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The Future of the American Experiment is in Your Hands
Thursday, 02 May 2019 20:10

When Time Stops

Written by  Bob Serody

Ever since my grandfather introduced me to the movies, I marveled at the creativity of moviemakers. Just take a concept or a book, change it into a story line, follow it up with a screenplay, get the right actors and direction, perform a final edit, roll the film, and then watch it to escape from the putrid world around us.

I thought I would outgrow the movies. The years went by but I guess I never totally grew up. Of course I have my favorites as well as those that I felt didn’t deserve a second glance. Yet I still look for those movies that relate to an important issue confronting us today. You can be sure there is an episode that establishes the right direction to take in correcting a crisis of human proportions or restoring a moral value.

An example that relates to what is happening today in the Trump era is the movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still. When a picture does well, we expect to see one or two sequels. Unfortunately, they usually suck. In this case don’t bother with the sequel. The original movie, which was released in 1951 in black-and-white, had somewhat limited but passable special effects available at the time. The storyline differed slightly from the science fiction short story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates, to better conform to audience expectations. Michael Rennie and Sam Jaffe rounded out a great cast.

The movie begins with a flying saucer-type alien spaceship landing on the mall in Washington, DC.  The spaceman, Klaatu, emerges from the ship offering a strange looking device in his hand.  A soldier shoots him thinking it’s a gun.  Gort, a tall metal robot, then comes out of the spaceship and vaporizes a tank and gun emplacement before Klaatu commands the robot to stop.  While Gort remains motionless by the ship, Klaatu is transported to Walter Reed Hospital.  After he is treated for his wound, he announces his intention to deliver a message to all the people of Earth.  Since he will not reveal his message to any one nation until all the world’s representatives are assembled, he is held under house arrest. Klaatu escapes from the hospital in civilian clothes and comes to a boarding house in the suburbs.  His plan is to study earthlings before he decides what to do.  He rents a room at the boarding house under an assumed name (Carpenter) and meets Helen Benson, a widow, and her son, Bobby.  Bobby takes Klaatu on a tour of Washington. They visit the Lincoln Memorial, where Klaatu reads the lines from the Gettysburg Address, and comments that President Lincoln must have been a great man.  At Bobby’s request, they visit the space ship where Gort stands motionless.  Klaatu asks Bobby who is the smartest man in Washington.  Bobby responds, “That would be Professor Barnhardt.”  They continue to Professor Barnhardt’s home, but he’s out.  Klaatu sees a blackboard in his office covered with equations, and corrects several errors.  He then leaves his calling card and departs.  That night two men come calling on Mr. Carpenter and take him to see Professor Barnhardt.  Klaatu explains to Professor Barnhardt that he is the visitor from space and requests that he arrange for each country to send a scientist to assemble at the ship for an important announcement.  When Barnhardt asks Klaatu to demonstrate his powers without hurting anyone as an inducement for the nations to take his request seriously, he responds that this can easily be done.


Klaatu borrows a flashlight from Bobbie and leaves for the ship.  Bobbie follows him and sees Klaatu communicate with Gort using the flashlight.  After Gort knocks out the guards, Klaatu goes into the ship to set up the demonstration.  Having witnessed the guards being overpowered, Bobbie rushes back to the boarding house to tell his mother.

Klaatu has informed Benson who he really is, and they drive off to the meeting of international scientists in a cab.  As the Army closes in, Klaatu tells Benson that if anything happens to him, Gort will destroy the Earth. To prevent this, Benson must reach Gort and deliver the prophetic words – “Klaatu Barada Nikto”.  These three words define the high point of the film and are remembered today by many science fiction fans.  The soldiers catch up to the cab. Klaatu tries to escape, and he is killed by gunfire.  Klaatu’s body is taken to a nearby holding cell at a police station, while Benson rushes off to deliver Klaatu’s words to Gort. Upon hearing these words, Gort carries her into the ship, and then retrieves Klaatu’s body. Inside the ship, Gort temporarily restores Klattu’s life. Barnhardt and the scientists of Earth’s countries are waiting outside the ship as the door opens, and a ramp is extended. Benson exits the ship and rejoins the audience as Klattu begins his warning with Gort standing behind him.

