Classic Scene: Klaatu’s Message
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Directed by Robert Wise
The Scene: The moment the entire film has been leading to has finally arrived. The alien visitor Klaatu’s (Michael Rennie) visit to earth has not gone according to plan, but this meant he has now seen both the best and the worst of what we as the human race are capable of. With this experience he now addresses humanity as a whole from his flying saucer with the powerful robot, Gort (Lock Martin) by his side. Right from the start he is bluntly honest in that the universe is becoming increasingly smaller as alien races explore further out into the cosmos making contact with new worlds and races. This also means that any conflict in the known universe has the potential to have large-scale ramifications. As he puts it “there must be security for all or no one is secure” and the only freedom that would need to be sacrificed is the “freedom to act irresponsibly”. Furthermore he states that the organization which has united the worlds beyond our knowledge has achieved peace and utilized robots like Gort to ensure this peace is maintained for the good of all. With war no longer an issue they have been able to grow and evolve into better societies. They have noticed our earth ravaged by combat on a regular basis and realized the threat that could be posed if our constant need for bloodshed expanded beyond. If this should happen they will not hesitate to reduce our world to a burned out cinder. But there is a choice for hope should we be brave enough to make it; we as a society can end our destructive ways and join the other races of the galaxy in harmony. With this final message Klaatu informs humanity the rest of the universe will await our choice with a “the decision rests with you”. After a moment of silence the alien visitor and Gort return to the saucer and leaves our world.
The Breakdown: Since the genre was first formed, science fiction has been used as a lens to view real world ideals and issues. As the Cold War was hitting highs and the entire world was a battlefield between the two remaining post-war super powers, legendary filmmaker Robert Wise used sci-fi to make a forceculf argument for peace. There is no flower-power talk with this statement of peace, Klaatu goes straight to the point that the people of earth are war-hungry fools and should this need to make war extend beyond our planet the ramifications would be devastating for us. There will be no miracle from beyond or anything of the such, we as a people must make the difficult decisions and put in the work ourselves to become better. To hammer home this point he spends a few silent moments following Klaatu’s speech focusing on close-ups of the diverse collection of humanity gathered each of them enraptured and meditating on these words. In interviews, Wise has stated that in order for peace to be achieved not only must we put in the effort for it, but that some enforcer of this peace is needed. Klaatu has stated that is what Gort’s kind is for beyond the stars, but on earth we have the United Nations that could fill this role should we decide collectively to go that route.
The Best Bit: In a move that elevates the entire movie cementing its status among the greatest science fiction films of all-time, Robert Wise and screenwriter Edmund H. North left the scene open-ended. Beyond the crowd onscreen, this extraterrestrial visitor is delivering a message to challenge the actual moviegoers. Imploring us as real humans in the real world to change our ways before it is too late because it will not take alien technology to burn our planet to ash as we humans have the potential to do that ourselves. The famed line “the decision rests with you” puts that personal responsibility on us and while it sounds a bit ominous there is a sense of hope with that statement, a challenge to fulfill our true potential and become better.