Forbidden Planet, Star Trek

Religion versus Star Trek’s Ancestor

A long time ago, Sci-Fi fans flocked to a big budget space opera movie called Forbidden Planet. It was in theatres in 1956. I had seen it a good many years later on TV and could see why some people credited it as the forebear to Star Trek. It’s set in a future where a united civilization of planets is patrolled by quasi-military space ships with alphanumeric designations. Unlike science fiction movies from that era it wasn’t an inferior ‘B’ movie monster fest. Even though it did have a monster, the premise was far deeper and the production values were superb thanks to a huge budget of two million dollars.

Forbidden Planet was remarkable to me because among other things it tried to justify religious belief, an issue that caused a lot of consternation at my house when I was in my early teens. You see at that time I had announced to my parents that I wasn’t a believer. I further stated that I couldn’t understand how anyone would have any use for religion. As strange as it sounds Forbidden Planet colorfully illustrated a use for it.

Twenty years before the events of the opening act, the space ship Bellerophon transports a party of scientists from Earth to the planet Altair IV. Soon after landing they discover relics of a long dead alien race, the Krell. One of the party, Dr. Morbius, tries to use a Krell device he finds in one of their labs and it nearly kills him but it also increases his IQ. He’s delighted to find that his increased mental capacity enables him to learn about Krell society more quickly. Unbeknownst to him, however, his subconscious is also enhanced by the brain boost.

Morbius researches the mystery of the Krell’s disappearance as well as their super science. At their peak they had built a civilization free of crime and disease, and had explored the galaxy. Basically they had accomplished wonders and yet the race was wiped out two hundred thousand years earlier by some catastrophic event virtually overnight. But how?

Have you ever been cut off in traffic? Have you witnessed someone arriving after you in a restaurant but being served first? Everybody has suffered these slights so after fantasizing about smiting your offenders you move on. Your civilized side wins out over the mindless primitive and you don’t act on your rage. But let’s say a part of your mind wasn’t under those constraints. Further, let’s say that that part of you could conjure up monsters that would have no problem rending a fellow human being to pieces for taking your shopping cart.

Dr. Morbius had that power and didn’t even know it. His subconscious had accessed a Krell device that enabled it to manifest an invisible monster that punished anyone that didn’t meet his standard of behavior. His colleagues from the Bellerophon had been literally torn to pieces when they voted to return to Earth in spite of Morbius’ wishes. He, his wife and their daughter are left untouched by something that he describes as a planetary force.

As the movie opens, a team of would be rescuers of the United Planets Cruiser C57-D descend on the scene led by Captain J. J. Adams. He’s happy to find survivors after twenty years but is dismayed when Morbius advises him that he wants to be left alone. Adams questions him about the deaths of his ship mates and doesn’t believe that the remaining survivors, the Doctor and his daughter, are safe. He proposes evacuating them which causes the monster to reappear and start killing Adams’ men. Eventually, Adams recognizes the pattern and tells Morbius that he’s the cause of the murders. Adams also reasons that the Krell disappeared because their subconscious minds were similarly endowed with monsters once they activated the machine Morbius discovered. The doctor takes offense at the notion that he’s the cause of so many murders. During their argument Adams, Morbius and his daughter are chased into the Krell lab by Morbius’ destructive alter ego. They feel safe but Adams points out that his monster is melting the super dense Krell steel doors like butter. Adams ultimately convinces him of the truth by saying ‘we’re all part monsters in our subconscious, so we have laws and religion!’

This was my Aha! moment. More than Sunday School ever could the movie illustrated that religion is meant to keep people from acting on their violent impulses. For a moment I understood its appeal but history, recent and otherwise, provides examples of violence in the name of religion. Wouldn’t it be transcendent for the race if mankind could decouple doing right from religious faith?

Look for Michael J. Foy’s latest release,

Ghosts of Forgotten Empires: Volume II,

A Cord Devlin Adventure

available on Amazon, August 6th.


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