In The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Bobby asks Klaatu how the spaceship works.

But Klaatu responds with I imagine(with doubt):

Bobby: What do you think makes it go?

Klaatu: Well, a highly developed form of atomic power, l should imagine.

Why is Klaatu unsure about his own spaceship controls?

  • 2
    I didn't watch the movie, but could be meant as it is when someone asks you "How is your phone/Pc/Tv works?" and you replies by "Some sort of technology. I'm only using it!"
    – madmada
    Apr 16, 2017 at 13:49

2 Answers 2


Klaatu is living on Earth incognito. He can't show certainty in what he says or he might give himself away, but my take on this scene has always been that he is answering the question correctly, just distancing himself from it by suggesting it is a guess so he does not raise any suspicions.

  • Although I rather like this answer, you shouldn't accept any answers for twenty-four hours or so. You might find one you like better. Apr 16, 2017 at 16:06

Klaatu can't fly the ship.
Gort* flies the ship.

Klaatu 'tells it where to go' like the computer reference in comments.
You don't need to know how to manufacture a computer to know how to operate one.

"How does a computer work?"
"Some kind of electricity, makes bits move around... ermmm... with chips & ermm... wifi..."

*Gort may not actually pilot the ship physically, but he appears to be connected to the 'computer' that does. In 1951 the concept of 'computer' was rather hazy compared to today.

After comments - clarification of "how does xyz work?"
& probably more salient to the era in which the movie was made than any kind of expected "accuracy" in Klaatu's explanation...

In the 50s, society was still reeling from WWII, nuclear power was still in the 'It goes Boom!' phase but the man in the street was being told that it was the future of mankind, the saviour of 'energy' [which really hadn't had anything of a 'crisis' yet]

So, for 50s Sci-Fi, everything vaguely futuristic had to be "Atomic-Powered"
For the as yet naïve population, it was an answer in itself.

  • Could the captain of a modern 2km long oil tanker fix the radar if a component burned out? Yes, because captains likely came up through the ranks and learned multiple things on the job, and likely will have a basic understanding on how the boat works and what the propulsion is. I'm sure every single employee on a boat knows if its diesel or nuclear.
    – cde
    Apr 16, 2017 at 18:15
  • @cde - then I will remove that line - but the essence is the same. It could be replaced with, could the pilot of a passenger jet fix the fly-by-wire if it failed mid-flight.... or could he change a tyre if he had a blowout on the runway?
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 16, 2017 at 18:16
  • Add to that that everything vaguely sci-fi in the 50s used "atomic power". It was the 'magic of the future'.In fact, that needs to go in the answer...
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 16, 2017 at 18:22
  • You mistake understanding of how something works with technical mastery of it.
    – cde
    Apr 16, 2017 at 18:41
  • Actually, I think you are confusing 'actual technical mastery' with 'how to explain it to the audience'. My answer stands.
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 16, 2017 at 18:48

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