A Prince, Machines, and Stillness
Theology, Technology, and Time in Three Science Fiction Fantasy Stories Transformed into Film
For as long as we humans have existed . . . there have been mythic storytellers. These are men and women who have taken the best knowledge of their time and place and combined it with a sense of the incompleteness of mankind and the fundamental mystery of existence, and then told stories of higher unknown possibility: Stories of fear and wonder. Stories of quest into unknown lands and return with magical gifts which transform the world. Stories of the beginning and the end of all things.
The myths that we learn as we are growing up provide us with guidance in life. . . . Myths alert us to the limitations of how we presently live and who we take ourselves to be, and lead us on toward what we are not yet.
The myth of the modern Western world has been science fiction.1
Some may think it odd to look for religious imagery in science fiction films. As popularly conceived, science opposes religion, and science fiction contains only gadgets and bug-eyed aliens. However, some authors argue that science fiction is an inherently spiritual genre. David Hartwell writes that although there is not explicit religion per se in science fiction, there is:
a tradition of wonder and transcendence. . . . A sense of wonder, awe at the vastness of space and time, is at the root of the excitement of science fiction. . . . To say that science fiction is in essence a religious literature is an overstatement, but one that contains truth. SF is a uniquely modern incarnation of an ancient tradition: the tale of wonder. Tales of miracles, tales of great powers and consequences beyond the experience of people in your neighborhood, tales of the gods who inhabit other worlds and sometimes descend to visit ours, tales of humans traveling to the abode of the gods, tales of the uncanny: all exist now as science fiction.
Science fiction's appeal lies in its combination of the rational, the believable, with the miraculous.2
In this paper I will look at the films The Little Prince, The Time Machine, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and the works of literature they were based on. I will discuss their theologies of Christ figures, technology, and time. Unless otherwise stated, all descriptions refer to the particular film; but I will note significant differences between film and print versions.
II. A THEOLOGY OF TECHNOLOGY AND TIME
Science and religion obviously contain different methodologies. Science derives from observation, objective experimentation, reason, logic. Religion derives from revelation, subjective experience, intuition.
Science and religion, however, share a common core goal: to search for truth about reality, "to describe and confront the unknown in a manner which will satisfy man's hunger for security and control.3 Roles may be interchangeable or at least complementary. "Since they all deal with the unknown, where one fails to satisfy, another will step into the breach."4
Technology is the practical application of science, scientific concepts in material form. Technology always changes. Old technology becomes outdated and passe. Technology changes with time.
In the New Testament three distinguishable concepts of "time" apply to this paper. In chronos (from which we derive "chronology"), time is duration, passage, flow, flux. In kairos, time is event, appointment, juncture, opportunity. In aion (from which we derive "eon"), time is a very long period, an age, eternity. (These can only be viewed as broad generalizations since significant overlap occurs among the terms in the New Testament.) The three films in this paper demonstrate these three time concepts.
Science fiction films often contain roles for technology (e.g., a spacecraft, a new invention) and time (e.g., a setting in the future, travel through time). In the three films discussed here time and technology form a mise-en-scene. In the original French, mise-en-scene means "staging an act," and it first applied to the practice of directing plays. Film scholars then used it to signify the director's staging an event for a film frame. In broader terms it means any physical environment or general setting for a story. In these films, time and technology form a mise-en-scene for the Christ figure.
III. ELEMENTS OF CHRIST FIGURES
Almost every film has some kind of hero. A messiah is a heroic figure but is more than just a hero. A messiah is a hero with other transcendent characteristics. In particular, a "Christ figure" must model some significant similarities to the New Testament story of Jesus.
In the New Testament "Christ" and "Messiah" are used interchangeably since the Greek (New Testament) "Christ" and Hebrew (Old Testament) "Messiah" both mean "Anointed One" after the practice of anointing kings. Messianic concepts varied widely in Biblical times, but generally people expected the Messiah to be a king, savior, redeemer. Today "Christ" is more narrowly denoted than "Messiah." A "messiah" can refer to any savior figure. "Christ" refers more specifically to Jesus.
A number of science fiction films have aliens who function as messiahs. "Underlying the motif of the alien messiah is the mythos of the Christian messiah. . . . World mythologies offer many such tales. But these classical sources are not so accessible to the popular mind as Christian myth, which gives the messiah figure in these films the power and attraction it possesses."5
A dozen christ-like characteristics recur in the three films discussed in this paper. In this section I will first discuss why these are characteristic of a Christ figure.
