want to watch it yet again right now, especially not today. We’ve all seen it recently enough. Instead, let’s look at its “book end,” which also saw some (albeit much less) media attention during the coverage of Nimoy’s death: Spock’s “resurrection” at the close of Star Trek III.
As the scene begins, Shatner’s Kirk regards Spock with a gaze of tightly controlled expectancy—eager for the reunion, but respectful of Spock’s need for space and time to process his return. Shatner slowly increases the intensity of his delivery as the conversation continues, so that the emotional ascent from his straightforward assertion, “You would have done the same for me,” to his urgent question, “Can’t you remember?,” feels completely natural. Nimoy also moves slowly and deliberately, each hesitant statement from his mouth and befuddled expression on his face a careful step toward the victorious declaration, “Your name is Jim.” (When this movie was new, my best friend and I—being middle school boys and thus uncomfortable with honest emotion—used to joke that, in the next instant, Spock turned to McCoy and added, “Your name is Uhura!”) Nimoy’s choice to cap both the moment and the movie with Spock’s iconic arched eyebrow is perfect.
Like Lazarus of Bethany (John 11), Spock experiences resuscitation, not resurrection. He doesn’t enter a qualitatively new and unending life there on the steps of Mount Seleya. Though a long-lived Vulcan, Spock is mortal, and will one day die again (presumably while helping the New Vulcan colony in the J.J. Abrams Trek-verse get off to a good start). But his return to life in Star Trek III can be a parable of resurrection because it involves recognition. Spock comes to recognize—literally, to know again—not only Kirk but all his shipmates and friends, who already know him; and God’s promise for those who enter resurrection life is that we shall know God fully, even as God already fully knows us (1 Corinthians 13.13).
I hope you enjoyed my observance of “ShatNimas.” I don’t really expect it will ever catch on as a geeky liturgical mini-season—but as Spock has said, “There are always possibilities!”