This movie is a great example of what all smart Science Fiction should aspire to be. Exploring worlds and possibilities outside of our own reality, while carrying relevant themes along with it. I’ve always loved Sci-fi more than just about any other genre, and ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ is a great example of why. Any movie that has aliens in it has already won me over, but if it says something about the human condition as well, it’s even better. ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and Carl Sagans’ ‘Contact’ are both good examples of that. The Day the Earth Stood Still says something very important about the potential violence of humanity, and the dangers of the weapons and technology we have at our disposal.
The plot kicks off with a UFO entering Earths atmosphere. After landing in Washington D.C., (because ‘merica) a being named Klaatu exits the spacecraft. The first military responders at the scene misunderstand his greeting and shoot him, so he ends up in a hospital. There, we discover that his goal is to speak to the leaders of the world with an urgent message. However, this taking place in 1951, that goal isn’t exactly easily attainable. Klaatu says that while we figure out our ‘petty squabbles on Earth’, he will examine humanity firsthand, so he escapes the hospital and checks in to a local boarding house. There, he meets a widow and her son (Helen and Bobby), and begins to learn more about their attitudes and suspicions. As the manhunt for Klaatu eventually catches up to him, he gives his message to the people of Earth, before ascending back into space: that humanity can join the other planets in peace, or eventually perish at the hands of their own destruction.
What I really love about this movie, is that it’s such a product of the time it was made in, but still has a timeless message. There are many hints during the movie about Americas mistrust of outsiders in the 1950’s, as Klaatu (the spaceman, as he’s called) is a kind of scapegoat for Americans mistrust and paranoia about communism. I’d like to think that America today would react differently to Klaatu’s arrival than the characters in the movie, but I’m not too sure we would. Our country at the time this was made was incredibly skeptical and suspicious of outsiders, and spacemen are about as ‘outside’ as you can get. Although the movie very much takes place in the 1950’s, the theme of self-destruction and extending our violence the more we grow, still holds true. Having just discovered nuclear energy during this time, as well as the creation of the atom bomb, this movie came out during a vital time for America.
Another connection I made during the movie, is the parallel of Klaatu and Christ. When he first escapes the hospital, he goes by the name of ‘Carpenter’. At the end he dies, and yet rises from the dead, before ascending into the sky. I’m not sure there’s any credence to this theory, or if the writer intended it, but I found it interesting. Also, going along with the movie being a product of the time it was made in, there was an interesting bit of dialogue near the end. upon being resurrected, Helen asks Klaatu if Gort (his robot companion) has the power over life and death. He replies “No, that power is reserved for the holy spirit.” It comes off as really wonky by today’s modern standards, but I suppose back then, America was far more into the idea of ‘God and Country’.
That’s going to wrap it up for ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’. If you love Sci-fi like I do, this is one to see for sure. I had seen the 2008 remake before this version actually, but that one isn’t even worth bringing into the conversation. This film marks the birth of great Hollywood Science Fiction, and without it I’m not sure Blade Runner, Close Encounters, or really any smart Sci-fi would exist. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more classics coming over the next few days!