Plot: It is the year 2200, and Commander Adams (Leslie Nielson) directs his spaceship to an earth-like planet called Altair-4 in search of a former earth colony, out of contact for many years. They receive a transmission from Dr. Morbius, telling them to go away, but they insist on landing. When they arrive, a huge robot named Robby greets them and brings Adams and two crew members to the home of Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon). Morbius shows off Robby’s many accomplishments, and tells them that, with the exception of Morbius and his wife, everyone else in the colony perished violently, killed by an unseen force, which has not bothered him since. His wife now dead, he lives there with his daughter, Alta (Anne Francis) and Robby. Curious about the men, Alta introduces herself. She has never seen any human other than her father, and her only friends are the animals, descendants of those brought from earth years before.
Morbius explains that a great race once lived on the planet, and he has studied their artifacts. In an attempt to use their minds and spirits to create something, he inadvertently created a creature made up of their fears and anger. It is called the Id. It reappeared when the colonists arrived, out of their subconscious urges. And, with the arrival of the crew from earth, it has come back again. The invisible being damages the spacecraft and kills three of the men before Morbius, realizing that the Id came from within him, renounces that part of himself, destroying both of them. Adams and Alta escape with the crew before the planet explodes.
Discussion: This was the first big-budget science fiction movie, and the only one for over a decade. It is loosely based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” the story of Prospero the Sorcerer and his daughter Miranda, who are alone on an island until a storm brings their former countrymen to them. Robby the Robot is the obedient Ariel. And the Id is the powerful and angry Caliban. The gadgets and special effects seem almost quaint to us now, but the movie is still fun to watch for younger children and it still raises some important questions for older ones.
The Id, of course, is named for Freud’s famous concept of the id, the instincts and impulses of the unconscious mind. Morbius says that he and his wife survived because they were the only ones who loved the planet and wanted to stay, that the monster was created from the fears and jealousies of the other colonists. The implication (more explicit in portions cut from the film), is that it is the jealousy Morbius feels when Alta falls in love with Adams that brings the Id’s destructiveness out again. In a way, this movie is more a way of exploring unconscious feelings we all harbor than it is speculation about life in the future or on other planets.
Questions for Kids:
This story shows the way people more than forty years ago thought about the future. What things might make people’s ideas about the future different now?
It is interesting that the threat in this movie comes not from some kind of space alien or “bug-eyed monster” but from within the humans themselves. If your feelings could create a creature like the Id, what would it look like when you are mad? When you are sad? When you are lonely? When you are happy?
Do you think we will ever have robots like Robby? What would be the best thing about having one? Would there be any disadvantages?
Is the rule making it impossible for Robby to harm any rational beings a good one, even though it makes it impossible for him to protect them from the Id? Can you think of a better rule?
Connections: Robby inspired, among others, the robot in “Lost in Space” and possibly the “Droids” in “Star Wars” as well. Anne Francis also appeared in “Bad Day at Black Rock” (again as the only woman in the story). Leslie Nielson is now best known for his work in wild comedies like “The Naked Gun” series.
Activities: Read or see a production of “The Tempest” and compare it to this story. (Mature high schoolers might enjoy a modern interpretation in a movie called “Tempest,” directed by John Cassavetes.) The idea of robots is a fairly recent one, dating back to a play called “R.U.R” by Karl Capek. Teenagers should read “R.U.R” and I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov, and become familiar with Asimov’s “rules” for fictional robots, including the one forbidding robots to harm living things.
High schoolers might appreciate some exposure to Freud’s ideas about the id, ego, and superego, which were very current in public consciousness at the time of this movie. His book An Introduction to Psychoanalysis is a good place to start.