The brilliant space opera Serenity was born out of the short-lived, Joss Whedon-created TV show called “Firefly.” To get an idea of the setting, think Wild West in space and then, if you can figure out how that could possibly be any good, you will be on the right track.
The power of the show comes from the characters that make up the pirate crew of the [Firefly-class] spaceship “Serenity.” They are remnants of a rebellion against “The Alliance” (the confederation of civilized and technologically advanced planets toward the center of the galaxy) and long after the war is lost, they continue in their opposition while attempting to survive the harsh life of the outer planets. Their ship is falling apart, they are poor, and every step of the way they are barely holding on.
As the plot unfolds, we discover that the Alliance is seeking to eliminate rebellion and trouble in their civilization by destroying “sin” (yes, that is the actual word they use). Alliance scientists have invented a chemical compound that suppresses the violent urges of human beings. They experiment with this compound on a planet of people who quickly become pleasant, docile, and peaceful. The Alliance has created a Utopian society where all obey the law perfectly, there is no rebellion, and all contribute to the upward spiral of human civilization.
Man has conquered sin… or so they think.
It turns out that, over time, not only do the people taking the compound cease to rebel, they cease to do anything. Everyone lies down and stops working, playing, talking, eating, and drinking, until finally, they stop breathing. That is, everyone but a tiny percentage, who have quite a different reaction. Those few lose their minds and become monsters. These twisted lepers, which the movie calls Reavers, do not lie down to die but instead spend the rest of their existence feeding off any life that they encounter and destroying it utterly. Consuming all in their path, in the most gruesome fashion imaginable.
When Mal (the captain of Serenity) and his crew uncover the truth about the Alliance’s failed experiment, they set out to shed light where there is darkness. They succeed, but with terrible losses to their own. The movie concludes with the following conversation as the Serenity is taking off for its next destination. In it, Mal and River (the token Whedon young-girl-with-super-powers) put to words the central theme of all that has been portrayed to this point.
Mal: You know what the first rule of flying is?
River: I do. But I like to hear you say it.
Mal: Love. You can learn all the math in the ‘verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don’t love and she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turn of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she ought to fall down, tells you she’s hurting before she keels, makes her a home.
[Rain pattering as they take off]
River: Storm’s getting worse.
Mal: We’ll pass through it soon enough.
[They exit the atmosphere of the planet and the rain stops]
This crew of rebels clearly love one another, and it is this love that makes their story so incredible. Their messy lives are held together by love and it is that love that stands in direct opposition to a “civilization” who seeks to make a perfect world by their own might. They resist because they know no such reality is possible by force or control or technology, but only by love… the one thing that The Alliance lacks.
I believe this is our experience too. We fight so hard to make our lives better and to control the world around us. We convince ourselves with technology and enough determination we can eliminate hunger and pain and suffering, but we can’t and our attempts to do so only seem to kill people or turn them into monsters. Love is the only thing that has that power. The love of other people, and ultimately, the love of God.
The story of Serenity is the story of our civilization as well… and the storm is getting worse. But I promise we will pass through it soon enough. The Good Shepherd told me so. And no, I don’t mean Book.