For this paper I will take the narrative in the Biblical account of Jesus at face value, and I will not delve into the theological debates over proper interpretation of these characteristics. I will neither defend nor attack the validity of the Christian faith. Referring to the story as "myth" is not a judgment on the historicity of the events. "Myth" in this paper will mean: "any real or fictional story, recurring theme, or character type that appeals to the consciousness of a people by embodying its cultural ideals or by giving expression to deep, commonly felt emotions."6
A. EXTRAORDINARY ORIGIN
The Bible claims Jesus is the Son of God, God Incarnate, who left heavenly glory and took on flesh in the form of an infant in Bethlehem.7
Klaatu (see section VI. The Day the Earth Stood Still) and the little Prince (see section IV. The Little Prince) both come from another planet. To the Eloi, the Time Traveler (see section V. The Time Machine) comes from another time.
B. "SECRET" IDENTITY
Jesus was God "disguised" in human form. A baby in a manger was hardly recognizable as the second person of the Trinity. During his ministry Jesus never called himself "the Messiah" (since it was such a loaded term in that time). His favorite term for himself was the enigmatic "Son of Man." His own disciples only partly understood his identity. On several occasions, apparently to avoid untimely trouble with crowds and Jewish leaders, he told people not to tell others about his miracles or about his Messiahship.8
The little Prince has the appearance of an ordinary boy. Klaatu goes incognito among the people as Mr. Carpenter (Jesus was a carpenter's son).
C. HEALING/SUPER POWERS
Jesus performed many miracles such as feeding thousands of people from a handful of loaves, walking on the water, calming a storm, casting out demons, healing various illnesses, and, ultimately, rising from the dead.9
The Prince has knowledge beyond his appearance. The Traveler could journey through time. Klaatu's technology gives him extraordinary power--power to make the Earth stand still.
D. TEACHES FOLLOWERS/DISCIPLES
He called 12 disciples and had other followers as well. These he trained and gave certain powers and authority.10
The Prince tames a fox and befriends a pilot. The Traveler befriends Weena. Klaatu takes Helen into his confidence and teaches her Gort's code.
His purpose for taking on human flesh was to rescue humanity from sin and death, to reconcile people with God and with each other, to triumph over evil.11
The Prince leads the pilot to water in the desert. The Traveler saves Weena several times and liberates the Eloi from the Morlocks. Klaatu's mission is to save our planet from destruction.
F. ELICITS FAITH STATEMENTS
His followers (spontaneously or upon request) acknowledged his divine nature. (All the New Testament books could also be considered as written faith statements.)12
Helen repeats Klaatu's code for Gort even though she doesn't understand it. Weena "believes" the Traveler.
G. DIES (FOR SAKE OF OTHERS)
He willingly allowed himself to be crucified to complete his work of salvation.13
The Prince dies in order to return home to his beloved flower. A lava flow buries the Time Traveler. Soldiers kill Klaatu as he attempts to meet with the world's scientists.
H. DESCENT INTO HELL
This phrase found in the Apostles' Creed (although not in the earliest versions) has been dropped by some denominations from liturgical use because of its problematic scriptural support.14 Interpretation of this phrase is also troublesome, but commonly held to mean Jesus, during the interim of his death and resurrection, preached to the souls of people who had already died, proclaimed freedom to them, and/or liberated them from their infernal bondage.
The Time Traveler witnesses a nuclear explosion and is buried in a lava flow. Later he climbs down a ventilation shaft into the dark nether world of the Morlocks and rescues the Eloi.
I. RISES FROM DEAD
On the third day Jesus resurrected back to life.15
The Prince's body vanishes in the night, and the pilot hears his laughter in the stars. The Traveler emerges unharmed from the lava flow. Gort resuscitates Klaatu's body with equipment in the saucer.
J. GENERATES AWE
Often Jesus' miracles and sometimes his presence alone astonished the people around him.16
The Traveler's matches temporarily blind and terrify the night-accustomed Morlocks. Klaatu, Gort, and the saucer astonish and terrify the entire planet.
K. BESTOWS BENEDICTION
As he prepared to leave his disciple's presence, Jesus declared a blessing and promise upon them.17
The Prince says farewell to the pilot. The Traveler thanks Filby for being a good friend--always. Klaatu's farewell speech to the Earth is an invitation and a warning.
Finally, Jesus left this worldly existence and returned to his original existence.18
The Prince returns to his asteroid and flower. After returning to his own time the Traveler journeys again to the Eloi and Weena. Klaatu returns to his planet.
