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Last night a friend and I re-watched "Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home", also known as "The One with the Whales".

Why this is a feminist film:


It's about collective action. In order to save Earth, the crew all work together. They must also convince other people to help them. They rely upon a functioning society: mass transit, for example. Kirk and Spock must especially work to earn Dr. Gillian Taylor's trust and get her to help them. This task involves a lot of communication, honesty, and spending time together. This is not an action film about individual heroism.

Dr. Taylor is such a great character. Her priority is the whales, and her passion for their well being is her main priority. She is able to look out for herself and she takes risks. It's a risk to trust Kirk and Spock, to give them a ride home, to seek them out in a park when they are clearly so unusual. She is a person totally in charge of herself, and so compassionate for others. She stands up to her colleague at the cetacean center not once but twice. First, when he argues that whales aren't people and aren't proven to be intelligent, rather than argue about whales' intelligence, she says something totally amazing: "I don't know about you, but my compassion for someone doesn't depend on my estimate of their intelligence!" Which is a way better, anti-ableist, respectful argument. She's not just bright, she sees the most important argument. She stands up to this colleague again when he tells her that they shipped the whales out early to spare her feelings. She slaps him-- They didn't let her say goodbye! She's been condescended to.

Dr. Taylor has a photographic memory, and cuts through Kirk's attempts at bullshit. She wants him to tell the truth and won't give up until he does. This is the way to get her help.

It's wonderful that although Dr. Talyor seems to be a love interest for Kirk, and they do flirt, she doesn't follow through on it. At the end of the film, Gillian has been assigned to a science vessel (a boat? a space ship? who knows). Kirk protests that he doesn't know how to reach her. She says, essentially, "Oh, buddy, don't call me, I'll call you," maintaining her own power in the relationship. She cares about him, but she cares about her own career and life (and the whales) a lot more. And this is fine.

The main plot of the film hinges on whales being equally or more important than human beings. The mysterious probe that visits Earth is there to check up on the Humpback whales. Spock calmly explains that there are other forms on intelligence on Earth besides humans, and that whales are far older. This environmental message may seem a bit heavy-handed, but it's still so relevant, and it's tempered by the comedy and joy of the movie. The characters, and presumably the actors, are really having fun.

I was thinking about this scene, where Dr. McCoy and Scotty are at a plastics factory, getting the plant manager to help them. The plant manager is wearing a large red button that says "I stopped smoking!", telling you what kind of person he is, and what kind of film this is: Affable. Scotty, used to voice-recognition computers, tries to speak into the mouse. The plant manager tells him to just use the keyboard.




One plot hole: how are 2 whales (one pregnant) going to repopulate the Earth's oceans? This isn't explained.

What else do you notice about this film?
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