Updated: Nov 4, 2021
There was a time in America where our nation, having won the mother of all wars, sat triumphantly in victory. However, those feelings quickly evaporated with the rapid rise of the Red Menace. Backed by Stalin and the Soviets, America was quickly involved in a hot war on the Korean peninsula against North Korea and China armies. Elsewhere, the Cold War began after the Soviet Union joined the United States as a nuclear superpower. In a flash of bright atomic light, all the hopes of a lasting peace were replaced with anxiety and fear that we would destroy ourselves, along with our planet.
At the same time, we were looking outward beyond the limits of our planet. Building off captured German technology, a new kind of race began: the Space Race. The USA and the USSR start to build bigger rockets with the intent to see who would be the first into space, the moon, and beyond. This race had many successes but it also had severe consequences.
What if one of those consequences of looking out to space was space answering back? Do you maintain your individual freedoms or would you surrender them in the name of security? That is what we explore when we dive into...
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Directed by: Robert Wise
Written by: Edmund H. North(screen play) and Harry Bates (story)
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Stars: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe
Watch on: Prime Video
Review Alpha 9.6.21.0006
Today is the sixth review I have done. So far, it has been a lot of fun, but I have also learned a lot about my tendencies as a writer. So today, if you will indulge me, I would like to approach this movie differently. Instead of focusing on the movie itself, I’d like to discuss its impact on society not only at the time but also today. Specifically, I'd like to posed a question. What is more important to you: The freedom to live your life as you see fit or to surrender those freedoms to have security?
Before I begin, a real quick summary of the movie is necessary: A flying saucer lands in Washington D.C. A man and a robot exit the saucer, wanting to speak with world leaders. To prove their superiority, the man named Klaatu has his robot Gort wipe out some tanks and rifles from the hands of the surrounding soldiers. Realizing they cannot compete, the military backs down. Klaatu is allowed to explore Washington, where he meets with some scientists and ends up befriending a woman and her son.
Naturally, confusion and misunderstanding break out. In the chaos, Klaatu is shot and killed. However, Gort recovers his body, takes him back to their ship, and places him in a chamber that revitalizes him. After he is healed, Klaatu stands before a gatherd crowd where he proceeds to send the Earth a direct warning. If the nations of Earth continue to develop nuclear weapons, they must keep them on Earth. If they take it off-world and give the impression of a threat to the other worlds, an police force of Gorts will return and end the threat for good. Klaatu and Gort then depart the Earth.
It’s important to consider the implications of The Day the Earth Stood Still and what that meant to movie-goers at the time. The U.S. was at the beginning of the Korean War and was on the receiving end of being nearly driven off the peninsula by the Chinese. The Soviets were aggressively pursuing influence globally, creating boundaries between East and West. The world was a tinderbox, anxiously waiting on the spark that would set the world on fire.
Klaatu’s warning is basically, “keep it in your pants, or I’ll cut it off.”
Today, the movie takes on different meanings. One meaning I take from the movie is what we as a nation are experiencing today. That conflict is what is more critical; individual freedom or collective safety?
In December 2020, I wrote an essay for a class called Literature in Science Fiction. We also watched this movie among the many great stories we read, such as Fahrenheit 451, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Handmaiden’s Tale, and others. When it came time to write my final essay, I explored how many Americans choose security over freedom, citing the examples of mask mandates and the Patriot Act. In what should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, I chose to argue on the side of individual freedom. I went into depth about how Klaatu’s threat was an insult to everything it means to be American. I expressed my disappointment at those who willingly traded those hard-fought freedoms to feel false security. Why would anyone want safety dictated by a government proven to be incapable of doing anything responsibly? I even cited this quote from Klaatu to demonstrate why this perceived security is terrible:
There must be security for all, or no one is secure. Now, this does not mean giving up any freedom, except the freedom to act irresponsibly. Your ancestors knew this when they made laws to govern themselves and hired policemen to enforce them. We, of the other planets, have long accepted this principle. We have an organization for the mutual protection of all planets and for the complete elimination of aggression. The test of any such higher authority is, of course, the police force that supports it. For our policemen, we created a race of robots. Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression, we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first sign of violence, they act automatically against the aggressor.
Most of the time, we watch movies purely to entertain ourselves. Depending on personal tastes, a film can range from the greatest thing ever to a dumpster fire. No matter where any movie falls, even this one, watch those movies for entertainment. However, if you are so inclined, try to take a thoughtful approach to movies. Perhaps it is the influence of the English degree that I am nearly finished with. Since so much of what I do is analyze for meaning, it has carried over into film. If there is any advantage to this dual approach, I can find meaning in movies I would otherwise dislike.
The Day the Earth Stood Still is a good movie, with or without the philosophy behind it. It is one of those 1950s Sci-fi movies that still is enjoyable to watch today, especially compared to its horrible 2008 remake. The effects are sound for their time, and the story is compelling. It’s a fun time capsule for an America that is in so many ways very different than our own.
Warp 7 on the SciFi Drive!
Next Review: Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965)
Please share any comments you have about The Day the Earth Stood Still