Across the Margin pays tribute to one of the most memorable characters in entertainment history, and to the man who brought him to life….
“Of all the souls I encountered on my travels, his was the most……human.”
Leonard Nimoy was known to all as Spock. A cold, calculating, logical Vulcan who labored almost religiously to make sense of a world steeped in emotion and absurdity. But Nimoy was far more than that. To talk about Leonard Nimoy’s passing and to not talk about Spock is blasphemous, for they occupy two sides of the same coin. But to not talk about Nimoy’s other accomplishments is just as profane, for a man as talented and perceptive as him is more than just a single impression across the long line of his dynamic and well-accomplished life.
Through his art, specifically in terms of his work with the photographic arts, he challenged preconceptions, in particular the established concept of what body types are considered beautiful in modern society. Under the tutelage of the famed photographer Robert Heinecken, Nimoy released a series of black-and-white nude photos of a group of overweight women, members of a burlesque troupe called the Fat-Bottom Revue, as part of the “Full Body Project.” In the photographs, the women dance and show off their bodies and strike poses reminiscent of scenes from art history. Nimoy’s photographs aimed to open people’s minds to the fact that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and in doing so rallied against an unfortunate and prominent prejudice which infests the very fabric of American culture.
Unbeknownst to many, and exemplifying of his exuberant dynamism, Nimoy was a playwright as well, and in the 1970s he discovered and bought the rights to a one-man play about Vincent van Gogh written by Phillip Stephens. Nimoy rewrote the play, which tells the story of Van Gogh through the eyes of his brother Theo, and brought it to the stage at Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater.
Never satisfied as being just defined by one role, Nimoy’s fingerprints could be found all over Hollywood. He directed the highly-successful, cult-classic 3 Men and a Baby, two Star Trek films, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, The Good Mother, a drama starring Diane Keaton and a young Liam Neeson, and Holy Matrimony, a religious comedy starring Patricia Arquette. Directing extended beyond feature films to television and up until his final directorial credit, a 1995 pilot for the television series Deadly Games, Nimoy wore his directors cap on a fairly consistent basis. His movies and television shows were not always successful, but they were his, and he followed his heart and his interests where they led him.
But all these accomplishments are supplementary to Spock, the most complicated member of the Enterprise, who while being an essential member of her crew, was also a divergent soul, at odds with his distinctive racial halves, and trying to make sense of both the world he inhabited and his peculiar position in it.
Without hyperbole, Spock is one of the most intriguing and beloved characters in all of American culture. The collective captivation with Spock lies far beyond our fascination with aliens, and in this case, a beguiling race that chooses to live solely by reason and logic alone, with no interference from emotion. This captivation with Spock is far more than the expansive Vulcan universe he introduced us too, and his pivotal role in a spellbinding jaunt across the galaxy. Our love affair with Spock lies not in the far reaches of space, but in the fact that in getting to know the Vulcan in him, we learned more about what it means to be human.
Through Spock’s attempts to navigate existence without emotion, viewers were forced to contemplate the effects of sentiment and passion in their own lives. In vivid clarity, the shortcomings of succumbing to emotion could be seen through Spock’s antithetical actions. The burden of being human, and being emotionally-driven and prone to making decisions based on conceding to the will of the heart and the soul, as opposed to the rationale of the mind, was clear as day in Spock’s every action. But too, and of just as much of or more importance, the advantages that humans reap from being able to be easily moved to emotion became just as vivid. To love, to hurt, to laugh, to rage – this is what being alive is all about, a certainty that we came to understand along with Spock. Undoubtedly, this examination of the human condition certainly wouldn’t be possible without the extraordinary talents of Leonard Nimoy.
Like the rug in The Big Lebowski, Spock was what tied the whole Star Trek Universe together. From the original television series, to the ensuing animated series, and to Star Trek’s exalted leap to the big screen, Spock was a mainstay and a fan favorite of what grew into a cultural phenomenon. Spock’s significance in the Star Trek canon was highlighted by his integral turns in two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and his essential appearance in JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot as Spock Prime, the alternate reality version of our beloved pointy-eared friend.
The escapades of Spock and the U.S.S. Enterprise’s crew provided for captivating dramatic theater, but also for incredible inspiration for social change. Star Trek was progressive, and Spock was the conscience of the show whose rationales defined right from wrong. In that vein, Nimoy channelled this righteousness off screen, standing up for actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura, when he found out she was not being paid as much as other supporting cast members. And he refused to take part in a 1970s animated Star Trek TV show when he learned that she and George Takei, who played Sulu, had been excluded.
Whether mind-melding with the Horta, facing a court martial because of his dedication to helping his former Enterprise leader, Capt. Pike, or sacrificing himself without hesitancy for the sake of the entire Enterprise, Nimoy brought an incredible depth and complexity to Spock, and a strange relatability to a character that was like nothing anyone had seen before. For Spock was an outsider, a freak trying to find his way in a world that didn’t understand him. Future generation of Trekkies would encounter characters that wrestled with feelings of otherness, characters such as Data, Worf, Seven of Nine, and Geordi. But that all began with Spock. He paved the way.
In many ways it’s a shame that a man who wanted to be known as anything but, will forever be remembered for his role as Spock. But I hope that he knew that this was more than enough. That the amount of joy and inspiration he brought the world through Spock was immense, and any of us would be so lucky to touch the world in the plethora of ways that he did. Thankfully, it seems as if Nimoy was eventually able to come to terms, if not meld, with the character Spock. Asked once, ”Do you ever feel that in some ways the character was as much a curse as a blessing?” He responded in earnest that, “All actors should be so cursed.”
As Dr. McCoy utters in an emotion-steeped scene following Spock’s death in Star Trek II, “He’s not really dead as long as we remember him.” And remember him we will, as Spock, brought to life by Leonard Nimoy, was truly unforgettable.
While Star Trek existed in a realm light years away from the ordinary life of today, the realities of the futuristic existence portrayed in the television show and films have come to fruition on multiple occasions (communicators, hypospray, universal translators, etc.). But one cannot help but yearn for, in this painful and unfortunate time, one of the visionary inventions of the Star Trek films. The need for Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan’s legendary Genesis Device is now urgent and very real, as all the tears, memories and stories told about Nimoy do not yet possess the power necessary to tear Spock from death’s final embrace. Rest in Peace Leonard. Your work here, and where no man (or half Vulcan) has gone before, is done.
“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.” – Leonard Nimoy
- We cannot help but point out that Nimoy played the part of the chauffeur in the 1985 music video of The Bangles’ cover version of “Going Down to Liverpool.“ [↩]
- Nimoy released five albums of musical vocal recordings. On his first album, Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space, and half of his second album Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy, science fiction-themed songs are featured where Nimoy sings as Spock. On his final three albums, he sings popular folk songs and a several songs written or co-written by Nimoy. [↩]
- He wrote two books, I am Not Spock and I am Spock [↩]