Saturday, July 17, 2004

Mourn for Morbius

Over at the Asimov's discussion board, there was a thread about the Best Sci Fi Movies of All Time. A number of people, myself included, nominated "Forbidden Planet".
I mentioned the movie works on a number of different levels - and it does: Space Opera, Monster Movie, Planetary Romance, Gee Whiz Gadgets, etc.
I also mentioned that it resonates for me as a story of Christian morality. I didn't get deep into the subject there because, quite frankly, I find discussions of politics and religion boring and fruitless in such forums. These are things you just believe in, and there's no arguing about beliefs, just as there is no arguing about taste. It's not for nothing that the Masons specifically ban discussions of religion and politics in their lodges.
But afterwards I thought, in case anybody cared, to explain myself, and since I picked up this blog, I thought this would be the place to do so. So here goes.
Our protagonist, Dr. Morbius, was obviously a brilliant man. That highlights his deficiencies of character even more, since - we might fairly ask ourselves - if such an intelligent man failed until the fatal end to realize what he had done, how can we ourselves ever truly recognizes our own sinful nature?
Call it "Monsters from the Id" or Original Sin - the fact remains human nature is sinful - to be more blunt, evil. Even the smartest of us - yes, I'm including myself - have done hurtful, petty things. Perhaps this pains us - the more intellectually gifted - even more because we often recognize it. That recognition is called guilt.
The origin of this nature - whether it's our bestial evolutionary inheritance or the stain of Original Sin as described in the Bible - is not part of this discussion. Like I said, some things are a matter of faith and/or morals.
So you might have your own idea WHAT in Dr. Morbius got a hold of the Krel technology and began to materialize his evil thoughts and aspirations.
Dr. Morbius wondered throughout the story what it was that killed the crew of his ship and then went after the crew of the rescue ship 20 years later.
Of course, what he failed to realize is what we often also fail to realize: If you want to see what's wrong with the world, look in a mirror.
The fact he was well educated, intelligent and ethical didn't matter - just as it didn't matter for the Krel.
At the very end, as his own monster comes after him, he mourns for the Krel, who - he supposed - were so advanced they never understood what destroyed them. At that moment, he also fails to understand he would meet the same fate - except that he did have the moment of insight at the very end. Too late, it seems, to save his own life, but in enough time to save the others.
"Forbidden Planet" also works as a detective story, and like any good detective story, there are all sorts of clues dropped along the way. There are the obvious ones - how the doctor, his late wife, and his daughter were all immune to the attacks, for example.
One clue I noticed early in the movie is that he was the expedition's philologist. That's interesting, because another scientist or even a philosopher might have figured out what was going on a lot sooner.
But Dr. Morbius studied language - words, if you will - and we recall in the Bible it says the letter of the law is death, but the spirit brings eternal life. Morbius was only interested in knowledge for knowledge's sake - the letter of the law - and his fate came about because he failed to see or realize the underlying significance or meaning of what he studied.
In the climax of the movie, Dr, Morbius is faced in direst extremity to recognize, confront and renounce his evil nature. "My evil self is at that door and I am powerless to stop it!"
He finally rushes towards the melting door and "gives up" the monster that materialized from his evil nature. Either the confrontation, the strain, or both, kills him - but not before he sets the epilogue in motion for the captain, his daughter, and the audience.
In the end, Dr. Morbius dies, as we all must do. He meets the same fate we all must. And, in the nick of time, he confronts and renounces his evil nature.
Could Morbius have lived? Yes. There are millions of people who have had the same experience as he did. We have recognized our evil nature, confronted it and renounced it. It is like going through a near-death experience. That's why we're called Born Again Christians.
It's painful and wrenching, to realize just how many times you have fallen short in life, and to acknowledge that as you move forward in your new life, you will probably fail and screw up time and time again.
But it beats having that evil nature come after you after life. Perhaps what happened to Morbius is symbolic of what awaits those who fail to have this experience on this side of eternity.
The last time I watched "Forbidden Planet" on TV, I realized the reason Dr. Morbius dies is that, although he made the right choices up to a point, he couldn't move on because there was no one there to help him.
His isolation is highlighted as he rushes the door and collapses on the floor, by the separate shots of the captain and daughter.
When the day came that I became a born again Christian - when I acknowledged that despite my smarts and good works and intentions, I was still a screw-up and more importantly, not always a good person - I realized there was a higher power and intelligence that understood me.
In National Lampoon's parody, "Deteriorata", there's a line about whatever you conceive God to be, "hairy thunderer or cosmic muffin."
I tend to think as God and Jesus Christ (speaking of them as one in this context) as the one person who understands the world and understands me.
The world is a complex, convoluted place. The older I get the less I "get". But there's somebody out there who gets it all. Sometimes the plotting and planning is very subtle, but amazing efficient and complex.
From my example, how would I have known that my business failure with a newspaper I owned (and this was a messy affair) would lead me to try my hand at writing fiction - and that, it seems, I'm almost good at it?
I faced my evil self, my Monsters from the Id, but I came through because I gave my life to Jesus and decided God really was in control. So I am alive today - physically alive, I mean.
Dr. Morbius had the same painful confrontation - but because he failed to make that final step, it came so hard upon him and so late, he could not physically survive. He died in body, as we all must.
That Morbius was an ethical, civilized, intelligent person highlights even more the limits of human capability. As they say, at some point, to gain eternal life, you have to give your soul to Jesus. You can't do it yourself.
Anyway, that's my explanation. That's the way I see it. Thanks for reading.

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