The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
Film review #9
dir. Robert Wise
Classic sci-fi movie from the 1950’s. The plot is a classic sci-fi trope of the self-destructive nature of man and its far reaching consequences.
When an unidentified object is spotted in Earth’s atmosphere, people around the world rush to identify its origins. Like many movies where first contact is imagined, such as Contact or Close Encounters…people’s reactions to the unknown is one of fear and terror. When the alien lands, it is surrounded by military personnel and tanks. The alien is accompanied by his robot “Gort”, and is then (accidentally) shot, and it turns out he is very much human in appearance. As the movie progresses, the Alien injects his fresh perspective on some of the sights in Washington, and its inhabitants. He says he has a message for the people of the world…and a warning, which must be heard by all of the inhabitants of the planet…
The Day The Earth Stood Still takes a rather simple approach to representing aliens. The alien (Klaatu) is identical to humans in appearance, he even gets a check up in hospital which seems to confirm his physiology is similar to humans as well. Being able to learn our language through broadcasts is a feasible premise, though. It’s easy to look back at movies such as this (which was considered a big budget movie at the time) and criticise the interpretation of aliens and first contact, but they really set the benchmark for films of this kind, and were successful upon their initial release.
As with a number of other sci-fi movies that deal with the whole “first contact” situation, religion surprisingly makes an appearance again. The one line which stands out in this respect is when Klaatu is revived and is asked whether he has power over life and death, he replies: “that power is reserved to the Almighty Spirit.” Strange, ambiguous words from an alien. Apparently, this line was inserted because the MPAA thought Gort’s power over life and death to be too God-like, and an affront to religious beliefs.
What I didn’t pick up throughout the movie (and it seems not many do) is Klaatu’s similarities to Jesus. Arriving from the sky as a messenger…Powers to perform miracles…Even when he pretends to be human he adopts the name “carpenter” (The profession of Joseph, Jesus’s Father). The screenwriter figured these associations would be “subliminal”, but it seems very few people see them the first time watching the movie. Perhaps when you’re watching a sci-fi movie such as this, religious connotations aren’t exactly things you might expect to find…
The maths and science behind the story doesn’t add up in some places (This film was made before the first satellite was launched into space, let alone the first man), but the accuracy isn’t really the point of the movie, it is about the consequences of continued war and aggression on the planet, and how it could easily end in our untimely eradication. A stark message…and warning indeed.