I can’t recall when I first saw The Day The Earth Stood Still, but I do reckon that it was most likely with my mom. To say that my mother is enthusiastic about this movie is understating it a bit; I think it’s actually one of her favorites of all time.
An alien spaceship lands in Washington, triggering fear and suspicion worldwide. Out steps an alien, Klaatu, bearing an important message for all nations of the Earth. Along with him is Gort, a sinister looking robot. Humans mistakenly believe Klaatu may attack them, so they shoot him. After he’s locked up inside a hospital, he escapes and blends in with Earthlings, learning more about our culture and ways before convincing a fellow scientist to have a meeting of the greatest minds on earth so he can spread his message to all nations equally. The message? Embrace peace or perish.
The Day The Earth Stood Still is a sci-fi classic and with good reason: it belongs to none of its knee-jerk, reactionary brethren of the decade. (Them, anyone?) Instead of being a frightful tale of how atomic power can go dreadfully wrong (duck and cover from those giant ants/spiders/creatures, kids), it’s a slow-burn tale of how we are the horrific ones.
Bad special effects aside, it’s the theme and central idea to the movie that still play to a modern audience. The fear of outsiders, the fear of global destruction and the fear that we may not be the big fish in the food chain we perceive ourselves to be are all still very relevant – Soviets or no Soviets. Klaatu’s indignant frustration at the stupidity of the people of Earth but kindly outlook on the mother and son duo that he befriends are exemplary of human traits, sure, but none of us had the power to reduce Earth to a cinder.
The man in the silver rubber suit is no longer as terrifying as he once was, nor does Klaatu’s then high-tech spaceship strike anyone as being anything other than ultra-retro, but the disturbing, unsettling feeling that The Day The Earth Stood Still conveys is that we do have a choice – Klaatu or no Klaatu – to decide our own fate. It is our own stupidity and as Klaatu puts it, our own irresponsibility that gets in our way. It is our choice to be smarter or be a lot deader, even if there’s no giant alien robot around to police the hell out of us.
We still live with the threat of horrible things looming over us. It’s no longer worrying about the Soviets dropping A-Bombs and the idea of the KGB looming large over the capitalist stronghold of America; now it’s militant religious terrorists, dirty bombs and bioterrorism. To be typically crude: same shit, different day. In other words, Klaatu’s message is something that still resonates because we’re still behaving in the same fashion. We can doom ourselves … or not.
Arguably, while the humans are left with a choice to DON’T BE SO STUPID or DIE IN A MASSIVE FIRE, FOOLS, Patricia Neal is the initial savior of humanity. It is she that gives Klaatu a chance; it is she that helps him evade capture and it is she that goes to Gort the giant robot and makes sure he A) doesn’t blow shit up everywhere to avenge Klaatu after he’s been killed and B) resurrects Klaatu.
In other words, Patricia Neal? Is the shit. Also, thanks to Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal and some screenwriters, we have the immortal words the Evil Dead franchise ticks along on: Klaatu barada nikto.
My mom’s recollection of this is that it was really cool back in the day. She was awed by the sound on the special edition. One of the things that sells The Day The Earth Stood Still is the creepy, semi-disturbing music which runs to and fro through the film. (Good job, music composer.) She pointed out how freaking alien Michael Rennie (Klaatu) looks in his oversized suit and scary-lean figure. And above all, the special effects still seem real to her, and I imagine the movie has a whole realm of meaning to her that it will never have to me, primarily because even though we live in times with fear, I never had the threat of having atomic bombs rained down on me by Nikita Khruschev. (I also never lived next to a SAC base, which my mother also did, right when a bunch of Americans and Russians were thinking hard about pushing some little red buttons.)
I think it is this movie that gave me my love of sci-fi; not sci-fi for fantasy’s sake, but the kind of sci-fi that makes a larger point. The Thing and other movies of that ilk all have bigger questions in mind than just what they are at face value and I think… I think this comes from early viewings of The Day The Earth Stood Still with my mom.
If you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for?