Actors playing statues.

I was watching the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) again the other day, and was struck by the scene in which Bobby takes Klaatu to the Lincoln Memorial.

The shot above begins with Klaatu looking just past the camera, indeed almost at the camera, as he marvels at the words inscribed on the wall behind us; and then he turns around so that we see the back of his head as he looks at the statue of Lincoln; and then he turns his head halfway back to the camera, so that we see his face in profile just as we see Lincoln’s face in profile; and then, finally, he turns his head away from us again, and he walks away from us, out of the shot.

I don’t think it’s stretching things too much to suggest that the filmmakers wanted us to notice a resemblance between Klaatu and Lincoln here. Note, for example, how Bobby’s upward gaze seems to direct our own eyes to both faces simultaneously. Klaatu is, in many ways, a Christ-figure — one of the classic alien messiahs — and it just so happens that Abraham Lincoln has long functioned as a sort of Christ-figure within American mythology, as well. So it makes sense that the filmmakers might have suggested, visually, some sort of bond or link between the two.

Watching the scene above, I was also reminded of The Ten Commandments (1956), and how Cecil B. DeMille hired Charlton Heston to play the lead partly because Heston’s nose resembled that of a famous statue of Moses sculpted by Michelangelo. And that’s not just speculation on my part; DeMille himself made the resemblance one of his selling points in the film’s original trailer:

For what it’s worth, some scholars have also speculated that the final image of Moses in that film — which appears right after his wife tells him he is “God’s torch that lights the way to freedom,” and right after he tells Joshua to “proclaim liberty throughout all the lands” (a significantly tweaked version of a line from Leviticus that appears on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia) — is meant to evoke parallels to the Statue of Liberty. But in this case, of course, we don’t have the actor standing next to the statue itself:

What other examples are there of this sort of thing, I wonder?

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his award-winning film column for that paper, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He has also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005) and The Bible in Motion: A Handbook of the Bible and Its Reception in Film (De Gruyter, 2016).

  • RC

    what an interesting post…that's very interesting especially the speculation about the statue of liberty & moses