Sunday, 5 February 2012

Why I Love Serenity



I was asked a difficult question tonight.  Dave was still a little irritable and asked me why I was so excited about seeing this movie and why I was making such a fuss.  I didn’t have an answer ready.  To me it was just so obvious.  It’s Joss Whedon’s Serenity!  How could I not?

Of course, that’s not exactly a useful answer.

These answers are better.

I love Firefly and Serenity for the characters.  Although all of them are effectively standard characters for either the Western or Sci-Fi genre, there is a subtle depth which turns them into real (albeit fictional) people.  I can only explain it as a sense that they don’t vanish when the credits roll.  It’s believable that things continue to happen in between the stories we’re shown.  The characters became familiar, almost friends.  Seeing the series or the movie again is like visiting with a friend you haven’t seen in awhile.  We all know sometimes you can’t recapture the magic of a friendship, it depended on a particular set of circumstances.  But sometimes it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you saw each other, it just sparks again and it’s as if you never left.  Some series lose the magic and some keep it forever.  To me, Zoe, Wash, Captain Mal, Kaylee, Simon, River, Inara and Jayne are all friends I want to keep visiting with (which has lead to some embarrassing fan fiction).

But there’s more than just the characters, I also love the Serenity universe.  The parallels to the post-Civil War South allow for rich metaphors and since the slavery issue wasn’t the basis for the Alliance-Independent war, it’s a little easier to be sympathetic.  I also love the fact that there are no aliens.  I like aliens and alien worlds, but it can become a crutch for lazy writing sometimes.  In Whedon’s ‘verse, the problems are all human problems, undisguised and unabashed in all their complexity.  The universe is rich and wonderful and again, it feels real. 

Moving to strictly consider the movie, I love Whedon’s villain: the Operative.  He is the best kind of villain.  He’s intelligent, effective and believes in what he’s doing.  He’s not “evil” per se, he’s just willing to do evil things in order to create the kind of world he believes will be best.  He says it himself, he sees a goal and is willing to do whatever he thinks is necessary to achieve that goal, even though it means he himself can never have it.  Can you think of a more frightening level of dedication?  Is there anything in your life that you would sacrifice everything decent about yourself in order to achieve?  It makes him incredibly dangerous and believable.  He’s not sitting in a room twirling his mustache and plotting world domination.  He’s quietly and methodically building his “perfect world”, the “world without sin” on a legacy of murder, assassination and lies.

I love the plot Whedon created.  It’s very believable that a government which has such covert ops as the Academy and the Operative would also attempt large-scale genetic pacification.  One of the essays in Serenity Found questions how such a massive scientific mistake could have happened but I think the question is addressed in the movie, albeit subtly.  Miranda, the pacified world, obviously went along fine for some time since there are over 30 million people on it and over a dozen large cities.  I could see the Pax being tested for several weeks or months and appearing to have beneficial side effects and since the pool of subjects would be small, the psychotic side effects probably didn’t appear.  Miranda may have functioned for years.

I think Miranda seemed to be doing well and everyone was pleased until they stopped answering communications.  The Research and Rescue vessels were dispatched, assuming some planetwide catastrophe.  Instead, they found people who had been pacified to such an extent that they simply starved to death rather than make the effort to eat.  And they found the Reavers, the one tenth of one percent who were turned into nightmares.  It would have been horrifying and the government’s answer was to deny and bury this unpleasant truth.  Decisive action might have destroyed the Reavers but the Alliance’s choice allowed them to prey on settlers for the next decade.

There’s more.  I could ramble on for days about the things I enjoy but I think it all boils down to one thing: believability.  Whedon’s world is fictional but it feels as if it could be real.  That’s the lesson that I need to learn as a writer.  No matter how fantastic, the worlds I create must feel real.  Internally self-consistent and populated with people not too different than those we know, at least on the inside.  People we can relate to and care about, no matter how often we visit.

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