The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still

From the director Robert Wise (whose eclectic filmography includes: The Sound of Music, The Andromeda Strain, and West Side Story) The Day the Earth Stood Still is a cautionary tale born of early cold war anxieties of 1951. In the film, The United States is visited by a being from outer space called Klaatu. Klaatu has brought with him not only greetings from outer space but also a stern warning that if the people of the Earth attempt to bring their atomc weapons into space, the residents of neighboring galaxies will not hesitate to destroy them. Although the film is campy by today’s sci-fi tastes, it does offer some dharmic intrigue of the highest rank.

Shortly after the film begins, Klaatu, our intrepid man from outer space, takes an alias so that he can inconspicuously move among the people of the earth and, he hopes, organize a meeting of world leaders who will agree not to take atomic weapons into outer space. In this low grade but, nonetheless, eyebrow raising hint of dharma to follow, the alias he chooses is “Carpenter”. Soon after, “Carpenter” asks his guide, a young boy named Bobby, to take him to the greatest person in the world. Bobby takes him to the home of a well known Math professor. Although the professor is not home, the pair finds an unsolved Mathematics equation on a blackboard in the home. As it turns out, the equation is a formulation of Newton’s Second Law of Motion: “The rate of change of momentum of a body is proportional to the resultant force acting on the body and is in the same direction”. So, a man from outer space called “Carpenter” happens to be an expert on cause and effect.

The most profound dharmic moment in the film was brought to my attention in a teaching from Lama Marut in Los Angeles. The teaching was on Nagarjuna’s “Wisdom: A Song on the Root of the Middle Way”. As Nagarjuna points out, and as Marut, reminds us, if reality really was an unchanging whole made up of separate entities with essences, time could not pass and the Earth would actually stand still. When asked to demonstrate his powers, Klaatu makes the earth stand still and offers the careful dharma student a direct look the impossibility of the incorrect worldview which holds that things exist essentially, that is, from their own side. Thank you Nagarjuna, Marut, Robert Wise, and Klaatu.