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23.5 DEGREES- The Day the Earth Moved
A Christmas Carol for Today
By Professor W
December 20, 2008
Iconic Gort from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL
© 20th Century Fox
Keanu Reaves returns in magnificent form to our screens with perfect timing for the Christmas holidays as the destroyer/savior of mankind in The Day the Earth Stood Still, a miraculous update for today of the Christian Messiah story. He plays a Christ-like figure, Klaatu, sent by a “group of civilizations” to destroy mankind, so that the Earth can survive for a less destructive species to occupy it after mankind’s destruction.
Lovely as ever, Jennifer Connelly, plays a Mary Magdalene figure, called Helen Benson, an astrobiologist, who ultimately persuades Klaatu to give mankind a second chance. In a clear reference to the Magdalene anointing Christ with her oil, she gives to Klaatu the magical potion (in fact, a sample of Klaatu’s own blood), which allows him to heal his wounds (after he has been shot by US troops) and those of the unfortunate police cop, whose legs Klaatu breaks between two cars in order to avoid capture.
All attempts by the wicked US Secretary of State (a clear homage to Madeline Albright--the evil Magdalene?) to destroy Klaatu and his accompanying robot-like figure, Gort, a sort of Old Testament destroyer-god, are thwarted. The Biblical Gort is all-powerful. He is pure destructive force: an iron-clad Yahweh.
As part of Klaatu and Gort’s plans to destroy the earth, they have planted living energy balls throughout famous sites in the world, the largest of which is in Central Park. As we learn, these spheres form an Ark, in which Klaatu/Gort take samples of animal life to use to repopulate the earth after its destruction. The Biblical flood will follow…
To try to persuade Klaatu that man is essentially good, Helen takes Klaatu to meet the wisest man on earth, a Nobel-prize winning professor of “biological altruism”, stunningly played by John Cleese (who, for many of us, is himself a god). Cleese plays the role as an Old Testament prophet. Initially, he and Klaatu communicate through the language of mathematics, while JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations play in the background--surely the greatest proof of the existence of God. Even while playing in a script that many have called a dead parrot, Cleese plays the professor entirely without silly walks and resists the temptation to hit Klaatu--Manuel-style--over the head with a frying-pan. Klaatu does not come from Barcelona!
Until the meeting with the venerable Python, Klaatu saw no reason not to destroy the earth, but Cleese tells Helen/Mary Magdalene that she must change Klaatu’s plans, “not with reason, but with yourself.”
By spending time with Helen and her meaningfully named step-son, Jacob, Klaatu understands the goodness in humankind. At the very brink, man can change his ways.
As an actor, Keanu Reaves has a phenomenal talent to express no emotion--no matter what happens around him or to him. Only Christian Bale can aspire to such emotionless emotive heights. It is a gift that Reaves has used to great effect in all his movies and is particularly suitable for the role of Klaatu, a role which he was born to play. His delivery, on occasion, makes even Gort, his gigantic robotic iron buddy, seem extravert and giddy.
Replete with symbolism, the movie is clearly a parable for the modern era. Klaatu, like his predecessor, can walk on water in a forest with a plague of bees. He has come to destroy mankind (maybe there is a religious message there too?), but as he comes to know a good woman and a good mother, he decides to save mankind. Mary Magdalene is the true heroine of the film, the true redeemer. Her wisdom can pass through to future generations through her step-son, Jacob.
At the end of the film, what have we learned? That man is destroying the world, not because of technology, but because of his in-built need to destroy. Only the sacred feminine, the earth-mother, can stop this destruction. Jacob corrects his step-mother just before the credits as the sphere is departing from Central Park, when she says “It is leaving”. “No, he is leaving,” Jacob says. The feminine can now prevail.
Don’t be put off by some of the negative comments made about the movie. It would be cruel to characterize the movie as no more than a repackaged load of balls, two robotic male leads, and beautiful female eye-candy.
A more sympathetic reading would be that it is a warning to mankind to save itself. Follow the signs; remember the meaningful watchword of the original film: Klaatu barada nikto (presumably meaning “Klaatu says: don’t destroy them”?). Or as our Latin forebears would have intoned using their language, Canis meus nasum non habet. The sacerdotal answer can only be provided after deep thought and meditation: Quomodo quicquam olfacere potest? There is wisdom here, if we allow our hearts to be open. The “terrible” answer will come.
No-one can fault the CGI in the movie. The chases are good, the destruction of cities as impressive as ever. The plot is straightforward and clear.
In the end, the bad Magdalene (played or almost impersonated by Kathy Bates) is defeated by the good Magdalene and mankind (not just womankind!) is saved. Klaatu has been sacrificed for the sake of a better humankind, perhaps a womankind?
Klaatu came to destroy us, learned what makes us good and allowed us to survive. We get our second chance to make things right.
Technology can benefit mankind, if only we harness our desire to destroy. Man can change, but he needs the sacred feminine to change--to make him love the planet (and maybe himself?) more.
Of course, like all great secrets, there is much that is unrevealed in the movie. We have many familiar hints, but the true wisdom of the film will probably only enter our sub-conscious with time. The original 1951 movie was a blatant anti-communist yarn. This latest version has far greater depth and insights. Man’s greatest enemy is himself. Let’s hope that this awesome (and in so many ways awful) Christmas epic will spread that message…