New-Release Tuesday: Serenity

Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

Nathan Fillion is back with a new TV series on ABC this fall, The Rookie, in which he plays “the oldest recruit in the LAPD.” The tagline is “Starting over isn’t easy.”

Fillion, of course, had a long run as the title character in Castle, the only show which my wife and I watched faithfully. His career was really launched, however, with the short-lived Fox series Firefly, a before-its-time Sci-Fi Western masterminded by Joss Whedon. Several years after the show’s cancellation, the entertainment gods were kind enough to make a feature film happen with the full cast of from the TV show. That film was Serenity.

Firefly fans were pretty pleased with Serenity. Plenty of ordinary people were, too. Writer-director Whedon directed this adaptation with confidence and style, giving audiences more to cheer about in space since long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. A really good thing even today, when “reboots” of the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises leave folk like me crying, “No mas! No mas!”

Nathan Fillion as Mal Reynolds in SerenityThe movie Serenity is not, however, just a retread of Firefly. In fact, many of the signature elements of the TV series have disappeared: the cowpies and cattle, for instance, and those mysterious men with the blue gloves. More importantly, Serenity fleshes out the universe and storyline of Firefly—and takes its characters to places the series had never gone before.

Fillion plays Malcolm Reynolds, owner and captain of the Firefly-class smuggling ship Serenity. Mal is on a journey of faith. He used to believe in a cause—until the leaders of the rebellion for which he volunteered abandoned his battalion to slaughter. Now that the Alliance has its boots firmly on the necks of the once-independent terraformed “border planets,” a burned-out rebel like Reynolds is left rudderless. He goes where the wind takes him, as he remarks to Inara Serra, the professional escort once based on Serenity. And when his crew members tell him to have faith, he replies, “Not today.” He has no use for the “fuzzy God” of Christians or the Buddha to whom Inara prays.

But when a trusted friend tells him, “I don’t care what you believe; just believe in it,” he steers a course directly into the wind that would sweep him away. At first, we wonder if he will merely become a cheap version of what he wants to destroy; but when he learns the truth, the truth sets him—and a whole host of others—free.

The Alliance Operative who hunts Serenity and its passenger, River Tam, is also on a journey of faith. In contrast to Reynolds, though, the Operative starts as a True Believer—and as Shepherd Book tells Reynolds, believers of any sort are “dangerous.”

And there are different sorts of believers. Book believes in Christ. Dr. Simon Tam believes in his sister. River believes in God. Inara believes in Buddha, and in Mal.

The Operative, though, believes in engineered human potential, in building “better worlds”—even if it means slaughtering innocent children. And as his and Reynold’s paths cross, we see that the two men are not so dissimilar. But the Operative doesn’t need to learn the intrinsic value of belief; rather, he must learn that there are better things to believe in than human potential. And the truth of this new belief frees him from his dogged pursuit of Reynolds, his search for River Tam, and from the evil he does in service of the Alliance.

River Tam is also on a journey of faith; but she does not move toward faith, nor from one faith to another. Instead, she moves in faith. A literally tortured soul, she longs for deliverance from the damned voices that the Alliance has forced upon her memory. At the apogee of her journey, she nearly loses all hope and cries out, “Please, God, make me a stone!” But when River Tam learns the truth, the truth literally sets her free, too. When the time comes, she is no longer the protected but the protector.

Faith is dangerous, Serenity says, because True Believers of any sort—hijackers, abortion clinic bombers, Mother Teresa, Malcolm Reynolds—are those who change the world. The rest are just along for the ride.

But make no mistake. Serenity does not suggest that one belief is just as good another. Neither the Operative nor the Reavers are justified by their beliefs. The film does, however, make a strong case for believing in something as the first step toward finding truth. Hope will sustain the journey, the film says. “I know,” says River Tam. “We’re going for a ride.” And what a ride!

But this film is not ultimately about faith. It’s about the end goal of faith. It’s about love. The film begins there and ends there. The Operative can see it in the eyes of Simon Tam to begin with; and whether Reynolds admits it or not, a love of Serenity has always driven him.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

If you haven’t seen it yet, the odds are you will love Serenity.

Serenity is now included with your Netflix subscription. You can also stream at YouTube.