The Big Picture

  • The Day The Earth Stood Still
    has Biblical allusions, portraying the alien Klaatu as an allusion to Jesus Christ.
  • The film includes a resurrection storyline that mirrors that of Jesus Christ, leading to a powerful message about peace and understanding.
  • The MPAA objected to religious references in the film, leading to changes in dialogue to avoid offense.



While it’s impressive when science fiction films can anticipate future events, the most defining works within the genre aren’t just relevant because of their predictive abilities. The science fiction genre allows inventive storytellers to draw a mirror to current societal issues by developing a unique mythology. Released during a decade in which the genre was growing far more popular, The Day The Earth Stood Still has been subsequently hailed as one of the greatest science fiction films of all-time. The allusions to real world anxieties are certainly present in The Day The Earth Stood Still, but its themes go deeper than paralleling the conflicts between the United States and Soviet Union. The Day The Earth Stood Still addresses existential themes about saviors and contains direct allusions to Christian mythology.


The Day The Earth Stood Still Poster

The Day The Earth Stood Still

In the 2008 film The Day the Earth Stood Still, an alien named Klaatu, played by Keanu Reeves, arrives on Earth with a giant robot, Gort, to warn humanity about its destructive behavior. Klaatu’s mission is to assess whether humans can change and live peacefully or if they must be eradicated to save the planet. Dr. Helen Benson, a scientist, played by Jennifer Connelly, helps Klaatu understand the potential for human redemption. The film explores themes of environmentalism and humanity’s capacity for change under the threat of annihilation.

Release Date
December 10, 2008

Director
Scott Derrickson

Runtime
110

Main Genre
Drama

Writers
David Scarpa , Edmund H. North


‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ Has Biblical Allusions

Loosely based on the 1940 short story “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates, The Day The Earth Stood Still explores mankind’s reaction to a powerful alien being. After a flying saucer lands in Washington, D.C., the alien creature Klaatu (Michael Rennie) emerges alongside a massive robot known as “Gort” (Lock Martin). The United States military is quick to surround the alien craft, firing on Klaatu when he attempts to hand a small device to the President of the United States. Klaatu is confused by the extreme reaction, as he states that his intent is to spread goodwill and peace to the planet of Earth. The device that the military had assumed was a weapon was in fact a piece of advanced technology that would have allowed Earth to study life on other planets; unfortunately, mankind seems to misinterpret anything that they don’t understand as a potential threat.


Based on his admitted goal of spreading peace and prosperity, Klaatu represents the role that Jesus Christ plays in Biblical stories. Similar to Christ, Klaatu has extraordinary capabilities that defy scientific knowledge. Like Christ, this enigmatic creature can heal damaging injuries, understand the complexities of nature, and see into the future. The film parallels Biblical myths by showing how easily messianic figures can be assumed to be threats by those who fear their power. Despite his imposing stature, Klaatu never makes any threatening statements, and seeks only to understand why mankind has formed such a divisive militarized society. The film suggests that Klaatu’s kindness is a strength, and not a vulnerability; in the case of both Klaatu and Christ, the suggestion of changing the established order leads to a period of chaos where the powerful aren’t willing to give up control. The ethereal light that filmmaker Robert Wise casts Klaatu in even has a somewhat spiritual undertone.


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Over the course of his stay on earth, Klaatu befriends a group of human scientists and citizens who can be compared to the apostles of the Bible. The young widow Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) and her young son Bobby (Billy Gray) discover Klaatu, offering to provide him with shelter as the military searches for him. The notion of an all-powerful being living among mortals is present within many traditional Christian films that emphasize how Christ could simultaneously be a mortal and deity. It suggests that by appearing as a docile creature, Klaatu has become empathetic to the plight of humans; notably, his allies are those who come from humble backgrounds. This metaphor is evident when a background character exclaims “Holy Christmas!” upon seeing Klaatu for the first time; it suggests that the characters in the story can only comprehend Klaatu’s experience through a religious background.


