Societies of the Future
The Day The Earth Stood Still Assessment
The Day The Earth Stood Still, directed by, Robert Wise was a film set to the context of a world at war. Just coming out of World War 2, America faced yet another impending war with the Soviet Union over both political and nuclear tensions. This Cold War era sparked a fear amongst the American people that the country may be invaded by communist ideas, as well as soldiers. The film was released in 1951 when tensions were creasing, and the theme of invasion by an outside and mysterious force was commonplace for Scifi films. The Day The Earth Stood Still, took a different approach to the idea of invasion, instead having the visitor be seen as an overwhelmingly positive force, preaching to end war and not start them. This theme of bettering one’s own life over spending time on war and strife hit home to the audience. While the film had a budget of 1,200,000 dollars, it was a commercial hit and managed to gross 1,800,000 while in theaters, and went on to impact the Scifi genre and become a recognizable staple of American Cinema.
As a plot, the film grips with the terror that an invasion can cause. The reactions to the arrival of
Klaatu are evident in the panic of the citizens. The message of this comes to light when Klaatu is shot by the military moments after arriving on earth. The sentiments against war only continue when Klaatu is denied a world meeting due to the frivolities of political issues. Unsatisfied with the response that he has received, he journeys out to the public. Upon finding an alias to go by and a roof to stay under, Klaatu begins to study humans through the interaction with a family that lives in the complex. Specifically through the relationship with the young boy Bobby, the film paints the virtue of innocence as something to be cherished and not forgotten. Klaatu is pleasantly surprised to find that some humans, if even a boy can find such a moral center against war then there could be hope. The military steps up their search for Klaatu as he reasons with the scientific community to hold a meeting. Here it is obvious that the idea of intellect over military might is present, as while klaatu is unable to reason at all with the political and military leaders he finds common ground with scientists who realize logic. The anti military sentiment grows stronger when the military manages to temporarily kill Klaatu, an action that could have potentially destroyed the earth along with it. Upon his revival, Klaatu takes advantage of the military and press coverage around the ship and scientists to convey his final message. That if Earth cannot stop warring amongst itself and by extension stop being a galactic threat, that it would be destroyed without hesitation. This message in itself seems Ironic, that a threat of force is used to ensure peace, however, the film makes it clear that this overwhelming force of extinction is the only thing that can hold a long term peace. On the more positive theme of this message is that without war Earth should be capable of producing the technologies and culture to help its citizens, in order to further the world into a self sustaining utopia over time, much like Klaatu’s home planet.
The means of culture and social control needed to create this world are evident with the description of Klaatu’s world. Firstly the norms of this planet are peace and understanding, and more importantly to avoid conflict if at all possible. The values follow a similar path with intellect and logic being held in high regard, as well as the value of life in general. In comparison Earth has the norms of suspicion, and war as seen with the mass hysteria upon the arrival of the ship along with the ongoing presence of war tensions being both a theme of history and the current issues preventing Klaatu from his mission. Earth’s values show a sense of separatist thinking, with national and cultural boundaries defining the planet, and not the common will of the people in unison. On a more positive note family is heavily valued in society as we can see the Benson family have a healthy interaction with positive results. Earth has potential in it’s ideas of values but the film makes it clear the the one defined sanction of Klaatu is what is keeping Earth from achieving unity. This sanction is the inability to cause any war with either yourself or other species, as doing so will invoke the wrath of the galactic policing force. This sanction specifically holds down the morals of Klaatu’s culture to a very specific limit, the idea going that without violence being tolerated only peace can remain.
The social structure and stratification in the film can be difficult to judge as Klaatu is the only notable example of this alien society. From what is shown many of the stratifications have been eliminated in favor of a common goodwill towards man. A class system is never mentioned by Klaatu beyond the police robots holding absolute authority, all other species are by definition equal under this rule so classes cannot exist. The concept of sex and race, are not considered issue as Klaatu treats all equally, it can be assumed that his species does the same. The concept of age is equally strange to Earth as demonstrated with the doctor’s confusion over the estimated 140 year lifespan of his people. The difference in the movie on earth is night and day. Age, is understandably also not much of a stratification for earth with the common practice of respecting your elders being the normal behavior. In contrast to other movies that we have seen the inclusion of Helen Benson as a fairly strong female character, shows a progress of earth towards sexual equality. Race is also shown for the first time, with the scientific community appearing as several different races, who all seem to be respectively dressed and equal with each other. Rather the main stratification for earth is the political differences of respective nations rather than the differences between each individual. A message that strengthens the idea that war is a poison that keeps people from their potential in reaching equality.
