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“The Undiscovered Country… the Future!”: Star Trek VI and the Unexpected End of History…

Early in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the Klingon Chancellor Gorkon offers what appears to be a fairly dramatic misreading of Hamlet.

Opening a dinner between the representatives of the Klingon High Council and the senior staff of the Enterprise, Gorkon raises his glass of Romulan Ale in salute. “I offer a toast,” he states. “The undiscovered country, the future.” By most accounts, this isn’t what Shakespeare meant when he allowed the Danish Prince to monologue about “the undiscovered country.” The dialogue is quite explicit that Shakespeare was talking about death rather than the future. Hamlet is reflecting upon the possibility of “something after death, the undiscover’d country from whose bourn no traveller returns.” To be fair to Gorkon, this may be a simple translation error; after all, the Klingon Chancellor boasts that “you have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”

However, increasingly, The Undiscovered Country suggests that Gorkon’s toast is not a simple misreading of the Bard. In the most obvious of senses, Gorkon himself gets to travel to “the undiscovered country” almost immediately after the dinner, murdered by two assassins in Starfleet uniforms as part of a plot to destabilise the possibility of peaceful relations between the Klingon Empire and the Federation. Indeed, even within the larger context of the Star Trek franchise, there is a sense that the future of the Klingon Empire is inexorably associated with death. Gorkon’s peace with the Federation sets in motion the gradual decay and decline of the Klingon Empire that runs through stories like Heart of Glory, Sins of the Father, The Way of the Warrior, Tacking Into the Wind.

However, watching The Undiscovered Country more than a quarter of a century removed from its original context, that seeming misstatement seems increasingly deliberate and calculated. The Undiscovered Country is perhaps the most under-appreciated of the Star Trek films, in large part due to how it consciously and deliberately twins the notions of “death” and “the future”, insisting that perhaps the past must die so that the future might live. In the world of The Undiscovered Country, death is still frightening and mysterious and uncharted. However, it is also a necessary part of growth and evolution. In the years since the release of The Undiscovered Country, it seems like more franchises could take that idea to heart.

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