So, I was rewatching Star Trek over the weekend, and it struck me for the first time what an incredibly sarcastic movie it is. In an era dominated by snark, a style of commentary that involves the same kinds of take-downs as sarcasm, but with much less emotional investment, it’s actually a bit odd to see a movie so full of biting sarcasm, drawn from a well of deep engagement. From the angry “live long and prosper,” the young Spock bites off at the Vulcan Science Academy admissions panel that’s just dismissed his human heritage, to the “enlighten me,” Kirk spits at Spock during his academy trial the movie’s full of angry, funny people. I think it’s a characterization tool that works remarkably well for the group of ambitious, insecure characters the movie throws together.
It’s possible that sarcasm is just a less successful means of emotional distance and disguise than snark is, but it’s also more interesting to watch on screen. Making fun of things for the sake of making fun of things is fun in conversation, particularly if said conversation revolves around light one-upsmanship, or say, writing on the internet. But sarcasm’s far more engaging to watch on screen, because it’s an underused way of signaling character emotion and rawness. Not everything has to be tears, or anger, or passionate declaration. Misdirection, failed or successful, and caginess are just as effective, and often more revealing.