IV. THE LITTLE PRINCE
The story is part science fiction, part fairy tale, part philosophical treatise, and (in the film) part musical. Stanley Donen directed the 1974 film based on Antoine de Saint-Exupery's novel written during the darkest period of World War II--a milieu in stark contrast to the mood of the story. James Arnold says the story "is perhaps the most gentle and benevolent tale ever written about an alien visitor from space. It is indeed so fragile and poetic and romantic that it is very much like a flame in danger of extinction from the more gusty and violent winds, the horror stories and brutal tastes of our time."19 A year after the book was published in 1943, the pilot/author was shot down on a reconnaissance mission over North Africa. The scenario of Saint-Exupery's death was eerily reminiscent of the setting in his novel.
The narrator/pilot opens the story by telling how his budding career as an artist is misunderstood by adults who advise him to study practical things. He becomes a pilot whose plane breaks down over the Sahara Desert. He must fix his engine unaided or die.
The next morning he is awakened by a small boy who asks him, "If you please--draw me a sheep." The sudden inexplicable appearance of the boy--at least he looks like an ordinary boy--confounds the aviator. Through flashbacks the pilot eventually learns the boy's true identity as alien Prince of a very small planet. One of the few items on the planet is a single beautiful rose. The Prince loves the flower, but the flower is vain and demanding. The rose makes him unhappy, and he decides to leave to obtain more understanding.
With the help of a flock of migrating birds, the Prince meets several eccentric people on other very small planets and finally lands in the desert on Earth. He meets a snake who offers him "help" to return to his home someday. He "tames" a fox who tells him a secret: "It is only with the heart that one can see clearly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
The Prince befriends the pilot. The Prince walks out into the desert to find water, and the pilot thinking it futile, reluctantly follows--and they are saved from dying of thirst. The pilot fixes his plane--and the Prince has foreknowledge of this before he is told. The Prince lets the snake bite him--so that he can return home to his beloved flower--and after a benedictory conversation with the pilot, the Prince dies. The next morning, however, the Prince's body has vanished. The pilot who has followed the Prince's lead before looks for the boy but does not find him. That night the pilot hears the Prince's laughter in the stars, and he takes off in his plane.
The eschatological epilogue in the book (not in the film) expects a Second Coming of the Little Prince: "If a little man appears who laughs, who has golden hair and who refuses to answer questions, you will know who he is. If this should happen, please comfort me. Send me word that he has come back."20
The story contains three kinds of "time": accelerated time passage, appointed time, and timelessness. Because of production problems the film dropped the lamplighter scene.21 In the novel the fifth small planet has only enough room for a street lamp and a lamplighter. The asteroid revolves once every minute, producing 1,440 sunsets per Earth day. The poor noble lamplighter performs his task of lighting and extinguishing his lamp every minute. He experiences time (chronos) as tremendously accelerated. Of the people the Prince meets before arriving on Earth the lamplighter is the only person the Prince respects because he is the only one who thinks of something beyond himself.
The pilot encounters the Prince one year after the Prince arrived on Earth. With his planet now directly overhead again, the Prince feels it is his appointed time (kairos) to go home.
The setting that frames the entire story is the desert, a timeless (aion) place where nothing ever changes. But in the midst of this timeless place, the pilot also is running out of time (chronos), for he knows his supplies won't last long, and unless he can repair his airplane soon, he will die. He experiences both timelessness and accelerated time.
Harshly beautiful, a desert is symbolic of death and eternity. A desert negates both time and technology. It is a place of temptation, hardship, and spiritual renewal. In the Bible deserts are the settings for thunder on Mt. Sinai, Israel's forty years of wandering, and Jesus' temptations.
Peter DeRosa describes the desert as a place to experience "the appalling nearness of God."22
Everything there is exaggerated, both landscape and skyscape. The sun is hotter, the night air colder, the wind more venomous, the moon and stars bigger and brighter. There are beasts within and without. Terrors are nearer and intenser. . . .
The desert sands are always virginal; they are open to every possibility. Empty, unscarred, unchanging from age to age. In the desert man's achievements do not count. He stands there as in a vast temple without walls or roof or monuments or paving, listening to the voice of God in the wind.23
How does the pilot arrive at this mystical setting? It is through failure of technology. At first glance this story says little about technology, but technology (represented by the airplane) breaks down and plunges the pilot into a metaphysical world of the desert and the Prince. After technology breaks down, the pilot learns to hear the Prince's laughter among the stars. When repaired, technology takes him back to the "real" world--but a changed man.
The movie, to serve Saint-Exupery, has to be an attack on the scientific way of looking at the world, and also a kind of poem about the mystical sacred nature of reality when it has been imbued with loving relationships. . . .
The Little Prince then has a strong element of anti-science, and it is not science fiction as normally defined. Very little of it is scientifically correct or even possible if taken literally. It is a whimsical work of the poetic imagination. It extols "what is inside." What it finds as the hidden secret of the universe is not the Big Bang. The pilot had given up his philosophical search to become a doer, to fly machines. But that escape literally ends in the desert, where he . . . crashes. The machine is out of commission. The pilot is again given the gift--the chance to know the hidden meanings of things, the truth--through his encounter with the Prince.24
When transformed into film, the story became a musical. "From a critical perspective, the problems of successful adaptation of Saint-Exupery's gentle fable were enormous."25
The irony of making a film of The Little Prince is evident in the nature of its major theme: "What is essential is invisible to the eye." The visual medium, whose natural subject matter is the surface of visible things, natural or manufactured, is the servant and child of technology and science, nowhere so evidently as in modern science fiction films like Close Encounters and Star Wars. In The Little Prince, film is given a subject against its grain, perhaps beyond its powers. . . .26
The crucial question is whether the technology of modern cinema . . . has become so convincing and wonderful and "real" in itself that it destroys poetic illusion like some touch of a giant Midas who turns everything to concrete. If it can be filmed and seen, how can it be fantasy? Isn't film the machine that contradicts Saint-Exupery, and argues precisely that what is essential is visible to the eye?
The question intrigues, but I would argue that most of the effects in The Little Prince are in the spirit of the creator. . . . Donen uses the camera and editing as Saint-Exupery uses words--in a poetic, abstracting style. . . . Thus the style of the film reflects the Saint-Exupery thesis that truth is "inside" . . . and not in the surfaces of reality or technological gadgetry. It suggests to viewers that the visible universe of The Little Prince . . . [is] a metaphor in which the objects are images or signs of something even more wonderful, but unseen.27
V. THE TIME MACHINE
The 1960 film, directed by George Pal, is a largely faithful adaptation of H. G. Wells novel published in 1885. (See Appendix.) The film begins in January 5, 1900, with the Time Traveler's ("George" in the film, unnamed in the book) acquaintances waiting for him at his house. The housekeeper explains they are to begin dinner without him if he should be late. As they begin dinner, the Time Traveler enters, disheveled, wounded, and exhausted. He tells in an extended flashback what has happened to him. He begins his story with the last time they had met together.
On December 31, 1899, the Time Traveler shows his acquaintances a working model of his time machine that vanishes into the future, but they dismiss it as a sleight-of-hand illusion. They want him to invent something more practical.
The Traveler tests his real machine by climbing on board and going into the future. Time passes like a speeded up movie. The nineteenth-century scientist sees World Wars I, II, and III. The nuclear war (in 1966) causes a lava flow that covers up his machine and himself. In a twilight zone between existence and non-existence, buried in stone, he hurtles on through time. He prays while enduring burning heat and then cold darkness. Eventually weathering erodes his tomb away, and he "resurrects" into open air again.
Eventually he stops in the year 802,701 in what at first seems to be a paradise of controlled climate and lush weed-free vegetation. But after centuries of evolution the empty-headed Eloi, although blond and beautiful, have lost their intelligence, nobility, and self-determination. They have become mere cattle for the hideous carnivorous Morlocks who live underground.28 The Traveler saves a young woman, Weena, from drowning. She later leaves safety to warn him of the danger of being outdoors at night. The Traveler tells Weena he wants to help her people recover their spirit of self-sacrifice. Weena proclaims her faith in the Traveler: "I don't understand you, but I believe you." (Weena has a child-like faith in the Traveler unlike his "intelligent" friends who understand but do not believe.) The Traveler discovers the secret of the Morlocks--their existence, their horrible machines, their cannibalism--in his "descent into hell" through a ventilation shaft down into cavern. He liberates a group of Eloi--including Weena--captured by the Morlocks. He destroys the underground industry of the Morlocks. The life of leisure--and being eaten by Morlocks--is over for the Eloi. Fighting off the last Morlocks he scrambles into his time machine and returns home.
His dinner acquaintances scoff at his story and his unidentifiable flower (given to him by Weena). His last words are to David Filby (the only acquaintance who eventually believes his story): "Good-bye, David. Thanks for being a good friend--always." The Traveler selects three books and returns to the future--and to Weena--to help rebuild human civilization.29
Although the time machine is a wonderful scientific apparatus that saves the traveler's life on two occasions (technology serves as savior), technology is a mixed blessing. The time machine prophetically functions as an oracle of apocalyptic vision. Seeing increasingly destructive wars and the decline of humanity destroys the Traveler's optimistic faith in future progress. Technology in the year 802,701 is limited to the thumping machines in the Morlocks' underground industrial hell.
Throughout multiple scenes the setting of this story is time itself. Wells did not invent the time travel story. (See Appendix.) Wells, however, was the first to invoke time travel with a machine. His time travel tale was the first to weld together time and technology.
