Sunday, March 1, 2009

Post-Colonialism in Space!

Forbidden Planet. Dir. Fred M. Wilcox. Perf. Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, and Leslie Nielsen. 1956. Warner Home Video, 2000.

I've written on Forbidden Planet before, but I've never taught it until this semester. I also had never thought about it in conjunction with post-colonial approaches to The Tempest until the recent convergence of a class on literary theory with the new syllabus for Shakespeare and Film.

It turns out that this 1956 science fiction classic addresses the issues of post-colonial theory. My copy of the film is at the library for students to study at present, but I have a few screen shots (with subtitles) that illustrate the idea.

In the opening sequence, the narrator informs us that, sometime after the year 2200, human beings set out to conquer and colonize:

And so at last, mankind began the conquest . . .

. . . and colonization of deep space.

Late in the film, we learn that the former inhabitants of the planet (long since extinct) were called the Krell.  The motivations of the Krell are explored by the only one who has been able even to begin to penetrate their massive and complex culture of technology:

. . . they turned, still with high benevolence . . .

. . . outward toward space.

Dr. Morbius' full speech gives more details than the two screen shots above:
In times long past, this planet was the home of a mighty and noble race of beings which called themselves the Krell. Ethically, as well as technologically, they were a million years ahead of humankind. For, in unlocking the mysteries of nature, they had conquered even their baser selves. And when, in the course of eons, they had abolished sickness and insanity and crime and all injustice, they turned, still with high benevolence outward toward space. Long before the dawn of man’s history, they had walked our Earth, and brought back many biological specimens.
The difference between the Krell's mission of "high benevolence" serves as a lovely contrast to the humans' mission of "conquest and colonization."

Although Bardfilm consciously avoid spoilers, you should know that the Krell and the human are proven to be astonishingly similar by film's end. For the details on how this takes place, watch the film!

[Editor's note: "Krell's" seems to be the appropriate plural possessive form; "Krell" is a plural form, and the term "Krells" as a plural is not used. "The Krells' mission" would be an erroneous use of the apostrophe. Thank you.]

Links: Wikipedia entry on the film.

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest