Home > films and reviews > Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is a classic science fiction film directed by Don Siegel, based on a three-part serial written by Jack Finney for Colliers Magazine (AMC, n.d.). It is a low-budget horror flick that elicits tensions through series of events in the narrative that provokes ideas of paranoia, intrusion, and an alien takeover. Much has been written about the film and to-date. Four remakes have been released making it one the most discussed low-budget sci-fi film in history (AMC, n.d.).

The central characters of the film are Dr. Miles Bennel, Becky Driscoll, and the unknown pod people, who are all residents of the small town Santa Mira, California. The story begins with our frantic protagonist, Miles, convincing the psychiatrist in an ER of a hospital that he is not crazy.  The story soon moves into a flashback of what has transpired two weeks ago.  Upon Miles’ return from a medical conference he receives different reports of a mass delusional misidentification syndrome in which the people he knew thinks that their close relative or friend has been replaced by an identical-looking impostor.  He sees this first hand when his ex-girlfriend from college, Becky Driscoll, asked for his help to observe a cousin who has this delusion. The imposters are said to have an unknown distinctness in them that makes them devoid of emotion, unreal, and not human.  He dismissed the significance of these random reports up until his writer-friend, Jack Belicec, seeks his assistance about an unidentifiable body that he found inside his house. After a series of clues these characters soon realize that these blank slates come from an alien-looking pod that takes the shape of the person they will replace once the person falls asleep. The body snatchers takeover the town of Santa Mira and soon only Miles is left to tell the tale as represented in a climactic scene of him running in a busy highway shouting “You’re next!”

There are lengthy discussions on the thematic elements found in this movie; the most popular among them is its anti-communism and McCarthyism which were the dominant social issues during its release. The film has been lauded for its representation of Cold War anxieties related to communist infiltration or possible atomic warfare from enemies who are hidden in plain sight.  An analysis of the film by Mann (2004) published in the Cinema Journal discussed the many xenophobic and racial slurs dominant in the film and how it may also represent the threat to the changing dominance of the white patriarchy rooted from small-town traditional values. Its timeless popularity may have been due to the idea that it captured a fear that transcends generations – the threat to the status quo. This threat brings a wave of change that is always met with resistance in most contexts.

There is insufficient justification on Miles’ character as to why he resists the pod’s way of life other than the fact that it is a change from status quo.  Several narratives in the film repeat the unambiguous difference between humans and the pods, yet concrete arguments to resist them were never fully explained. The pods were a threat because they were different; with different being evil and status quo being good. Miles’ conviction to fight the de-humanized pods was highlighted in the scene when he was conversing with the pod-Jack and pod-Dr. Kauffman in his clinic where he was cornered by them. The pods try to convince him; saying that love, ambition, and faith complicates life and without them life is better. He does not argue with these statements and it was Becky’s declaration of love and desire to have his children that seem to have moved Miles into action.

It’s argued that Miles is a representation of the traditional male, white, patriarchal character while Becky represents the powerful sexually liberated women of this generation (Mann, 2004). The sexual tensions between the ex-lovers are prominent and it’s been discussed that Miles’ references to re-marriage were attempts to cut the sexual liberty of the recent divorcee (Mann, 2004). At the end of the movie when Becky defies Miles’ attempts to keep her awake by kissing her, Becky reinforces her freedom from his demand to her body.  Though it seems like the film does not give Becky’s character a “win”. What she has gained from her betrayal is a dispassionate life as a pod in which she cannot fulfil her desire “to love and be loved”. Mann (2004) mentions in her historical analysis of the film how in vitro reproduction achieved popularity among the postwar baby boom and that the asexual reproduction of the pods is a commentary against the change in the traditional methods of reproduction since it is a threat to the male ego by allowing an unknown man (the pod) dominate a wife’s body.

This simple narrative has been interpreted in many ways that makes us wonder if any of them were intended by its creators.  Since the plot is discussed as a flashback narrated by Miles who is the only person knows how the story unfolds, viewers are unaware as to what direction the narrative will go. We experience the film as it happens, contributing to the tension as it progresses. I truly enjoyed watching this and I particularly liked how it provokes all the necessary emotions of a thriller without using special effects or violence. After reading more about its many interpretations, the paranoia of what this film is really about continues to haunt me. I find the endless possibilities of what this film represents intriguing and how, despite its obvious simplicity, a lot has been said about it. I will not be surprised if in the near future, a creative writer will find a way to adapt the paranoia of the pod people to the psyche of the millennial generation and for the other generations to come.

References:

AMC (n.d.). Filmsite Movie Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Retrieved from http://www.filmsite.org/inva.html

Mann, K. 2004. “You’re Next!”: Postwar Hegemony Besieged in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Cinema Journal: 44(1). 49-64.

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