Similarly vague as the social structures the only social institution that we see from the alien society is the intergalactic police force. As described they have absolute authority in all matters concerning judgment and punishment. They also seen to be shown to have a limitless control over how they conduct their job, as Klaatu states that they may come at anytime from anywhere to check up on different planets. They are represented as the all seeing eye that enforces the social rules and nothing else, this sort of control is totalitarian in a respect to choice, as they only give the ideals of peace or destruction with no middle ground. Ironically the main social institution that is seen from earth is the military. This institution is shown in a mixed light, by showing incredible control over the other institutions, issuing commands as needed. In this manner they show a level of importance on earth as the police do to space-fairing society’s. At the same time they are presented as being highly ineffectual when it comes to enforcing their rules, often being the cause of further problems than the solution. This portrayal perpetuates the notion that war only brings problems instead solutions. The political institution is closely entwined with the military, and war is the driving force behind the decisions which hinder society rather than help in the eyes of the movie. The Medical institution is also shown in a negative light, with the practices of Earth being far less effective then the medicine that Klaatu brings. A further product of the times in which this film was made shows the doctor’s smoking. This to a modern day viewer raises a red flag to just how little the medicine of the time new in comparison to future societies.
The positive institutions of the movie come with family and education. The Bensons are the prime aspect of family, and it shows a functional relationship between mother and son fostered out of love and respect towards one another. Education embodies the value of logic and intellect, with the scientists while still subservient to command of the military being capable of rationalizing the importance of Klatuu and to show a positive influence through education. This educational process is demonstrated with Bobby, where his nightly homework is shown to be a positive influence towards the logic of critical thinking rather than the hysteria and mistrust of a war consumed individual.
With most of the film showing the positive aspects of humanity in the younger generation and men of science. It stands to reason that the vast majority of individuals who hold ruling power are driven outwards to conflict and war as the method of issuing social change. The theme of the movie holds the social change towards peace as an important feature. With peace being enforced regularly Earth is shown at the end of the film to be in a precarious position with the change being peace or death. This abrupt force of change illustrates the importance that peace has within the idea of a utopian society. To the point where even if the natural evolution towards peace has not yet happened it can be ensured with enough force. An ironic statement considering the show of force is what leads to wars in the first place. The message then would fall to the idea that peace cannot come about naturally but must be given a stern hand before it can become the norm of society.
It helps towards the idea of peace over war in the film with the progress of technology from the alien society when set against Earth’s. Medicine for example has the capabilities to fully heal wounds in hours with an ointment, to being able to resuscitate body from a state of death to life. While Earth’s best doctors are still stuck with remedial first aid by comparison. The weaponized technology of the ship and Gort both far exceed any thing that man has been able to create, to the point where ability to destroy the planet renders the warfare of human’s to a childish threat. The ship is also capable of extraordinary intergalactic travel that is as equally great to humanities attempts at travel as the weapons were to matching Gort. The other technologies shown such as the device to communicate with, or at least view other planets, to the metal that the ship and Gort are made of are out of the realm of humanity. The important message of the film is not how strong the invaders are, but that Earth should be capable of the same feats if it would just focus on bettering life rather than on a war budget. The scientist can even be seen working on some of the same basic mathematics as the alien culture, yet due to the stresses of his life by both politics and war does not have the time to complete.
In a similar case though the environment is not heavily shown from the perspective of Earth. As it does not play a prominent role in the film. From the standpoint of the alien society, the only evidence of their environment is the comments that Klaatu makes about how most worlds are beautiful. From this it could be assumed that the environment would benefit from the lack of war as much as technology does. When allowed to flourish under the care of a peaceful society the environment becomes that much more protected and beautiful over time.
Under the trial’s of real world stresses could a society like Klaatu’s exist on Earth?
Given the requirement that humanity must either face peace or death, by some outside force; that means that contact with another species has been made and the power to destroy earth if provoked is undeniable. At first this type of threat works very well as a deterrent towards war. This idea of anti war being regularly enforced would over time ingrain itself into our culture, that is if some one at the time who was in power was not already insane enough to challenge this new rule. If humanity manages to survive the first generation of enforced peace, than I can see the outlet towards newer technologies to improve life to become available due to the fact that the funding for war would not exist anymore. While the institution of military would be abolished out of necessity, the need for a global police force to handle minor disputes would be needed to handle the minor issues of day to day crime. Politics would also need to undergo a change, either becoming one global government or the formation of a republic similar to the United Nations, only on on a grander scale. Other social stratification would also need to be abolished, however the difficulty of this seems impossible over the short term, which is why such a large police force would be needed. Over time this type of unified society should be possible as long as the idea of violence could only lead to death. In a way it would work like Global conditioning of the human race to avoid conflict in time until the idea of global peace becomes the way of culture.
In conclusion this type of Utopia should be possible. The theme of the film goes well to implement the value of not causing war and the benefits that it has over the destructive alternative. The testament to how well that this theme was received at the time can be seen with the public response to the film. In addition to grossing a profit, The Day The Earth Stood Still one the Golden Globe for promoting national understanding in 1952, this award was created especially for this film. Also it was inducted into the national film registry in 1995, proving that it can stand the test of time. In popular culture the film has sparked a remake of the original, and has been referenced in Scifi films of all types, even to this day. The resounding lasting appeal of this film can come down towards it’s message of world peace and the benefit that comes with it, as this idea of a world without war has become one of the main staples of the utopia, the film that represented it in such a popular format was bound to become a success.