The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche

Tonight’s viewing: Robert Wise’s brilliant The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), featuring a stunning performance by Michael Rennie. This is one of my favorite science fiction films of all time; I love the way it appeals to a postwar sense of disgust at the human race crossed with sad humanism and hope for our potential. It’s also got to be some kind of wish-fulfillment for every disenchanted loner wishing the killing would just stop: Klaatu is the ultimate big brother, showing up to put an end to the neighborhood fistfight you didn’t want to have in the first place. That he must do so with a threatened Doomsday is merely a sign of the times — 1951, as now.

My favorite aspect of this movie is the noirish sadness Rennie displays as Klaatu as he tries to decide whether to exterminate the human race. Re-imagined for the Apocalypse, he’s Rick Blaine in a trenchcoat in that North African fog, Spade handing Miss O’Shaugnessy over to the flatfoots — and if it comes to it, if we fuck up he’ll be Mike Hammer saying "It was easy." He saves us from ourselves, maybe — but only if we can be saved, which he’s not at all sure about.

Michael Rennie may have been ill the day the earth stood still, but he told us where we stand. I’m still not sure anybody was listening.

Image from Wikipedia.


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