Monday, July 29, 2013

The Day the Earth Stood Still

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

I just watched –again –the Keanu Reeves version of 'The Day the Earth Stood Still', a high tech re-write/re-make of the original with Michael Rennie as Klaato. Both versions are allegorical, high-tech “scripture” in which a “being” from “the heavens” comes to earth where he is presumed to have “died” for our sins. Does this sound familiar?

Klaatu arrives on earth with a message: people of Earth, get a clue, resolve your differences, shut up, get your shit together! In the original, Klaatu (Michael Rennie) assumes the name “Carpenter”. Again –does that sound familiar? What biblical character do you know who was a “carpenter”?

Both film and Bible versions are parables in which are found expressions of our desire to be “saved”, specifically, we seek to be saved from ourselves.

Unlike the King James version, Klaatu does not go around preaching or healing the sick. In the original version, there is a “resurrection” in which Klaatu, is restored to life. Like Jesus, Klaatu appears once again before the “assembled peoples” (disciples?) with a final warning which translated into contemporary American “English” is “this is your last chance to get your shit together!” Then, returning to his spaceship, he leaves the Earth. In Hollywood-speak, it's “the new testament meets Roswell”.

In the first film version, the black and white version, Klaatu leaves us with a warning that ultimately there is no savior but ourselves! But –would he not have been a savior had people listened? Would not the Biblical “Jesus” have been a savior if things had just worked about a bit differently? It seems to me that a “savior” is a cultural-literary icon or archetype. Klaatu, for example, just “laid it on the line”. In so many words, he told “us” to take responsibility for what we have done with our selves and our planet --the only planet on which it is known that we can live! Mere belief or faith is no salvation nor are they a substitute for responsibility and positive action.

Klaatu's message is like that of a stern parent: grow up! Clean up your own room! Don't make life miserable for other people! Respect the environment! Live with it! It is because of this that Klaatu will never be confused with the modern protestant conception of Jesus. Klaatu did not "put on" a phony “sincere face” just before passing the plate. You won't find a Klaatu-Jesus discussed in the huge mega-churches (Lakewood, Houston) which, because of their obsession with amassing vast, very worldly fortunes seems at odds with either Klaatu or that “Jesus” of scripture who performed miracles in order to feed a multitude.

Today, those who support the mega-churches are probably inclined to chalk up your poverty to your wicked ways, your refusal to kiss up to icons and self-appointed prophets (profits?). Did "Jesus" blame the victim as the new "churches" clearly do?

Both films and the New Testament are artifacts of a culture which after some 2,000 years has yet to grow up, has yet to accept responsibility for its own fate, has yet to accept responsibility for taking the world to the brink of nuclear destruction to say nothing of the human war on the natural environment. If we should destroy ourselves in a nuclear holocaust who is to blame but ourselves?
Jean-Paul Sartre said: "A man is nothing else but what he makes of himself!" It is as true to say of the human race that we have nothing to blame but ourselves if we should “choose” to become extinct at the end of a world-wide conflagration of our own making.

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