After a recent rewatch, there has been a shift in this author’s mind on the movie’s themes and the larger context of how the characters evolved overtime through the TNG franchise. A sign of individual growth is the ability to identify that there are things in one’s life that are not correct; advanced growth is when a person realizes that there is nothing more he/she can do but embrace the decisions of the past.
Star Trek Generations plot revolves around an energy ribbon that travels through space called “The Nexus.” When one enters the Nexus they live their every wish and desire or relive an existence where loved ones return. As Guinan, Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s bartender friend, explains…
“It was like being inside… joy. As if joy was a real thing that could wrap around myself. I’ve never been so content. I didn’t want to leave; none of us did.”
The story continues and Captain Jean-Luc Picard finds himself in the Nexus as he witnesses what his life could have been if he would have chose a family over his Star Fleet career. A beautiful wife who gathers their energetic and festive children around the Christmas tree in a beautiful house on Christmas Eve. Family life and his recently deceased nephew who now is in front of him both toy with his mind as see truly feels the warmth and love from the moment. Why would anyone want to leave such an emotional utopia built upon dopamine fueled actions? Because it is all fake; it means absolutely nothing.
Picard recently lost his brother and nephew in a fire. Rene, his nephew, would be the closest thing to a son as he would ever have. Yet these imagines were nothing but a simulation where he could execute missed actions, events, and words to those he loved. What do these actions mean if they are not directed to the real intended individuals.
Picard decides to return to reality but in order to defeat Soran, the man trying to destroy a civilization to return to the Nexus, he needs help. Enter Captain James Kirk.
Picard meets Kirk (as time does not matter in the Nexus) as he had recently joined the Nexus from an encounter 80 years ago. Picard tries to reason Kirk on why he should give up his most intense emotional desire with no luck. Kirk becomes adamant that…
“I was like you once… so worried about duty and obligations that I couldn’t see anything past this uniform. And in the end, what did it get me? Nothing. Not this time.”
Kirk sees the morning he told his love interest Antonia whom he wanted to marry that he was returning to Star Fleet. This decision ended that relationship and Kirk returned to the activities in Star Fleet that would define him. The shame of those actions drove Kirk to investing further into the Nexus and the flood of positive emotions (like a dopamine hit) allowing him to not live with the consequences of his life. Addicts tend to be individuals who struggle with shame and utilize their crutch as to ignore their actions that caused so much shame.
Negating those emotions and wrapping oneself in a blanket of positive emotions is the opposite of growth. It takes courage to handle ones emotions. Picard discusses this with Data in Stellarcartography after Data requests to be turned off until there can be some solution and mentions that courage is an emotion that serves as a foundation in our journey.
Kirk realizes after a horse ride on what he said is his Uncle’s Farm…
“I must have made this jump 50 times and every time it scared the hell out of me. But not this time. Because… it’s not real. … nothing here matters…”
Kirk realizes that these dopamine hits of emotions mean nothing and therefore will make no difference in reality. Why invest so emotional intensity when in the end it means nothing nor impacts or corrects the decisions from the past? Kirk joins Picard as the movie ends with a battle with Soran.
What Star Trek Generations does very well at describing is the point in one’s career, be it 4, 10, 20, or 30 years, where one realizes they have made sacrifices of some sort for their career. Perhaps they did not get married, waited to have children, not pursue certain hobbies, or visit their families across the world. Life keeps us scurrying around doing various tasks and our careers, especially in the military, add another layer of busy that keep us away from things that bring us joy and fulfillment. Military deployments, exercise preparations, and management meetings that run too long take steal time away from our limited “white space.”
This author has went through many of these same emotions. Thinking back to my 10 years at Minot AFB, North Dakota and all the events that were personally missed in my 20s. To think about all the personal hobbies that were sidelined due to my work schedule and career ambitions caused me to become angry not only at the military but myself. The resentment was hyper focused at the Air Force and later turned to outright anger.
Imagine if there would have been the Nexus for this author to attempt life over and over and live only in the good times. This is what Kirk and Picard are presented and yet they know it will do nothing meaningful.
The first step in growth is identifying that one has made those mistakes that we make in our military careers that something is wrong. The secondary step of growth is realizing that your decisions have been made and you have to live with them. Living in a separate world, be it video games, alcohol, or even burying oneself in work only delays the inevitable day of reckoning. Your day is coming as well when you will be faced with this realization.
Star Trek Generations is far underrated as both a movie and Star Trek movie. It may feel like a larger budget and longer TNG episode, but the metaphors buried amongst the science fiction are evident. This is the Star Trek writing and performances that fans wish we could have given the new Star Trek series lackluster performance.
Perhaps it is better now to balance your life and accept your decisions than only bury the emotions that come with it. There are many military members lost in their own Nexus and it is time for them to realize that their dopamine activities means nothing.
A 19 year Active Duty Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, Pred has been a medical officer, an Electronic Warfare Officer, worked at AFPC, spent 10 years at Minot AFB, North Dakota, and spent 5.5 years in Europe and Africa.