Wells took the notion of time travel, which had been very popular since [Edward Bellamy's] Looking Backward, and put it on a 'mechanical' basis. The importance of this is not in the vague, pseudoscientific rational he provided for the time machine in his novel, but in the fact that it was a machine, which could move through time under control of its operator. The replacement of the dream, enchantment, mesmerization, hibernation or other method of reaching the future by a new mechanical agent, a time machine, changed the whole footing of time travel, opening up the past as well as the future, for imaginative investigation."30
Wells was also the first to make the time travel process intrinsically interesting--not just waking up in a different century. Pal's film elaborates further on the process. The Traveler does not just step into a time machine/warp/vortex and pop into another place and time. He sees the passage of time. A candle burns down in seconds, a snail races across the floor, flowers bloom and close in minutes, the mannequin's fashions in the shop window across the street change every few minutes. The sun spins around the sky as if it were a stellar VCR set on fast forward. In 1917 his house/lab is boarded up and filled with cobwebs. He meets his friend Filby's son in 1917 as a young man and in 1966 as an old man.
In contrast to this intensity of accelerated time, the Eloi have no concept of past and future. They live in only the present, in a mindless carpe diem.
The Time Traveler asks his friends, "Can man control his destiny? Can he change the shape of things to come?" Will he rekindle civilization among the Eloi? These questions are left unanswered.
VI. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL
Director Robert Wise (somewhat loosely) based this 1951 film on Harry Bates' short story "Farewell to the Master" first published in the October 1940 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. The film improved on the story which was already considered a classic. Significant differences between story and film will be noted below.31
In the film a huge flying saucer circles the Earth, tracked by various countries, and lands in Washington, D. C. The army and a crowd of awe-struck civilians surround the saucer. A silver-suited human named Klaatu emerges and is wounded by an over-zealous soldier. A huge eight-foot-tall robot, Gort, begins to take retribution, effortlessly disintegrating a tank and other weapons, but is commanded to stop by Klaatu. Klaatu is taken to a hospital in which he heals his bullet wound overnight with some alien salve. He demands to meet with leaders of all the countries of the Earth, but governmental leaders squabble. To find out more about this irrational society he escapes from the hospital and incognito rents a room in a boarding house, using the name "Carpenter," where he is befriended by Helen and her son, Bobby. He exhibits kindness and gentleness even as radio commentators call him a monster.
He contacts a scientist and arranges for a meeting with scientists from around the world. To demonstrate his power, Klaatu "neutralizes" electricity all over the world for thirty minutes. All machines stand still (hence the title).
With government agents closing in, he flees with Helen from the boarding house. He teaches her the secret message "Gort, Klaatu barada mikto" that she is to tell Gort if Klaatu is killed. Not understanding what the message means, she accepts it on faith. Soldiers kill Klaatu near a roadblock and place his body in a jail cell.
Gort wakes from his frozen pose and begins a rampage that would destroy the planet. Helen, though terrified, repeats the message from Klaatu to him. Gort retrieves Klaatu's body and resurrects him via equipment in the spacecraft.
When scientists gather the risen Klaatu emerges from the saucer to provide a stern benedictory warning. Warlike spirit and increasingly powerful weapons have made the people of the Earth become a threat not only to themselves but also potentially to other inhabited planets. People must learn peaceful ways or face the destructive judgment of Gort's giant robot police force. With his message delivered, Klaatu enters his saucer. The spacecraft glows and ascends into the starry sky.
Religious elements also exist in the original short story. Klaatu is described as "a man, godlike in appearance and human in form."32 His expression "radiated kindness, wisdom, the purest nobility. In his delicately tinted robe he looked like a benign god."33 He is shot, not by the military, but by a mentally unbalanced man who cries, "the devil had come to kill every one on Earth."34 (Some said Jesus was possessed by a demon.)35 Even in death he shows "on his face the look of godlike nobility that had caused some of the ignorant to believe him divine."36
In the original story, however, the robot Gnut (renamed Gort in the film) is the key character rather than Klaatu. The robot Gnut is the master of the mortal human Klaatu (who is dead throughout most of the story). Gnut is enigmatic, indestructible, powerful, creative, life-giving, awe-inspiring. "Gnut had almost exactly the shape of a man--a giant, but a man--with greenish metal for man's covering flesh, and greenish metal for man's bulging muscles. Except for a loin cloth, he was nude. He stood like the powerful god of the machine of some undreamed-of scientific civilization."37 Gnut is a metallic God the Father, and Klaatu is a human God the Son.
