The 2008 remake of the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still was rich in contemporary and relevant social criticism despite the regurgitating an apocalypse narrative and re-hashing Keanu Reeves as another prophetic savior. Even the ditsy, airheads Bill and Ted managed save the world. Yet, unlike most films within the apocalyptic sci-fi genre- the set of films, comics, etc. that assume humanity almost destroys itself before realizing any greater (public) good- this film’s alien has no intention of destroying the earth. Humanity is already well on the job!
Prejudice and polarization are the greatest threats to democracy. America is highly polarized, threatening to re-order the world in its wake. This is the backdrop of this film and, critically, increasingly the evening news. Naturally, the aliens land in Manhattan. Yet rather than seeing “the city” focus as typical American chauvinism- it’s true and exhausting that MOST Hollywood films take place in either New York or LA- this film ran the Jesus narrative to a tee! Many believe that Prophets only descend when and where there is total moral decrepitude. In fact, a devout, practicing Muslim friend from Mali once explained to me that this clarifies why there had been no African equivalents of Jesus or Muhammad. No better place to represent humanity’s worst than where so many global narratives of hate converge: The Twin Towers and Wall Street! It is now clear that greed, anger and stupidity enabled both the construction and destruction of these icons.
The Day the Earth Stood Still was unrelenting in its critique of humanity’s arrogance in assuming that we’re alone in the universe, the presumption that the planet belongs to us, and the supposition of dominance/sub-ordinance in any and all inter-cultural encounters. This critique was maintained throughout the film, yet came to a head with plenty poignant points of dialogue: “Do you speak for the entire human race?” the alien Klaatu, portrayed by Reeves, asks the US Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson. She replies: “I represent the President of the United States.” Luckily, realizing that not all viewers would see the sheer arrogance and truthfulness of this response, the director played to the peanut gallery and cast Kathy Bates in the role. She was certainly miserable!
This film was a critical commentary on cultural imperialism and chauvinism, challenging humanity to refocus on what binds us rather than divides because this allows us to reconcile despite any conflict. Exactly like the latest Harry Potter, Spiderman and Batman flicks, the conflict posed in The Day the Earth Stood Still, i.e. humanity’s destruction, is resolved through reconciliation- the two main characters agree to forgive themselves and one another, thereby causing Keanu Reeves/The One/Jesus, to save us. This time the Obama narrative was unmistakable. Like the little boy who thought that Keanu should have been killed, by the end, the little tanned, bi-racial, curly haired boy is the greatest advocate for tolerance and understanding in order to save us all.