As one of the first great science-fiction movies of all time, Robert Wise’s film The Day the Earth Stood Still was based off of Harry Bates’ short story “Farewell to the Master” and quickly became a staple in science fiction films. It’s legacy still remains in the commonly used phrase “Klaatu barada nikto” by science fiction fans, including George Lucas’ use of it as names for three of the bounty hunters in Star Wars.
In the wake of trendy flying-saucer films of the time, The Day the Earth Stood Still came out on top and continues to be a film audiences find significant and classic. The premise of the film begins with Klaatu (an alien) and his robot partner (Gort) touching down on Earth in Cold-war era Washington D.C. He is immediately detained and examined, all receiving visits from all the higher-ups, including the President. Gort remains guard of their ship, which has been closed off from prying eyes in the hopes of gaining what little control the humans have over the bizarre situation. Upon realizing that he is doomed to death, Klaatu escapes from the hospital and takes up house at Ms. Helen Benson’s house, a widow with a young son, Bobby, who becomes fast friends with Klaatu (whose alias becomes Carpenter). After learning a bit more about human culture and helping out a brilliant professor figure out the science behind his flying saucer, he teams up with Helen to communicate his mission with the people of Earth: to give them the choice to either stop their violence or to be ruled by robots such as Gort. He is able to escape with Gort (after a few altercations), leaving the people of Earth to decide their own fate.
Interestingly enough, The Day the Earth Stood Still would appear to have some subtle Christian themes, such as Klaatu coming from another word and taking up the name Carpenter (Jesus’ profession). He warns the world of imminent destruction if they do not believe him and change their violent way. He also dies and is resurrected, aiding in people’s belief in his almighty power. Although the director wasn’t aware of these themes at the time, they might have played a part in the film’s warm reception.
To this day, The Day the Earth Stood Still has played a large role in influencing science fiction movies, including the 2008 remake of the film. It truly captures the fear of the unknown and the rash action taken by society when it does not and cannot understand someone or something. Finally we have an all-powerful and yet non-violent being whose sole mission is to stop our own violence, and what do we do? Shoot him immediately out of fear for the unknown. We don’t want to know. We want him to leave us alone because we aren’t great, but hey, we’ve survived this long, haven’t we?
And therein lies the perpetual problem we face (and are faced with at the end of the film). To be non-violent should not be a difficult goal, and yet change scares us, leaving us stuck in our own destructive ways.