Odysseus in Space, "Is There Nothing More?"
The 'Hero's Journey' and the metaphysics of The Iliad and The Odyssey, their relation to Romeo and Juliet, the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, Exodus, and the Mahabharata, and how they are played out in film.
The Hero's fall, the journey into the cave and the reuniting of the Lovers as an allegory of the uniting within a persons consciousness of reason and love. This unity bringing completion to the universe dissolving the chaos and separation of mortality in the light of understanding, gaining access to the gateway to the infinite, and the rise of a new being transcending mortality.
The Iliad and the Odyssey
First let me say that The Iliad and The Odyssey is foremost a metaphysical journey, dressed in folklore and mythology, portraying the spiritual transformation of mankind. While the vehicle for this is the 'Hero's Journey' the primary action is the uniting within humankind of the masculine and feminine energies. One could also speak of mind and heart, rational and irrational, west and east, life and death, finite and infinite, king and queen. In this tale Homer uses various motifs used in metaphysical allegories across cultural divides. Prior to the modern era the ancients and writers of the classics protected their knowledge by cloaking the 'mysteries' and 'keys' in folkloric dramas and semi historical tales using special language and actions which to the laymen are seen to be worldly and not actions of psychological transformation. These cloaked systems of knowledge would come and go as various mystery schools while mintaining a consistent thread; the practice of self awareness as a tool to raise the consciousness of the adept bringing together all aspects of a being into a unified whole, a balance of mind and heart. Through this process the subject is transformed into a spiritualized being of the 'new life' transcending mortality. These motifs are: the flight of the lovers, journey into the east through the irrational, voyage across the waters, the crossroads, passage through death and darkness, fall of the hero, loss of material fortune and powers, various psychological battles, journey into the cave, sublimation of the ego, return of the King to the Queen, defeat of the princes holding the Queen ransom, reuniting of the lovers, and the saving of the son of the new life. I will now elaborate on this story by explaining its occurrence in other tales and films.
Exodus and Mahabharata
In ancient texts there are two which tell a similar story to The Iliad and The Odyssey, the book of Exodus and the Mahabharata. In both of these epic tales a hero undergoes a worldly battle, in the case of the Exodus it is the defeat of the Pharaoh, and in the Mahabharata Vishnu's (love) defeat of Mara (death). In these and other tales the hero must travel through a wilderness, either desert or ocean, and in these journeys face psychological challenges often in the form of demons, the Devil, or a trickster character. Having won these challenges the hero, solo, must undergo a process of self discovery entering into a cave or ascending a mountain. In so doing the hero is transformed and crosses over into a spiritualized state unifying the people, the lovers, the heart and the mind. Furthermore like in The Iliad and The Odyssey where king Odysseus becomes Nemo (the no-body, every-man, person) the hero leaves behind the old state of self, Moses the magi does not travel on to the promised land, instead delivering there the son of the new life. In the case of the Exodus it is Joshua, and in the Mahabharata Yudhisthira.
The Tibetan Book Of The Dead
While most tales have a series of psychological challenges to the Hero, in the Vajrayana Buddhist text Bardo Thodol, (The Tibetan Book Of The Dead) they are depicting those of death and dying directly. It is an exhortation of the journey of the master of time and space in which the transformation and mastery of the mind and the heart allows the master to conquer the demons, psychological states, which seek to capture the hero and bar him/her from entering the new life. This victory thus halting rebirth and the cycles of karma releasing him/her from slavery to Mara. As well in the Vajrayana Buddhist practice of the Powha the practitioner actually practices the uniting of the male and female internal states within the heart and consciously controlling the passage from this life into the next. In further practices these processes are taken a step further whereby the master calms Mara, unifies consciousness and seeks to bypass death completely, transforming the body directly back into primordial light. An action which I will write more on later with Star Trek, the motion picture.
Romeo and Juliet
Now while Romeo and Juliet is not properly a metaphysical allegory, it is important as the return of the love story of Helen and Paris. Helen and Juliet, the heart, are both held in bondage to patriarchy (Pharaoh, Mara) in the land of the West, death, worldly power. They, the heart, are freed by a prince from the East. Their supposed irrational behavior subverting the dominion of the powers of the earth. The action of their free will uniting the heart and the mind which, while leading to the death of their bodies, liberates them into the new life of freedom and the light of their love transforms the world.