The short story's Klaatu never has time to reveal why he has come to Earth because he is killed immediately. The film Klaatu has a very clear purpose--this messiah's message is a warning about technology and its deadly uses. In the movie the protagonist (Klaatu) uses and warns against technology. In the short story the protagonist (Gnut) is technology.
In the film, technology is both deified and demonized. The alien technology is almost god-like in its power. Klaatu stops all machines on the planet and says of Gort: "There's no limit to what he could do. He could destroy the Earth."
"Gort, the huge intergalactic 'policeman' . . . is definitely mysterious and menacing. Shot much of the time from a low angle, he is faceless; the otherwise smooth and metallic impenetrability of his blank visage is broken only by a visor which slowly opens to reveal a pulsing light or to emit incinerating rays after which it silently closes. His metallic surface, that visor, is a perverse visualization of the medieval knight in shining armor."38 Even four decades after the film was made, in the post-Star Wars, post-Terminator age--one can hardly find in any film a more awesome character than the metallic guardian/avenging angel of Gort. Gort's visor slowly sliding up is still a chilling mise-en-scene rarely equaled.
Gort not only is an agent of destruction but also of life. With a machine in the saucer, he resurrects Klaatu after being killed. Technology is used theologically.
Flying saucers became hot news items in the late 1940s. This was the first major movie39 to have an alien flying saucer figure dominantly in the story--an idea later copied by many. "Treated as a thing of beauty, the alien Klaatu 's 350-foot flying saucer . . . is so pure in line, so ascetically designed . . . that it concretizes the Platonic virtues of clarity, sanity, reason--virtues sadly lacking in the Washington, D.C., mis en scene in which the saucer comes to rest."40
The dark side of technology, however, is our own. Our warring spirit, coupled with nuclear weapons and the emerging development of space travel, makes our planet an emerging threat to other planets--and they take notice.
Bruce Kawin notes:
What The Day the Earth Stood Still shares with "Farewell to the Master" . . . is the idea that once man has passed a certain evolutionary level, it is technology that masters man; both story and movie, each in its own way, pursue this idea to logical conclusions. In the standard science fiction world of the story, which is organized around one gee-whiz daring boyish reporter, the emphasis is on the robot's invention of a device that recreates beings from sound recordings, and the startling discovery that Klaatu is the beloved pet of the robot, who is the "master." In the Cold War world of the movie, which has a much more interesting human story, the relevance of this conceit is made explicit in terms of the way man is forced to learn that he must submit to the authority of the robots because he has--without knowing it--already become the servant of nuclear technology. By this ingenious twist, the Wise film offers man the option of mastering the atomic bomb while it extends the essence of the story's original, chilling idea.41
"Time" acts quite differently in the film and story versions. The film takes place in the "present" (of 1951), but the short story takes place in far future--which only distances the reader and doesn't add significantly to the story.
In "Farewell to the Master" the craft that is the focus of the story is not a flying saucer like in the movie. It is a "space-time machine" from unknown origin--perhaps from a distant galaxy or perhaps from Earth's own distant future. The movie version, however, opted for the 1950's fascination with and fear of flying saucers from other worlds. The flying saucer, however, acts as a pseudo-time machine because it stops all the machines in the world for half an hour. For our technology, time stops. Technology meets eternity.
Klaatu's final message illustrates one more aspect of time. Because of our emerging technology and destructive tendencies, time for us is running out.
M. Darrol Bryant links culture, cinema, and religion.
The very origin of our term culture from the Latin cultus, meaning worship, is indicative of the awareness that a culture grows out of intimate life with the gods. But what happens when the cultus which sustains our life with the gods disappears?
An influential modern tradition, rooted in the Enlightenment's characterization of religion as superstition, has insisted that modern cultures have outgrown religion and, consequently, that cultic forms are unnecessary to the life of culture. This tradition, especially important to the modern intellectual, has obscured the deeply spiritual impulses and longings that are the matrix of culture, the relationship between cultus and culture. But have our cultic forms died? Or did they just undergo another metamorphosis?42
Bryant contends our cultic forms have merely metamorphosed. He continues:
cinema is a form of popular "religion." As a popular form of the religious life, movies do what we have always asked of popular religion, namely, they provide us with archetypal forms of humanity--heroic figures--and instruct us in the basic values and myths of our society. As we watch the characters and follow the drama on the screen, we are instructed in the values and myths of our culture and given models on which to pattern our lives.43
A unifying "value and myth" runs through the three films in this paper. In each film a Christ-figure, with time and technology as a mise-en-scene, teaches about the importance of relationships.
The little Prince is the gentlest teacher. The Prince's love for his flower and his friendship with the pilot form the "heart" of the story. The fox's simple secret is: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." Relationships transform one's vision of reality.
