In 1951 a movie frightened theater goers around America. The Day the Earth Stood Still presented Americans with an option: choose peace or choose destruction. The film was remade in 2008 and stars Keanu Reeves as Klatu. The original film has Klatu warning Earthlings that they must put aside their violence and war or his race will destroy the planet in order to protect the Universe from the violence of human beings. The remake follows a similar plot, except Klatu’s race gathers up animals from every ecosystem on Earth into sphere-shaped arks to preserve them. Klatu’s people have decided that human beings have no redeeming qualities and must die. They find no hope for the redemption of humans. In order to save the precious Earth all human beings and their machines must be destroyed.
The original film was made during the Cold War era of military and diplomatic tension between the United States and the now disbanded Soviet Union. The tenuous stalemate kept both Americans and Soviets awake at night. The USA and the USSR pointed nuclear warheads at each other and our leaders each held a nervous thumb over “the button” ready at a moment’s notice to obliterate each other. This tense stalemate of mutually assured destruction (or MAD) prevented one side from firing on the other. The Civil Defense corps was an important part of communities around America. The CD trained to be ready for a nuclear attack and made sure that bomb shelters were stocked and ready to receive people trying to escape the inferno of an atomic blast. My mother was a member of the Civil Defense in our hometown, so I was able to attend and observe some training exercises and planning meetings. Regularly scheduled bomb drills kept the CD ready and the citizens casting a wary eye skyward on the look out for the flash that would signal the end of the world. The 1951 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still served to demonstrate the madness of MAD.
The 2008 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still examines the nature of human beings capacity to destroy to satisfy their desire to accumulate wealth and power. The air, the soil and the water is filled with poison spewing from factories and refineries so a few can increase their wealth. Military might and riches define power and prestige. Klatu returned to Earth in the 2008 version to determine if human beings have changed. If he determines they have not changed for the better, on his word all human life and their machines will be destroyed. After he is shot by US soldiers, taken into custody by the military, drugged and subjected to intense interrogation, he escapes and sets in motion the destruction of the human race. The arks filled with animals ascend to the mother ship in orbit and the destruction begins. Klatu’s mind is changed at the last moment. He is convinced to save humanity when he witnesses the capacity of human beings to love, to show compassion and to sacrifice self to save another life.
Suppose Klatu lands right in the middle of your country today. He has the power to destroy all of humanity and the way you have lived your life, how you have treated others and how you have used the Earth will determine whether all of humanity deserves to live or deserves to die. You are the standard by which all of us will be judged. Look at yourself in the mirror and then turn to me, and answer this question: will we live or will we die?