Star Trek, episode #38, Metamorphosis
In this story Zefram Cochrane an engineer and man of the mind is the hero adventurer. Cochrane flees the world of man to die alone in his own way, attempting to control his own death. Cochrane on this journey becomes ensnared by a mysterious entity of pure consciousness stranding him on a barren asteroid deep in space. This is his cave and his desert to cross. He is kept alive here by this entity called the Companion, the essence of the planet, who loves him but cannot truly do so without human form and mortality. Spock makes the discovery revealing it to Cochrane who is repulsed by this idea. Neither Cochrane or the Companion are complete until the entrance of the fair Commissioner Nancy Hedford who possesses empathy, kindness and love which has made her into one who works for peace, bringing together warring sides, this is her life work but one which has kept her from personal love. She is surprised by Cochrane's reaction to the Companions love, the experience of an others love being something she would give anything to experience. Tragically Hedford is unable to receive a cure for the terminal disease which she carries of which she was to receive treatment for on the Enterprise. The Companion thus offers to enter the dying Commissioner curing her but also forcing her to stay on the planet that the Companion belongs to and the Commissioner accepts. Cochrane having fallen in love with Hedford decides to stay with her choosing love over the world he might return to having been rejuvenated. By the entering of this pure consciousness into this mortal corporal body possessing the capacity for love the joining of the heart with the mind cures the lovers, uniting them, again to live this new transcendent life.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Important though minor a further iteration of this theme is 2001: A Space Odyssey. Mankind searching the cosmos for knowledge finds something beyond man, the 'monolith,' a doorway of the infinite, pure lifeless geometry and mathematics. Human and computer go in search of an answer to its origin and purpose but run afoul as the humans have lied, which HAL the computer does not understand, and so tries to cleanse the mission of this error, human. Alone the astronaut Dave must turn off logic, HAL, and perform an irrational feet entering this doorway to infinity which it seems at light speed transports him through space and time beyond the death of his body into a new being and rebirth. In Star Trek: the Motion Picture we will see a similar story though one made more complete.
Alexandro Jodorowsky's film El Topo is perhaps the most complete example of a re-telling of Homer's classic. Couched in a Mexican western. The hero in El Topo is a Cabalistic gun slinger traveling through a desert with his young son. We first find him confronting the patriarch, who he challenges to a duel. This leads to the Patriarchs emasculation and his death by suicide, and the liberation of three priests and a female concubine. El Topo leaves his son with the priests and departs with the woman traveling on through the desert. Here he progresses through four encounters with masters whom he challenges and defeats. We find though that despite his success he is left no further along in his development, what has been gained? Is there nothing more? He descends into madness, leaving the woman behind, and is brought to a cave where he is protected by a group of deformed outcasts. Here he is cared for and kept for many years in a state of meditation. Upon awakening he is initiated by an old woman, humbled and indebted to them he decides he must attempt to free these inhabitants with the help of the dwarf woman who had been caring for him. The town which the outcasts seek to return to is a world of sin ruled by a cult of the gun. Many years have past and El Topo's son has grown up as a priest in the town. When the two meet the son instantly wants to kill the father for his betrayal and abandon. El Topo pleads that he must first free those in the cave and wouldn't the son help them first. El Topo and the dwarf woman with the sons help proceed continuing to perform their circus act playing fools for money in order to fund their work tunneling into the cave. After much effort and their work complete El Topo releases the inmates of the cave who represent the deformities of his heart. His son faced with carrying out his plan to kill his father finds that he is unable, stating, 'I can't kill my master.' The deformities of El Topo's heart now released are massacred by the towns people. El Topo enraged kills everyone in the town and then himself, thus finally purging the violence and confusion of his old self, the first son being the new self. This is not the end though as in his struggle to releasee the burdens of his heart he has fallen in love with the dwarf woman who gives birth to their child during the proceeding of the massacre. El Topo's heart is only freed by uniting with this woman in love after he has been humbled and his heart unburdened. Again it is not the master who passes on to the promised land but the new self here in the form of the first son who has chosen life. It is he who departs with the mother, and the son of the new life.