Forbidden Planet and the Invisible Claw of Global Capitalism
By Jack Holloway
In the 23rd century, people of Earth are travelling the universe searching for their next object of conquest. After having lost contact with an expedition to the planet Altair IV, Commander John Adams and a crew have been sent to discover what happened.
What they are told by Dr. Morbius, one of the scientist’s from the expedition now inhabiting Altair IV, is that “some dark, terrible, incomprehensible force” had killed all the other members of the expedition, tearing them limb from limb, sparing only Dr. Morbius, his wife (who later died of natural causes), and his daughter Alta. This mysterious “devilish thing” now threatens Adams and his crew.
What they further discover from Dr. Morbius is that the Altair IV planet was once inhabited by an incredibly advanced people called the Krell, who, despite being a million years ahead of humans ethically and technologically, suddenly perished. An entire civilization, destroyed in a single night. All that remains is what they had built underground.
With the help of a Krellian “brain boost” (a ridiculous element of the story), one of Adams’ crew discovers the Krell’s key mistake: they neglected their inner “mindless primitive,” inherent within all creatures. This they unwittingly gave physical manifestation when they developed a machine that allowed them to control things with their minds, a machine “operated by the electromagnetic impulses of individual Krell brains.” They thus brought into the world invisible “Monsters from the id,” physical manifestations of their baser selves which “lust for destruction.”
The “devilish thing” that killed the other members of Dr. Morbius’ crew was the physical manifestation of Dr. Morbius’ inner beast, after he had experimented with Krell technology. The other members of the crew were going to force him and his wife to leave. Not wanting to go, he subconsciously had them killed by his “secret devil.” Now that Adams and his crew were there to escort Dr. Morbius and his daughter back to earth, the beast was unleashed again.
The first thing revealed about this “monster from the id” is one of its claws. The monster’s invisible claw is made visible by a plaster model of a footprint made near the Starship.
(Hold on to the image of the invisible claw, because I want to do something with it later.)
Released just over a decade after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the social criticism of the film is undoubtedly aimed at the development of weapons of mass destruction. However, I want to focus on another potential criticism from the film, that of global capitalism.
Western countries are characterized by considerable economic advancement, so that they are commonly referred to as “developed” countries. According to Marxist theory, though, their development is built upon the exploitation of workers, the exploitation of the earth, and the exploitation of other, “developing” countries.
The final words of Forbidden Planet convey the essential lesson the film wants us to learn: Dr. Morbius’ example should “remind us that we are, after all, not God.” It is the position of God, however, which is taken up by the capitalist in his assertion of lordship over land and worker. Capitalism requires this assertion of power. As David McNally explains, if capitalists “do not exploit the poor, grab land and resources, commodify the globe, and act in environmentally destructive ways, they will not persevere in the war of economic competition” (122).
There should be no wonder, then, when we see colonialization, human trafficking, environmental devastation, and so on. It is the nature of capitalism to produce these conditions.
What is being neglected, however, is the suppression of a force that only grows more vicious the more it is suppressed, and will eventually manifest itself in a radical upsetting of objective conditions. As the victims of systemic exploitation become aware of their objective relations, they will collectively seek a display of resistance and a counter-assertion of power.
By advancing global capitalism and exploiting the land, labor, and resources of other countries, the Western superstructure makes way for its own downfall. As Marx explained, “At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production,” and “From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their own fetters” (4-5).
In other words, as in Forbidden Planet, this advanced people is developing a machine with destructive potential. Global capitalism is producing a secret devil with a lust for destruction. The invisible hand of global capitalism is creating a monster which will eventually muster the force necessary to strike the West with its invisible claw.
(See what I did there?)
Marx, Karl. “Marx on the History of His Opinions,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed., ed. Robert C. Tucker. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 1978.
McNally, David. Another World is Possible: Globalization & Anti-Capitalism, rev. ed. Winnipeg: Arbeiter, Ring Publishing, 2010.
Jack Holloway studies Karl Barth and Marxist Theory at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He is Secretary-treasurer of the International Society for Heresy Studies, and he holds a B.A. in biblical and theological studies from Regent University. He is also a musician, an avid beer-drinker, and a lover of film.