I've seen Star Trek: Generations twice. The first time was circa seventh grade. I started watching TNG and DS9 religiously around that time, and got together with some similarly Trek-mad friends over a few sleepovers to rent all the Star Trek movies (there were seven at that time) and watch them. I remember thinking that Generations was OK... certainly better than Shatner's disaster, at least, but nothing too special. The shield modulation trick seemed kind of stupid to me back then, and some of Data's lines were hopelessly silly, but the acting was solid and the Nexus seemed like a cool idea.
That was about ten years ago. I rarely watch Star Trek any more, unless I'm flipping through the channels at my parents' house and it happens to be on Spike TV. My roommate from freshman year of college was a hopeless Star Trek nerd, and I came close to beating the shit out of him on a couple of occasions. The trivia is still there but I don't think about it much. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I downloaded a torrent of all ten Star Trek movies, basically at random, and sat back to watch some of the old classics.
Seeing Generations now, I don't hesitate to say that it's one of the best Star Trek movies. In my opinion, it vies with Star Trek VI and Star Trek II for that title. Trek 2 is a classic story of revenge; Trek 6 is the Cold War in space.
Generations is a bit more complicated, but its magic revolves around the Nexus. When Picard ends up in the Nexus, he has everything he ever wanted but could never have: a storybook home and a perfect family, where every day can be a white Christmas. But Picard, given what he's always wanted, doesn't keep it. He leaves it behind because he knows he keeps it at the expense of millions of people who died in the destruction of the solar system, not to mention the crew of his own ship. Dr. Soran, whose quest for the Nexus accounts for much of the movie's screen time, obviously doesn't care; his philosophy is apparently "look out for number one."
So what motivates Picard? Is it guilt? Or is it utilitarianism at work... an echo of Spock's line from Star Trek II, that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?" While the original characters took great pleasure in throwing this doctrine out the window (Star Treks 3 and 6 stick out), Picard's choice to leave the Nexus is a clear election in favor of the many. Of course, he could just be guilty; he could be thinking "I could have this on a holodeck without killing an entire star system and most of my remaining friends." But what was to stop him from staying there for as long as he wanted, and then going back?
Kirk's election to leave the Nexus is totally different, of course. What moves his heart is the lack of challenge there. He can marry his sweetheart and make every jump if he wants to, but he knows it isn't real. The adventure is missing for him. And so he goes back to Picard's time for some of that adventure, only to get killed. (Guess he had nine lives after all.)
When I see the Nexus scenes, they strike a chord within me.
I don't know about you, but I have always run on dreams. Since high school, I have had one constant, unrelenting, very basic dream: twue wuv, the kind that never dies. On occasion, I feel like I'm getting close, but things never seem to work out in the end. I think most people feel the same way about their dreams, whether they admit it or not. One of my best friends, who readily admits to being a "reasoned pessimist" when it comes to most things, is incredibly optimistic about his personal future; he simply doesn't see any way that he won't be filthy rich, married to someone beautiful, and ruling the world within the next ten years. I don't decry ambition, since, as long as the dream is in front of us, we keep pressing forward, believing that we'll get there someday. But once we have the dream, what's to keep us pressing forward? What matters then? If you finally had the dream, wouldn't it be game over?
That's what goes through my mind when Picard looks at the wife and children he always wanted but could never have. When you watch TNG for a while, you notice that Picard is a rather lonely figure. He doesn't get the wildfire romances and the close friendships that Kirk always had. He's all business, and the first part of Generations shows how much that bothers him when he realizes it. Suddenly, here he is in the Nexus, surrounded by love, wrapped in joy. I don't know about you, but when I saw that scene, I was thinking: "Fuck the Enterprise, Picard... go have some Christmas turkey! Kirk, what are you doing... get off the horse and go back and marry the girl!"
But that's the Nexus for you. You finally reach the edge, and you realize: This isn't right. Indeed, I came close to leaving law school at one point, and might have ended up married to a nice woman, working as a civics teacher at some high school in Florida. I imagine that I would be as content as I am now, if not much moreso. Yet if I had done that, I might have never have made it back to Japan, never learned the real workings of the world, never began to put together a plan to change it and the power to make it better.
In the end, there's a superego telling us that we have to think bigger. So long as we have our dreams in hand, many of us won't want to listen. I'm satisfied that following that superego was the right choice. At the end of Generations, Picard feels the same way about leaving the Nexus and going back to save the solar system. While my mind said that was the wrong choice, we all know in our hearts that it was the only decent choice to make.
That is the true beauty of this movie. My middle-school brain didn't see it. Now that I see it, I feel older than ever. Maybe that's a good thing.