I don’t remember much about the original The Day the Earth Stood Still.
I remember watching it with my dad, and thinking the special effects were really cheesy, and being surprised that the alien “Klaatu” sounded like he was a Christian. I wasn’t sure how that worked – did Jesus go to another planet too? Either way, it made an impression on me …
… which is something the recent remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still decidedly did NOT do. This was a movie that I mostly forgot the moment I left the theater. It wasn’t so much that I thought it unbearably bad – I more didn’t think much of anything about it. Much like the movie’s star Keanu Reeves – I was completely emotionless.
Okay, okay – cheap shot. In fairness to the Actor-Formerly-Known-As-Neo, he was supposed to be fairly emotionless since he was playing the 21st Century version of Klaatu, whose emotional range is intentionally reminiscent of Mr. Spock. Keanu has made a fine career out of playing emotionally-undemanding characters and he actually didn’t bother me in TDTESS.
What more bothered me was the plot. Jennifer Connelly (the unrequited love of my life) is a single, stepmom microbiologist who is called in to investigate a strange unidentified flying object hurtling toward the earth. Of course when this object lands things don’t go so well (we shoot Keanu), causing Klaatu’s giant robot GORT (also a throwback to the original) to express more repressed robot emotion than Keanu does repressed alien emotion.
Of course Connelly’s character ends up helping Klaatu when our government decides to torture him. And of course Connelly and her stepson bond, and the son becomes critical to the plot, and darn it if parts of this didn’t end up working for me, if for no other reason than that Jennifer Connelly is a good actress (or because I love her … maybe both). Either way, the plot progresses about where it has to for most of the movie. And it’s all kind of interesting for awhile, and then boring. And then kind of stupid at the end.
But here’s what dawned on me while watching this film. TDTESS is the most recent movie to feature a fairly common plot device – the highly evolved alien who looks with disappointment on a sadly-unenlightened human race. Much like in the 90s Jodie Foster film Contact, TDTESS believes humankind’s fundamental flaw is that we haven’t – through force of will and dispassionate thinking – overcame our destructiveness.
But what this movie – and many of my atheist/agnostic friends – fail to understand is that humanity will always be fundamentally flawed, broken and destructive when left to its own devices. Furthermore, thinking we can overcome said brokenness through a “triumph of reason” is dangerous.
(warning: spoilers follow) For instance, in TDTESS Klaatu comes to earth to wipe out humanity because we’re killing the planet. It’s better – he says – for Mother Earth to survive and us to die so that our planet can harbor a less-destructive species in the future.
But as I’m watching this plot unfold all I can think is how monstrous Klaatu really is. His pragmatic reasoning and superior evolution lead him to think it’s okay to kill 6 billion people. And in this I hear echoes of Hitler and Stalin and every “reasonable society” that has committed atrocities in the name of progress.
So my biggest problem with The Day the Earth Stood Still isn’t that it’s predictable (although it is), and features mediocre writing (although it does), or even that it’s an unabashed “message movie” that delivers its environmental message with all the subtlety of an Oliver Stone film.
No, my biggest problem with the film is that it condones the idea that genocide in the name of progress is, if not okay, then at least understandable. The movie is so captivated by our need to evolve that it doesn’t realize it’s vision of higher evolution is horrific. It doesn’t understand that all of humanity is fundamentally broken and in need of fixing from an outside source.
This is what – from my memories – the first TDTESS got. And what this movie could never understand.
Josh Pease – NOT Josh Treece – is on the high school team at Saddleback Church and recognizes that he is probably WAAAY too analytical about movies. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.