Oh for 1970s-style disaster flicks! You remember: Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Airport. What’s the worst that could happen to you? You were swallowed up by a smiling fissure in your front lawn. You were sucked out of economy class in a quickly descending 747. You drowned in your tux, so you were already dressed for burial.
But today, no such luck. You’re not only annihilated, but you’re subjected to an endless lecture about how you and your kind are eminently expendable at the same time. Disaster is no longer merely a proving ground for unlikely heroes, it’s a classroom for indoctrination in the latest secular pieties.
Witness The Day the Earth Stood Still, a film so bad I was praying the earth would stand still as a diversion from the dimwitted dialogue, wooden acting, cartoon characters, plodding plot, and Klaatu the Gormless Messiah. There was no way on God’s quickly degrading earth that I could have taken this thing as seriously as it took itself; the burden would have been unbearable.
Not that the original, 1951 version of The Day didn’t have a message of its own, something along the lines of “Stop with the hitting.” It was a Cold War warning shot. But when you consider that the best advice given to school kids back then was to duck under their desk, butts to the wind, in the event of a nuclear attack, you can’t blame even Hollywood for trying to be a bit more proactive, even didactic.
But today’s anxieties are more diffuse. The War on Terror is a many-fronted monster. And global warming, so we’re told, threatens to destroy everything — we know not how, we know not when. To make matters worse, there’s a good chance that, recycle as we may, it’s all too late. There’s also a good chance that it’s all a steaming pile of horse hockey, at least as far as the anthropogenic element.
But there is no self-doubt or ruminations about the multilayered nature of the present dangers in The Day the Earth Stood Still. The end is near, and it’s all man’s fault — full stop. (As if there hadn’t already been catastrophic climate change long before the invention of the cotton gin.) And so a superior race of alien beings has decided to wipe out humans to save Earth. So long, and thanks for all the fish, as it were.
In this scenario, Earth is what matters, as it’s one of the few planets in the googleverse capable of sustaining complex life. (Why complex life should be privileged over single-cell life is never explained.) So the third rock from the sun trumps man and, more important, it trumps the United States. The U.S. military, being one of Hollywood’s most reliable villains, represents all that is reprehensible and putatively
unreformable about humankind. When a giant effervescent orb lands in Central Park and out pops something resembling the Silver Surfer, G.I. Joe does what comes naturally: He shoots first to ask questions later. Brilliant biologist Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly, in a role that can only be called slumming) immediately calls for a medic. Most people in the face of a glowing space creature would call for a haz-mat unit, but a primary-care physician will do, I guess. (Do these guys have insurance?)
Turns out that under the silver glop of the stricken space creature is Keanu Reeves, here called Klaatu (which I believe is Plutronian for “I’m going to kill my agent”). It would be unfair to poke fun at Reeves’ performance because he doesn’t give one. He merely looks off into the distance a lot, presumably at the trucks backing into his bank with all that money.
Anyway, Klaatu’s bullet wounds are tended to by a conscientious surgeon who comes to realize that this space thing is much more human than Martian. When Klaatu awakens from surgery, he finds himself strapped to an examining table in the clutches of the Defense Department. A Cabinet member with temporary plenipotentiary powers (played by Kathy Bates with a deadly earnestness) approaches Spaceman and asks, “Do you represent a civilization?”
No, he represents Amway. What do you mean, Do you represent a civilization? Seconds after Klaatu was gunned down, a metallic robot the size of the Chrysler building emerged from the orb and proceeded to reduce the most powerful army in the world to a collective fetal position, and she wants to know if he represents a civilization.
From this point on, it’s all E.T. Dr. Helen helps Klaatu escape the clutches of the government, and soon the two of them, along with the good doctor’s stepson (played by Will Smith’s too-adorable-for-words-what-a-career-this-kid-is-going-to-have son Jaden), are trying to escape both the military-industrial complex and the predetermined extermination of all things human.
There are so many mixed metaphors in this mishegass, I don’t know where to begin. The giant orb seems to be filled with aquatic life, so Kathy Bates refers to it as an Ark. Will all animal life, two by two, be spared the coming cataclysm? If so, where’s Noah, the one righteous man? Is it Dr. Benson? But she’s also being targeted for elimination. And it ain’t looking too good for the kid either.
The flatulent failure that is this film can be pinpointed to a central contradiction: It condemns a militaristic, carnivorous U.S. but does so in the context of a godless universe in which might makes right. The so-called advanced civilization plans on destroying the uneducable humans to save squid. It has set up a species-ist hierarchy, and we’re at the bottom of the food chain. Hitler and Sanger would have appreciated the logic if not necessarily the target.
Is Klaatu a Christ figure, a superior being in human form come to save us from our own fixed natures? Or is he an avenging angel, come to bring judgment and destruction? And what’s with the metallic locusts? Where’s pharaoh, and who are the chosen people? (Or is it chosen cephalopods?)
Don’t try and make sense of it. It’s a gooey admixture of New Age gnostic Christianity and Earth First bullying. When young Jacob is grieving over his dead soldier father, Klaatu tries to comfort the boy with the notion that the universe is a giant energy field in which nothing is ever wasted but merely recycles, presumably into biodegradable shopping bags or a nice pair of Crocs (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms).
The climax of the film presents something like the ascension of Christ — if he had decided to tie conditions to his salvific mission beyond mere faith. In this case, homo sapiens get a second chance but only at the cost of the industrial revolution. If we agree to return to the Pleistocene epoch — making the alien civilization that came to save the planet that much more powerful, relatively speaking — then all will be well.
The director of The Day the Earth Stood Still is Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose), a Christian who defended himself in Christianity Today against criticisms that the original film made the Klaatu/Christ connection more explicit. Said Derrickson:
“I would argue against the statement that there is less of a representation of him as a Christ-figure. The first Keanu [Reeves, as Klaatu] we meet has the stigmata mark on his hands, and [the second Keanu] walks on water when he goes to touch the sphere. And most importantly, for me … I don’t know if anyone is going to catch this, but I really wanted, in updating this and preserving this Christ allegory, I wanted the allegory of the atonement, of what really matters about the Christ story, that he does die the sacrificial death and literally takes these ‘aphids,’ as we called them, from inside the two characters at the end. He takes that upon himself and then goes and dies, and then when he leaves, Jacob makes the comment, ‘He’s leaving.’ He’s not dead, and that’s the ascension, and I was very conscientious of those allegorical images being in there, just being kind of fresh and interesting.”
I’m glad there are Christians writing and directing big-budget Hollywood flicks. You can’t keep complaining about the nihilism that’s pumped out of Burbank like so much car exhaust unless you’re willing to produce alternatives. And while I wouldn’t call The Day nihilistic, or even quite the misanthropic nightmare some have detected (Klaatu and his John the Baptist forerunner, played by James Hong, come to sympathize with humanity), it is definitely pagan. Here humans were made for Nature, not nature for humanity. Just as The Matrix was no more Christian because it focused on a messianic figure who rises from the dead and leads his people to the truth, The Day the Earth Stood Still is not a Christian allegory simply because Klaatu walks on water and bleeds from his hands.
I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that the film was preceded by a promo for “Beyond the Secret: A Live Event.” The Secret, for those of you who not yet read all of George Eliot and so haven’t gotten around to total crap, was a bestselling self-deification manual in which unsuspecting mortals were informed that “You are a human transmission tower … The frequency you transmit reaches beyond cities … It reverberates throughout the entire Universe.”
According to the gurus of The Secret, the unenlightened masses must begin to see the universe as a living thing that provides both sustenance and career advice.
Now if we could only get it to stop whining.