The reason for Klaatu’s visit as an emissary is to inform the inhabitants of Earth that the Federation of Planets has observed its wars of aggression for centuries. It is not their concern if the people of Earth commit fratricide. But Earthlings are on the verge of going into space, and this is the reason Klaatu is issuing his ultimatum. If Earth agrees to disarm, adopt peaceful ways, and join the Federation of Planets, it must meet one condition, and that is to place itself under the control of its robot police force. With this statement, Klaatu turns to Gort. “Robots like Gort are programmed to destroy any planet which launches aggression against its neighbors.”  “That is why we all live in peace. We cannot reverse this program which controls Gort and his kind.”  Klaatu turns back to his audience.  “The choice is yours.  Live in peace, or face annihilation.   We await your answer.”  Klaatu and Gort return to the ship, the ramp closes, and as the scientists hastily back away, the ship takes off.



Background:  The movie was produced in 1951 at the time of the Korean War.  The people of Earth had entered the atomic age, and people were so terrified of nuclear warfare that they were building bomb shelters and stocking them with food.  School children were learning how to hide under their desks before a nuclear attack.  The missile race was on to deliver nuclear warheads anywhere in the world. Warning times were measured in minutes. Fear gripped everyone, while the former Soviet Union and NATO forces faced each other in Europe.  After the movie was released, the United States had exploded its first thermonuclear bomb in 1952, followed by the Soviet Union in 1953.  Today, many nations have joined the so-called nuclear club.  In this heightened state of fear and paranoia, the movie was released to offer a way out from Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

The Message: The movie had a strong message.  If we could not solve our problems peacefully, there would be no winners in World War III.  So The Day the Earth Stood Still was made with Klaatu delivering the ultimatum to Earth.  Live in peace or die!  In light of what was happening in the world, people usually turn to science fiction, hoping the deliverer will be an emissary from space with a message to bring common sense to the human race.

Why do human beings wage war against each other? Is it part of our genes?  Can we ever control our aggressive tendencies to resolve disputes by fighting and killing?  Klaatu reveals to us that the federation of planets could not originally overcome its own destructive urge to wage war. The solution was to build robots like Gort and program them to operate as an interplanetary police to prevent acts of aggression.  Overseen by an impregnable force of robots, aggression, by necessity, had been replaced by peace and harmony.   The robots were now the masters!  Could humans make the same choice by surrendering their sovereignty to the robot police force?  Klaatu reveals this at the end of the movie by pointing to Gort standing guard at the entrance to the space ship.  The choice was simple. The people of Earth could join the federation by surrendering control to the robots or not venture into space.  The alternative would be annihilation of the Earth.

 At the time the movie was made, the United Nations was in its infancy.  Could powerful countries surrender some of their sovereign powers to a world agency created to settle disputes and thus help to prevent future wars fought with nuclear weapons?   A few people, like Albert Einstein, signed a manifesto arguing for this type of World Government. 

Today we see that we never heeded the warning of Klaatu.  At that time, the Cold War was characterized in terms of Communism vs. Freedom. Only the names have changed today – Capitalism vs. Totalitarianism. However, this comparison is not accurate. The world can now be described as a battle between two political forces, unbridled capitalism based on the unregulated accumulation of wealth, and a system of social responsibility, which embodies all the people. This means that governments must be empowered to impose regulation to ensure an equitable distribution of wealth, regardless of race, gender or religion.  This includes taxation based on wealth. World Government that operates on what is best for the planet’s inhabitants, instead of countries controlled by a few individuals and corporations, would help to replace the negative effects of nationalism and totalitarianism. This change toward a more peaceful planet includes protecting and preserving all the species that inhabit the Earth. It involves Earth’s survival by reducing carbon pollution and restoring the planets ecological balance. Otherwise, life on Earth, as we know it, will be eliminated.

There is still hope, and it starts with this country’s 2020 presidential election. There are many candidates in the Democratic Party with varying political views. Hopefully, Americans will elect a leader with progressive solutions. For time has literally run out for saving mankind and the planet. Today, The Day the Earth Stood Still can be interpreted as follows: We can’t wait for an alien life form to rescue us from ourselves or give us a final warning. We will be eliminated by nuclear devastation and the perils of climate change if we don’t make the aforementioned changes. Some say that we are leaving a horrible legacy for our children and grandchildren. Our own generation may still be alive to witness Armageddon.  It is no coincidence the alien space ship landed in Washington, D.C. Let’s hope we heed its warning.   


Bob Serody is a member of Space Coast Progressive Alliance.

*ED. NOTE: The views expressed here are solely those of the author. SCPA does not endorse candidates and welcomes commentary on a wide range of issues, including political campaigns, local, regional and national. If interested in contributing commentary, please contact SCPA.

Last modified on Monday, 06 May 2019 12:38
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