The Time Traveler is more subtle than the others. He never discusses love, but he expresses thanks for the friendship of the only one of his 1899 acquaintances who ultimately believes his story. His affection for Weena causes him to return to the future, and his return gives hope to a civilization that has become completely self-centered and unconcerned about others.
Klaatu finds friendship with Helen and Bobby, but he is also hunted and killed by the military. His display of overwhelming technological power underscores his final stark and apocalyptic message: the people of Earth must learn to live with each other or die.
Through different times and technolgies these film messiahs rearticulate and reaffirm the Golden Rule.44
APPENDIX: CHRONOLOGY OF THE TIME MACHINE
Wells did not invent time travel story. Perhaps the earliest was L. S. Mercier's L'An Deux Mille Quatre Cent Quarante (1771) in which an 18th-century sleeper wakes up in a 25th-century utopia. Other more famous examples of earlier stories would include Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" (1819), Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843), Edward Bellamy's Looking Backwards (1888), and Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889).45
"Wells attempted at least five versions of The Time Machine, three of which appeared in print, in various periodical publications, before the work was first published in book form."46 A serial The Chronic Argonauts was published in the April, May, June 1888 issues of Science Schools Journal (unfinished). Between 1889 and 1892 he rewrote it into two separate versions that are now lost. An updated version "The National Observer Time Machine" appeared in seven serialized issues (but still unfinished) of National Observer in 1894. This closely resembled the final novel form. In 1895 "The Time Traveler's Story" yet another version (this time complete) appeared in five installments in New Review. It was first published in book form in 1895 (but in two different versions) in America and Britain. The British text published by Heinemann became the standard text familiar to most readers today. Nevertheless, Wells made a few more slight modifications in approximately 1899, but that text was not published until 1924 in the Atlantic Edition of Works of H. G. Wells (1924).47
Bates, Harry. "Farewell to the Master." Adventures in Time and Space. Eds. Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas. New York: Del Rey, 1974. 779-815.
The Day the Earth Stood Still. Dir. Robert Wise. Twentieth-Century Fox, 1951.
The Time Machine. Dir. George Pal. MGM/UA, 1960.
The Little Prince. Dir. Stanley Donen. Paramount Pictures, 1974.
Saint-Exupery, Antoine de. The Little Prince. Trans. Katherine Woods. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971.
Tofte, Arthur. The Day the Earth Stood Still. New York: Scholastic Book Service, 1976.
Wells, H. G. The Time Machine. New York: Magnum Books, 1970.
Arnold, James W. "Musical Fantasy: The Little Prince." Shadows of the Magic Lamp. Eds. George Slusser and Eric S. Rabkin. Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985. 122-140.
Bryant, Darroll. "Cinema, Religion, and Popular Culture." Religion in Film. Eds. John May and Michael Bird. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1982. 104-105.
DeRosa, Peter. Not I, not I, but the Wind that Blows Through Me. Niles, Illinois: Argus Communications, 1975.
Geduld, Harry M. The Definitive Time Machine: A Critical Edition of H. G. Wells's Scientific Romance With Introduction and Notes. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1987.
Hartwell, David. Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction. New York: Walaker and Co., 1984.
Kawin, Bruce. "Children of the Light." Shadows of the Magic Lamp: Fantasy and Science Fiction in Film. Eds. George Slusser & Eric S. Rabkin. Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985. 14-29.
Nicholls, Peter. The World of Fantastic Films: An Illustrated Survey. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1984.
Panshin, Alexei and Cory. The World Beyond the Hill: Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1989.
Piper, Otto A. "Messiah." The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1986.
Ruppersberg, Hugh. "The Alien Messiah." Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema. Ed. Annette Kuhn. New York: Verso, 1990. 32-38.
Scholes, Robert and Eric S. Rabkin. Science Fiction: History Science Vision. London, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Sobchack, Vivian. Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film. New York: Ungar Publishing Co, 1987.
Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties. Volume I. 1950-1957 Jefferson and London: McFarland, 1982.
1Alexei and Cory Panshin, The World Beyond the Hill: Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence (Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1989), ix.
2Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction (New York: Walker and Co., 1984), 42. He talks here of literature rather than film, but the principles are similar.
3Vivian Sobchack, Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film (New York: Ungar Publishing Co, 1987) 63.
5Hugh Ruppersberg, "The Alien Messiah," Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema, ed. Annette Kuhn (New York: Verso, 1990) 34.
6William Morris, ed, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1975) 869.
7Luke 1-2; John 1, 8:58; Heb. 1-2.