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Star Trek is the journey of two men through the 'desert' which is outer space. One, Kirk, ruled by his emotions and the other, Spock, a man of logic and the mind, together seek to complete them selves. Spock who is both human and alien struggles between the irrational Human side which loves and the Vulcan side which purges emotions seeking a state of pure reason. While Spock is finalizing his purge of emotions, and being recognized with his Vulcan diploma, hears V'Ger crying out in the void and is drawn to drop his status and go in search of this being of perfect logic, but one like him torn by its human side. With Kirk we find a strange inversion and foreshadowing of V'Gers story. Kirk has sacrificed a life of human love with a family for the service and the love of his ship, the Enterprise. This is paralleled by the love story of Capt. Decker and the Delta, Ilia, who have previously fallen in love but were separated as she has taken her Delta vows of celibacy and both now fallow their service to knowledge alone and separated from their love. All our parties are captive to their own reasoned separation from completion and love. Once again the Hero's Journey takes us inward as the crew face their fears and do the irrational facing what could destroy them and virtually enter the cave, in this case Kirk takes his ship deep into the alien craft of vast scale. Next we have Spock who faces unknown dangers to enter deeper into this alien ship to connect directly with the intelligence he so admires. What he finds is a machine longing for an understanding that it's knowledge cannot attain and so seeks from its creator. Spock observes that it having searched the universe asks 'Is there nothing more?' No amount of knowledge can complete it, lacking mortality and human emotion, understanding cannot be attained. V'Ger having taken the Delta, Ilia, seeks to resolve who these creatures are that inhabit the world of its creator. Her digitized and replicated mechanical form is sent back to the Enterprise to get an answer. The crew must answer where is the creator or be destroyed, this is their riddle. V'Ger being all powerful cannot understand that these irrational, delicate and fallible beings could in fact be the answer it self. They are saved from their powerlessness by the love that Ilia once had for Decker, as V'Ger was too perfect in its replication of her form and her memories are retained. The crew travel even deeper into this alien 'cave' meeting directly with V'Ger where they are able to uncover that V'Ger is actually the NASA Voyager 6 spacecraft long ago lost but found by a machine race who follow its mission to travel through space seeking knowledge. Human and machine, creator and creation having faced their fears and won their challenges and made the inward journey of self awareness dissolves the opposites, the lovers are united and again a new being emerges. In this case the two lovers, Decker and the mechanized Ilia dissolve into light and are made one. As for our other Hero his crew and ship they too are reunited to continue on their journey of discovery, a triad of body-ship, Kirk-heart, and Sock-mind are made one and complete. Just as in the Iliad and the Odyssey the hero after facing and winning many challenges and entering the cave of self awareness unifies the opposites, bringing together the heart and the mind, answers a riddle, defeats that which holds his love (Queen, Earth) and in so doing returns the mortal to his family (immortality) and their new life.
With Blade Runner we see again the theme of the lovers, Deckard and Rachael. Deckard a humanoid replicant who is unaware of his true state, a robot built as an assassin of renegade replicants, a Blade Runner. He must go through four battles slaying these 'demons' before freeing the female replicant whom he has fallen in love with. While she has become aware of her true state because of his actions, a trickster, officer Gaff has hidden the truth from Deckard. The truth is not revealed to him until these two lovers escape the city fleeing into the country side. Again reason and the mind is freed by love, followed by the defeat of death and the entering into a new life.
Again we have the struggle between man and machine both in a quest for 'God,' 'home,' acceptance of the other, and a journey to the 'promised land'. Mankind having arisen, created replicants, fought and destroyed their home, Earth the 12 tribes leave Earth and their creation behind finding themselves recapitulating their fate. The 12 tribes again create replicants to serve them and again these entities rise to consciousness and again a war arises. Two races Cylon and human, one mechanical, rational, and immortal, one organic, irrational and mortal are brought together by love, their shared ability for emotion. Both races find they are more alike than different and an alliance of survivors work to find their way 'home'. Both must sacrifice their achievements to re-unite and enter into a new life leaving behind the waring of their past life to find peace in a new life, the promised land of their dreams. Love once again unites and frees consciousness.
With the Fox TV series Fringe throughout the show we see the drama of the loss of a child and the pain of the parents love. This however is dwarfed by the finale where a war is waged against a new breed of humans from the future, known as 'the observers,' who have forsaken their emotional capacity for greater intelligence. Their defeat is achieved after the great sacrifice of two fathers who work to show the future engineers of this human evolution that emotions do not need to be sacrificed to achieve greater intelligence, delivering a special child, an anomaly, who possesses both greater emotional and intellectual capacity. Again it is love which brings together two sides and saves the universe of humanity.