The Day the Earth Stood Still


Last night Ben and I went and saw the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.  I have never seen the original, so I didn't know what to expect, but it had Keanu Reeves in it (as an alien, which requires no emotion, so we figured he might actually do well) and it was about aliens, so we had to see it.

I ended up liking it a *lot* more than I expected to.  I just read a brief synopsis of the 1951 version of the movie, and from what I can tell, this is a similar creation, but in a modern and perhaps more profound language.

Plot Summary
The US government becomes aware that there is a large space object heading directly for earth and so gathers together the best scientists to try to help avert the situation.  Helen (Jennifer Connely) is an astrobiologist.  She studies microbiology, theorizing about other planets. Anyway, as they all brace for impact they notice that nothing happens.  No great tragedy.  Instead, a bright light slowly decends over New York City, and eventually a globe of swirling light lands in Central Park.

Helen is at the scene, and when the alien walks out of the "ship" she walks towards him.  Just as they are about to reach out and shake hands, one of the many military soldiers there shoots the alien.  His alarm system, a giant robot that shuts down all electricity in the area, comes to his defense, ready to destroy the military, until the alien whispers something that makes him shut down.

The government is first and foremost concerned with finding out if there is going to be an attack on planet earth, and the fear guides them.  It's clear that almost everyone in this film is guided by fear and the need for security.  It turns out that the alien, Klaatu, has come representing a leauge of alien civilizations coming to assess the threat of humans to the planet earth, and if necessary, to exterminate them.

One of my favorite scenes is when Klaatu comes to a McDonalds, where he meets with an old Asian man who happens to be an alien who has lived on the planet for 70 years.  He says that without question humans are a destructive race, and should be dealth with.  But then he refuses to leave the planet.  As destructive as we are, there is something about us.  Life for a human is hard, he says, but there is another side.  He can't explain it, but somehow, he loves them, and cannot leave.

Another part that I really love is when Helen takes Klaatu to a nobel prize winning mathematician's house (played by John Cleese), and Cleese's character asks Klaatu what the turning point for his race was.  Klaatu responds that their star was dying, and they had to evolve.  Cleese used this to make a point.  Yes, we are a destructive race, but it is always at the precipice, the moment of devastation when all seems to be lost…that is when we change.  Please, don't take this moment away from us, it is our moment, the moment of truth for our race.

And yet while seeing and hearing these things, those in power continue their actions out of fear, hunting the alien down, trying to destroy the robot that came with him.  And every time they do this, things get worse.

My Thoughts
And afterwards I was thinking about how incredible life is, because if you take these things together, every action we make out of fear and the need to protect ourselves makes things worse, but at the same time, when do we change? When things reach the brink of despair.

And so it's almost like salvation is built into the system, even in the darkest of times.  If you can relax and trust and love, that's great.  But even if you threaten or don't take time to understand and you act out of your reactionary mind…eventually you yourself, by your own actions, will make things so bad that it finally gets through to you.

At the end of the movie, Klaatu gives his life to save the human race, convinced that the good in us is worth saving.  And so he stops the device that had already wiped out much of our infrastructure and many of our people, but it comes at a price.  The destruction stops, but we are left with no electricity, no power.

And the reaction is brilliant.  The people stop.  Stop moving, stop struggling.  A moment of pure calm decends on everyone.  They open their eyes and just look at everything.  People in offices open the blinds and let the sun in.  To me it looked like they had opened their eyes for the first time.  It's a profoundly beautiful moment.

Of course, I suspect that the moment will be short lived and that people will fall back into fear shortly enough, but while it lasts, it's so beautiful. 

I think that's what gives me hope beyond anything else.  Not that the bad times make you stronger, it's not about that.  It's that even *through* the bad times, it's like there's some sort of aim of existence to bring us to the light, by whatever means possible.  Every single moment is an opportunity to stop fighting and be still, to open our eyes for the first time.  And each moment that we don't take it, we build up towards a tragic moment where we finally can see it.

It doesn't erase the tragedy, but I definitely feel that it gives the tragedy a kind of purpose and that perhaps there may even be, at the heart of existence, something motivated simply by love.

“Hope consists in asserting that there is at the heart of being, beyond
all data, beyond all inventories and all calculations, a mysterious
principle which is in connivance with me, that cannot but will that
which I will, if what I will deserves to be willed and is, in fact,
willed by the whole of my being."

– Gabriel Marcel

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  1. Sounds like I may need to see this movie. I heard it wasn't good at all, but your post may have convinced me otherwise. I have a few questions/observations:(1) What is the "light" that you speak of? Similarly, what will we discover by opening our eyes?(2) When we reach the point of despair, what is the correct response: belief in yourself or in some deity?(3) Why do you think we ultimately always fall back into fear? Why is the human condition dominated by fear?

  2. (1) Truth.(2) Correct response? I don't think there is a correct response. There are responses that help you awaken and responses that close your eyes and a whole spectrum in between. I think it's a very personal thing. If anything though, it is just simply being aware of what is going on, really going on. Disaster puts you in touch with reality.(3) It is natural, because of the fact that we are all separate and feel we need protecting. It is extremely rare that someone can live without fear permanently. Usually we go in cycles (a "three day" cycle, perhaps?), day 3 naturally falls back into day 1.

  3. (1) What is truth? And you talk as if this truth is open to all of us, which seems to imply that there is some sort of objectivity to the truth you speak of.

  4. Truth is simply existence, awareness of what is, without fear or control. It is accessible to all of us. Many call it love.

  5. Oh, I like. Interesting answer. Did you come up with that? 😀

  6. Eh. That specific sentence, yes. Interesting tidbit Ben told me the other day: in Coptic, the word for truth and the word for love are the same word.

  7. I knew this was a remake the whole movie up until the MacDonald scene,was so haunting like, I've seen this before…

  8. I knew this was a remake the whole movie up until the MacDonald scene,was so haunting like, I've seen this before…

  9. Wow. This movie was good. Did Klaatu not die at the end, or did I miss something?

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