There were several elements in the classic sci-fi movie that were made due to censorship. The movie is The Day the Earth Stood Still, and it’s from 1951.
One of those elements was the fact that the great robot servant of Klaatu brought him back to life. Klaatu tells the young woman that the ability to create life is limited to the Almighty Creator – God of course. Censors of the time were sensitive to the fact that most Americans are God oriented, and suggesting that something else could create life itself would be blasphemy.
If you haven’t read the original story, do it now. Because here comes the punch.
Klaatu was the servant. The “robot” Gort was the master. Creating life was just another thing that Gort could do. In fact, he was able to create life using a voice print. And if that seems far-fetched, think about the fact that today’s forensic investigators can finger a perp using a drop of bodily fluid or a shadow on a video camera.
The original story is great science fiction because it pushes up against our envelope of understanding. Why do we think life is so special, so unique that it can’t be created in a lab? In fact, that’s exactly what Gort does on his space ship. He builds a lab so that he can recreate the murdered Klaatu.
The insights of this fictional story are far deeper than this. As behavioral scientists, we must first wrestle with the fundamental question of where humanity sits within the natural universe. If we are somehow distinct from the universe, imbued with supernatural qualities that no current understanding can ever penetrate, then all our attempts to better our nature will fail.
On the other hand, if we admit that our lives as humans are fundamentally the same as all other life on this planet, and that being of nature, we are also confined to the same natural laws, then there is a chance we can use the tools of science to create laws and theories of behavior that will improve our chances of survival into the far future.
I love the original story because it forces us to face that question. I’m frustrated by the censors, and by the movie producers, because Harry Bates’s original insights have been suppressed. If I am successful enough, and live long enough, I’m going to correct that omission.
Thanks for reading.