Forbidden Planet

photo from Forbidden Planet
The space ship from Forbidden Planet

I recently watched an old favourite science fiction film again. It’s one of those that are quite comical today because of how much everything and everyone has developed. You might think it is just fiction, but science plays a major part in science fiction.

Forbidden Planet starring Leslie Nielsen was one of those. The actor is known for really silly films like The Naked Gun, but he started out as a so-called serious actor. I guess it did not work as he didn’t stick to it. Forbidden Planet wasn’t a ridiculous film when it came out in 1956, and it deserved the classic label it quickly got. It was also popular among hippies due to its “evil within” theme. I think this is one of the few involuntarily comic sci-fi films that have stood the test of time, mainly because of the themes, which are very reminiscent of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

A little about the plot: A spaceship is travelling to the planet Altar Resi 4 to investigate why this research colony suddenly went quiet. A doctor by the name of Morbius, and his daughter, are the only survivors after a kind of monster had killed everyone else.

The doctor tries to persuade the new arrivals to leave, but they insist on staying as this monster manifests itself again. What looks suspicious is that this monster seemed to have gone into hibernation in the period between the deaths of the other scientists and the arrival of this ship from Earth. It turns out that this monster is id, the subconscious.

When the scientists came to the planet 20 years earlier, they found that there had been a very intelligent race, the Krell, living on the planet 200 000 years ago. The entire population had been wiped out in one day, probably due a “plastic educator”. This was the greatest scientific achievement of the Krell, but it was their downfall as well. The purpose of this machine was to project a person’s thoughts in 3 D. This had a side effect as that person’s intellectual capacity was dramatically improved. However, it was a dangerous machine and Morbius was almost killed the first time he tried it. But he survived and got his intellectual capacity permanently doubled.

The Krell had also built a large underground installation that could materialize any object Krell imagined anywhere on the planet. They had forgotten one important thing, though, namely monsters from the subconscious. Morbius eventually had to admit that since there was no Krell left, it had to be Morbius himself who created the monster. By means of the “the plastic educator” he had interacted with “the Krell device” and thus created the same being that killed the rest of the scientific expedition 20 years earlier.

Watch the scene where Morbius understands what he has done:

There are many themes in this film. I have focused mostly on human weakness. A lot of science fiction is propaganda and focus on an external enemy (during the cold war enemies often spoke with a Russian accent), but the fact is that the threat is more likely to come from within. This film doesn’t warn against technology, but against human nature. The Krell community was driven by a strong desire for technical perfection to achieve a perfect society.

This is a topic that will never become obsolete, because it is never a good idea to leave out the control bodies (check and balance) and let anyone operate without supervision. There are a couple of cases from the financial world that springs to mind. Many years ago a British man tried to flee from the police when he single-handedly put the Baring Bank, the oldest investment bank in England, out of business. He did unauthorized speculative trading. There was also a so-called rogue trader that made a French bank lose a lot of money. You may call them unauthorized or rogue traders, but the fact is that their job was to invest money for the bank. The problem is that no one controlled what they were really doing, because as long as they didn’t lose money, no one cared. I could also mention other scandals like UBS ( a trader lost $ 2 billion), Citigroup (almost went bankrupt when they lost $ 10 billion in 2007). The list goes on, unfortunately.

This hasn’t just put businesses out of business, but even countries needed multiple bailouts. Germany and France are still trying to keep the European Union together as well as the Euro currency. Those problems aren’t just caused by irresponsible business practices, but that certainly has made it a lot worse. In my opinion a pure form of any type of political system is a bad idea. Pure capitalism isn’t a whole lot better than pure socialism, one has too little control and the other too much. Not without a system of checks and balances. The Scandinavian countries have combined the two with democracy, and I honestly believe this is what benefits the largest amount of people.

This weakness or greed that drives the economy is a relevant in  environmental issued too.

I saw a TV-programme once about a town in Oklahoma, about the size of my hometown Haugesund (30 000 people). A mining company found the worlds largest deposit of lead and zinc in the middle of nowhere. There was literally nothing there, so they built a whole town from scratch, but the last mine closed in 1970. The problem was the residual product, a type of sand, and this very toxic sand was left on the surface. The drinking water became completely useless. In addition, there were large holes under the town where they had dug out the lead and zinc. The city literally started sinking.

It’s a little strange to think that the lead from this town helped to crush the Nazis and Japan almost 70 years ago, but it has now broken this American town and presumably some of the people that lived and worked there. The mining company didn’t do this to win the war of course. They were driven by greed. The question is how far we are willing to go for profit.

That’s our biggest weakness, whether we are brokers, politicians or members of a board in a major company. No one needs to make decisions that are not being challenged!

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