8Mark 5:39-43; 8:30; Phil. 2:6-8; Isa. 52:14. Some theologians argue whether Jesus had any messianic consciousness or whether that was only an interpretation by the Gospel writers. See Otto A. Piper, "Messiah," The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1986).
9Mark 4:35-5:43; 6:30-56.
10Matt. 10; Mark 1:14-20; John 10:1.
11Rom. 5; Luke 2:11; Matt. 7:15-23; 13:24-30; 25:31-46; Eph. 6:10-18; 1 Cor. 15.
12Matt. 16:16; John 20:28; Heb. 13:20-22.
13Matt. 16:21; 20:28; 27:45-54; Rom. 5.
141 Peter 3:19, 4:6; Ephesians 4:9; Acts 2:23-32; Matthew 12:39-40.
15Luke 24, 1 Cor. 15.
16Luke 5:8; John 18:5-6; 24-29.
17Matt. 28:16-20; Luke 24:50.
18Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:1-11.
19"Musical Fantasy: The Little Prince," Shadows of the Magic Lamp, eds. George Slusser and Eric S. Rabkin (Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985) 122.
20Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince, trans. Katherine Woods (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971) 113. The title of the novel also has messianic connotations because Jesus is also known as the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6; Rev. 19:20).
22Not I, not I, but the Wind that Blows Through Me (Niles, Illinois: Argus Communications, 1975) 48.
25(Arnold, 128.) Musicals tend to have more fantasy than other film genre's, but even the director later thought the music was a major cause of the film's failure. (Arnold, 132.) Perhaps an animated film would have been more successful at the box office.
27Arnold, 140. This, of course, is a two-edged sword. Some ideas and images can be communicated visually ("a picture is worth a thousand words") that can never be adequately verbalized in a novel.
28Unlike the book, the Eloi are still barely intelligent enough to talk. The film also weakens Well's social commentary into a simpler action/adventure story. The film Morlocks descended from those people who ages before had taken shelter underground during prolonged war and environmental disaster. The Eloi's ancestors had chosen to take their chances on the surface. "Well's grim allegory of evolution, in which the working class has become troglodytes who feed cannibalistically upon the capitalist classes they serve, in an act of grotesque symbiosis, is lost. Here the Morlocks are no more than stereotyped, hairy ape-people." (Peter Nicholls, The World of Fantastic Films: An Illustrated Survey (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1984, p. 34.)
The novel's museum scene of rotting exhibits sloping downward into darkness--symbolic of the decay of time--is limited to shelves full of rotting books.
The novel's final grim vision of a far-future dead planet that had stopped rotating under a swollen sun might have appeared in the planned movie sequel that was never made. (Geduld, 130.)
29In the novel Weena died in a fire and the Traveler journeys to an unidentified time and only to obtain proof of his travel. He is never seen again. Three years later Filby reminisces: "To me the future . . . is a vast ignorance, lit at a few casual places by the memory of his story. And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers--shriveled now, and brown and flat and brittle--to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on the heart of man." (H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (New York: Magnum Books, 1970) 128.)
30Robert Scholes and Eric S. Rabkin, Science Fiction: History Science Vision (London, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1977) 19.
31The Day the Earth Stood Still became a novelization by Arthur Tofte (New York: Scholastic Book Service, 1976). The new novel is a strange hybrid of the short story and the movie and ends up being inferior to both. "Gort" become "Gnut" again. For fans of the movie, presumably the majority of the novel's readers, this is like renaming Star Wars' R2D2 as "Ralph."
32Harry Bates, "Farewell to the Master," Adventures in Time and Space, eds. Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas (New York: Del Rey, 1974) 783.
35Luke 11:14-20; John 7:20.
39The very first "flying saucer" film occurred just a year earlier in the insipid low-budget The Flying Saucer (1950). This film, however, concerned spies rather than aliens. The one and only flying saucer that existed and caused all those sightings was a scientist's aircraft of advanced design which the Soviets want to steal. Bill Warren, Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties. Volume I. 1950-1957 (Jefferson and London: McFarland, 1982) 6.
41"Children of the Light," Shadows of the Magic Lamp: Fantasy and Science Fiction in Film, eds. George Slusser & Eric S. Rabkin (Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985) 24.
42Darroll Bryant, "Cinema, Religion, and Popular Culture" Religion in Film eds. John May and Michael Bird (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1982) 104-105.
44Matt. 7:12; Luke 6:31.
47The Time Machine inspired numerous adaptations, spin-offs, and "sequels" in film and literature. (See Geduld, pp. 130-131.)
Copyright 1992, 1997 Mark D. Stucky.
Originally done as a paper for a special studies class in religious literature at the University of Notre Dame.