Klaatu Is an Allusion to Jesus Christ in ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’

In addition to mirroring the themes of fellowship and compassion that are essential within Biblical texts, The Day The Earth Stood Still involves a resurrection storyline that mirrors Christ. Fearful of the powers that Klaatu possesses, the United States military follows the alien to the home of his ally, Professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe), and shoots him. Although it appears that Klaatu is dead, his body is moved back to his saucer by Gort, who succeeds in bringing him back to life. In a parallel to Biblical stories, Klaatu’s resurrection leads to him choosing to leave mankind behind, as he knows that they will only be able to appreciate his message if he has departed. After telling scientists about a secret army of powerful robots, Klaatu chooses to leave Earth in his saucer with Gort.


When writing The Day The Earth Stood Still, screenwriter Edmund Northdeveloped a unique alien language for Gort and Klaatu to distinguish them from any previous science fiction characters. Although the details about the aliens’ homeworld are left rather ambiguous, The Day The Earth Stood Still includes a few direct references to elements of Biblical scripture. When disguising himself among humans, Klatuu uses the pseudonym “John Carpenter,” which features the initials “JC,” or “Jesus Christ.” Additionally, the last name “Carpenter” serves as an allusion to Christ’s profession of carpentry, which is solidified when Klaatu uses the disguise of a Maj when escaping the hospital. Even when ignoring the specific references to carpentry, the notion of an all-powerful being having to live among the human race is a fairly overt allusion to the Bible.


A theme that is relevant within all adaptations of the Biblical story of Christ is the notion of a self-imposed exile. The Day The Earth Stood Still mirrors the ending of the New Testament by showing Klaatu’s departure from humanity. After a planet-wide disruption of power causes the military to pursue Klaatu, he is forced to depart in his saucer, realizing that mankind is not yet ready to take his lessons to heart. It’s a tragic finale in which Klaatu mournfully reflects that he will not be able to enjoy the qualities of mankind, paralleling Christ’s last temptation. If the comparisons weren’t already strong enough, Klaatu even spends part of his Earthly visit in the desert, evoking more Christian imagery.

The MPAA Objected to Religious References in ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’


Edmund referred to the connection as “a private little joke” in a retrospective for the non-fiction novel Hostile Aliens, Hollywood and Today’s News: 1950s Science Fiction Films and 9/11, stating that he never officially discussed his intentions with director Robert Wise. However, The Day The Earth Stood Still faced censorship concerns over its religious references. According to the Making of “The Earth Stood Still” documentary, the Motion Pictures Association of America objected to the notion that Klaatu had power over life and death, which was seen as potentially offensive to religious audiences. In order to solidify that there was a distinction between the alien and Christ, North was forced to include Klaatu’s line, “that power is reserved to the Almighty Spirit,” when he’s questioned by Helen about his resurrection. This suggests that Klaatu’s revival was a temporary one, and that he is not in fact immortal.


As slight as the reference may have been, The Day The Earth Stood Still saved itself from the potential controversy of provoking religious extremists. Many films that directly address Christian mythology have been subjected to serious backlash, as Martin Scorsese even needed FBI protection due to disputes about his Biblical epic The Last Temptation of Christ. It’s unclear if alluding to Klaatu using the power of resurrection would have invoked similar reactions, but any reference to a fictional creature possessing supernatural abilities may inherently raise some eyebrows. While The Day The Earth Stood Still can be analyzed for its thematic subtext, the parallels are never overt enough to be considered heresy.

The themes of empathy and integrity can be linked to Biblical studies, but The Day The Earth Stood Still was highly influential within the development of more philosophical science fiction stories. It was hardly the first sci-fi film about extraterrestrial creatures, but the notion of a friendly alien who does not intend to threaten mankind broke the model created by more horrific-themed space films like War of the Worlds and It Came From Outer Space that were popular within the same era. Despite the dour conclusion, The Day The Earth Stood Still has a hopeful message about life beyond the solar system; its only concern is whether humanity is prepared to work towards building a better future.


The Day The Earth Stood Still is available to rent on Prime Video in the U.S.

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