"The Cage" was the intended pilot to the ground-breaking science fiction series Star Trek, but it was not originally shown prior to the launch of the series and was only aired later after being edited into a sort of "story within a story" that was called "The Menagerie." However, it can now be seen in its original intended form, without the disruptive and somewhat contrived additional storyline, by purchasing it from various retail outlets on the web, or by watching it on a streaming service such as Netflix, which currently has it available in the "watch instantly" category as the first episode in the first season of the original Star Trek television series (all of the episodes can be viewed in streaming form under "watch instantly" on Netflix).
"The Cage" showcases many of the literary strengths that would mark the classic Star Trek series, including a philosophical examination of important questions of human existence. In "The Cage," the captain of the Enterprise (in this case, Christopher Pike, Captain Kirk's predecessor) falls into the clutches of the super-intellectual and somewhat amoral denizens of Talos IV, who think nothing of imprisoning "inferior" species in their underground zoo, preferably both a male and a female, trying to find a species that is hardy enough and adaptable enough to serve as slaves for the survival of the Talosians.
The Talosians have developed remarkable powers of illusion, and they believe that by using these powers, they can make captivity pleasant for the humans and their future servitude palatable. However, as the dismayed leader of the Talosians tells Captain Pike after remotely "assimilating" the records stored on-board the Enterprise:
We had not believed this possible. The customs and history of your race show a unique hatred of captivity -- even when it's pleasant, and benevolent, you prefer death! This makes you too violent and dangerous a species for our needs.
The question of whether one would choose "pleasant, and benevolent" captivity will surface again in another classic science-fiction film exploring this issue (and the power of illusion to enslave) -- The Matrix, released in 1999.
"The Cage" was filmed from the end of November through the middle of December, 1964, which means that it was being made at this time, forty-eight years ago. It is always worthwhile to reflect upon the timeless themes explored in "The Cage" at any time, but it is particularly appropriate now, forty-eight years later, as we enter the portentious month of December, 2012, around which (rightly or wrongly) so much media hype has been built up.
As I wrote one year ago at this time, in this previous post and also this previous post, I believe that the end of the Maya long-count cycle has more to do with changes in the heavens and the start of a new celestial age -- the "Age of Aquarius," which is the incipient precessional age, although when it officially begins varies depending upon who you ask -- than with cataclysmic destruction on earth.
If the angle of the earth in relationship to the sun, stars, and planets has an impact on our life on earth (and it clearly does, as the ancients clearly taught and as changes in the tides and changes in the seasons clearly demonstrate), then the advent of a new precessional age (or "new Sun," as the Maya called the successive ages) might presage changes in human behavior and spiritual consciousness, and these changes may well be positive rather than catastrophic (many in fact believe that they will be).
However, the media typically dwells only on the "end of the world" aspect of 2012, with productions such as National Geographic's overly-sensational 2012: Countdown to Armageddon and similar apocalyptic fare.
The Talosians in "The Cage" were able to use their powers of illusion and suggestion to manipulate the officers and crew of the Enterprise, making them think that their phasers were incapable of blowing a hole in the glass wall of their prison cell, or that a huge laser cannon seen only in that episode was ineffective at blasting through the rocks that guarded the entrance to the underground catacombs. In one memorable scene, when Captain Pike manages to get his hands around the neck of the leader of the Talosians, the illusionist causes Captain Pike to see a powerful alien monster rather than the scrawny and relatively defenseless Talosian.
Just knowing that it was an illusion enabled Captain Pike to foil its power, knowing that reality was not what he was being shown. This is an important principle, because -- while the human race has not yet developed unaided mental powers equal to the illusion-projecting capabilities of the Talosians -- modern technology allows the creation of illusions that might be nearly as convincing as those shown in 1964's "The Cage." In fact, as we pointed out in a previous post, modern technology in 1938 enabled the broadcast of a radio program that actually convinced some people that earth had been invaded by Mars!
How difficult would it be for some group of modern-day Talosians to use current media or Hollywood technology (which today is far more advanced than anything that the creative producers had in 1938 or 1964) to create panic around an event centered on the prophecy of December 2012? What kind of influence could the new computer-generated powers of illusion enable, if most people accept uncritically whatever they are shown or told by those "in authority," and never learn to practice their own "due diligence"?
Captain Pike's actions show that the best way to defuse a powerful illusion is to refuse to go along with it -- even when it appears that one is confronted with overwhelming adversaryforce. However, if you watch "The Cage" carefully you will also see that even Captain Pike could not defeat the illusionists all by himself -- he had to communicate what was going on to his companions, so that they could resist the illusions as well, and acting together they were able to demonstrate enough resolve to convince their captors that they would resist their enslavement, even to the death if necessary.
These are important themes to consider as we head into the month of December 2012 -- and beyond.