When Joss Whedon’s Firefly was canceled after one season, fans were delighted that the famous science fiction screenwriter/director/producer decided to give closure to the series by creating the follow-up movie, Serenity. Descriptions on various websites refer to Firefly as a “cult” TV series. When I think of a movie or series as cultic, I usually think of something that has gained a following despite its bad scripting, horrible acting, and overall “B” quality. That certainly does not apply to these brilliantly conceived and executed masterpieces.
I have to assume “cult” in these contexts refers to the level of devotion of the fans, not the quality of the filmmaking. Firefly and Serenity certainly have a circle within their fan base that could be called, well… fanatical. Take for example the fan site which includes transcripts of the movie and all fourteen episodes of the series (plus a script of a show that never made it to production). The devoted fan base even sparked the making of the documentary film, Done the Impossible: The Fans’ Tale of ‘Firefly’ and ‘Serenity’.
If you have yet to watch the Firefly, and plan to, I advise you to save Serenity until you have seen the whole series. Perhaps the movie would not be too confusing for the uninitiated, but there are aspects which will be much better appreciated after seeing the series. The movie also, of course, has too many spoilers that would take away from the enjoyment of watching everything unfold as you make your way through the episodes.
The movie begins with a scene where Simon is rescuing his sister, River. It seems that the Alliance, the government which controls the vast system of “terraformed” planets and moons, has gone down the same road as so many in earth’s history: they are willing to do anything to establish what is considered the ideal society. River, and the experiments being performed on her, are part of the plan. The goal of the Alliance is later described as “a better world. A world without sin.”
Looking at human history, it is obvious this “ends justify the means” scenario always ends tragically. Think of the millions killed in hope of creating a better world under Nazism and Communism. Even “democratic” societies tend to degrade into selfishness and dependency, leading to bondage. God never intended governments to create “a world without sin.” He has reserved that victory for Himself, in a time that “no one knows… not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” [Mark 13:32 NIV] Governments are intended to constrain sin, not eradicate it—only God can do that. When humans overstep their boundaries and try to take the place of God, they only make matters worse. Which is exactly what happens when the Alliance tries to play God.
There is an old Country Western song that says, “loving things and using people only leads to misery.” This theme runs through the movie, although Whedon seems to get it only partially right. River is seen as merely an object to use not only by the Alliance, but, near the beginning of the film, by Captain Mal himself. Learning to love her for who she is, like Simon does, instead of what she can do, is an arc that never seems to be quite completed. Mal’s words to River near the end of the movie are revealing.
Love. You can learn all the math in the ‘verse, but you take a boat in the air you don’t love, she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turning of worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells you she’s hurting ‘fore she keens. Makes her a home.
The spaceship Serenity, after all he has gone through, is still Mal’s love. It has a place in his heart that even Inara hasn’t been able to reach. How sad.
Serenity is now available on Netflix streaming.