Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” was released in 1951, and was one of the first films in the long line of 1950s American science fiction films.  It was based off the book “Farewell to the Master,” written by Harry Bates.  Fox Productions purchased the film rights for only $1000, the film was budgeted $960,000, and by the end of its first release, the movie racked up a worldwide gross of $1.8 million.  The movie was nominated for two Golden Globes, and won the award for “Best Film Promoting International Understanding.” 
At the start of the film, a flying saucer is tracked flying around the Earth until it lands in Washington D.C.  An alien, Klaatu, and a very powerful robot, Gort, occupy the ship.  Klaatu informs the people of Earth that he has an important message that he wishes to tell the representatives of all nations simultaneously.  After being informed that this request is impossible to meet, Klaatu decides on an alternative plan.  He seeks the smartest man in Washington D.C., Professor Barnhart, and delivers the message to him with the hopes that he will organize a meeting with the scientists of the world.  Ultimately, Klaatu is able to relay his message that if the people of Earth threaten to extend their violence into space, robots like Gort will destroy the Earth. 
There were a few minor filming issues associated with this movie.  The producer was initially nervous because the Korean conflict had just broken out, and feared that Fox would nix the story’s message of peace in a time of war; however, this did not happen.  Additionally, when they submitted the first copy of the screenplay for approval, it was denied due to the resurrection of Klaatu because “only God can do that.”  Eventually, a compromise was reached where Klaatu is brought back to life, but only temporarily.  The final issue that arose during filming, was that Sam Jaffe, the actor portraying Professor Barnhardt, appeared in the infamous Red Channels Pamphlet that listed performers with supposed Communist connections.  Because of this, Jaffe was almost dismissed but the producer of the film, David Blaustein, insisted that the actor be allowed to finish filming.  After the movie, Jaffe did not appear again in films for several years.

There were two main interpretations of The Day the Earth Stood Still. The first attributes Klaatu to the likeness of the US. Klaatu is a citizen of a technologically advanced society visiting a less-advanced world to tell them that if they continue building atomic weapons, his planet will have to annihilate them to secure their own safety. Many saw this is the message the United States was sending other nations during the Cold War. We can have nuclear weapons, but you can’t, and if you try to get them, we’ll use ours on you. The second way to interpret the film is a religious allegory. Humanity is largely portrayed as the villain throughout the film, especially when it wounds a messenger who is trying to show it the error of its ways. The aliens persistently try to offer humanity a chance to be saved even though humanity continues to threaten and chase them. This opens up the plot for religious allegory: humanity is being saved despite its guilt. There are many parallels between Klaatu and Jesus: both were distrusted by those in power (Jesus by the Pharisees and Klaatu by the US government), both were hunted by the establishment and subsequently killed (Jesus is crucified, Klaatu is shot), both are resurrected and then continue to give important teachings/warnings afterward, and both leave the earth by rising up into the heavens.  

There was a general loss of faith and a distrust of religion after WWII for a few different reasons: there was so much death and destruction and God never intervened (so was he actually real) and it was now widely known that humans are capable of created an atomic weapon that can wipe out a large area within seconds. This newfound power gave humans a godlike quality that was unattained until this moment in history.  Along with the godlike quality that emerged from atomic weapons was the growing interest in science and logic. The film portrays this through Klaatu who is more advanced in both science and technology. Klaatu also has to count on the scientific leaders of the world rather than the political to deliver his message because the political leaders are too emotional to put aside differences for logic.
Klaatu instills fear in the humans of the film because they do not understand who/what he is. It relates to McCarthyism during the time the film was made when mass paranoia and hysteria were both very present among the American population. There is a fear of the unknown both in the film and in the society of the audience because many were unsure of who was a Communist and whether or not anyone could be trusted.

The Day the Earth Stood Still focuses on the effect that the use of nuclear weapons could possibly have and the threat if poses to the entire world. After WWII, it is well known by all countries that the use of nuclear weapons could eventually mean the end of the world, but because the United States had already developed and used them to end a war, other countries now sought to develop and control a stock of their own. Klaatu’s threat in the film to destroy the Earth because the use of nuclear weapons threatened other worlds and had to be stopped, reflects cold war tactics between the US and the Soviet Union, where mutually assured destruction was being employed to deter the use of these weapons. This film contrasts with the film Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, in that while both movies are about aliens visiting earth, Bodysnatchers is about the people of earth all conforming to the same behavior (Communism) and the fear of the people from this happening (McCarthyism), rather than forces of power bringing about our own destruction. This film also contrasts with the 2008 remake of the same name in that the remake threatens the destruction of only the human race as a result of their destructive tendencies, to save the other creatures of earth.
We posed the question “in our current era, how does the presence of nuclear weapons affect our approach to diplomacy and war in general?” The responses that we got were along the same lines as how I felt. The class generally felt that although the Cold War is over, the threat of mutually assured destruction and the overall affect of the use of nuclear weapons weighs heavily on the way we approach diplomacy and war with other countries.

By:  Clarissa Graziani, Noah Rabin, Taylor Thomas, and Kelly Wingen

1.  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043456/

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