Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Of all the nuclear apocalypse movies of the cold war era, The Day the Earth Stood Still stands out as being about saving earth rather than destroying it.  Rather than taking a pessimistic view of what could happen as a result of nuclear weapons like so many other films, this one is more optimistic with the future of the world.  Although it seems there is a light at the end of the tunnel as far as the future of humans are concerned, the plan laid out by Klaatu has some resemblances to communism and other oppressive governments.  He basically says that if the earth gives up fighting each other and threatening the survival of the planet, humans will join some sort of alien community that is constantly watched over by robots like Gort.  However, the robots are more of a threatening presence than peacekeepers of guardians.  The slightest act of moving violence into space would mean the destruction of earth, no warnings or individual punishment.  While it makes sense that this harsh supervision might be the only way to make sure planets aren't blowing each other up constantly, the threat of annihilation as the 'happy ending' seems very similar to people's fear of the Soviets.  Relating to this, one ironic thing about the plot is that the only way to save the planet is to threaten to destroy it.  During his speech at the end, Klaatu tells the scientist people that unless they stop with the nuclear weapons and wars, everyone will die.  The only way to end violence is to threaten with violence as far as Klaatu is concerned.  Maybe he thinks that, because humans are already so accustomed to war and killing, this message is the only one that they would pay any attention to.  While the ending of the film is satisfying since Klaatu isn't completely dead yet, it is also not very happy since there is still a strong possibility that the earth will be destroyed.  In addition to the cold war connections, the film is also a look back at how people socialized in the fifties, something that other sci-fi films in this era lacked.  From Helen letting her young son run around with a stranger that just moved into their house, to her one sided relationship with Tom, the social norms of this time period are shown in detail throughout the film.  However, this movie is unique in that one of the main protagonists is a female, and a rather strong one too.  When Tom refuses to listen to her and decides to get rich, she doesn't back down and go into housewife mode, and instead tells him off and moves on.  Later, she escorts Klaatu to his ship and says the secret code to Gort, effectively saving multiple lives.  Many sci-fi films around this time feature male lead characters, with the females having some sort of support roles.  Helen is, in a way, responsible for saving the world.  By getting Klaatu to his ship, she made it possible for him to deliver his message and warn of the impending alien holocaust.  Helen's heroism and Klaatu's timely message are the main reasons this film stands out among the countless cold war inspired movies of the era.

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