Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

3423_2Someone, somewhere, must have written about the following aspect of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It is a big world out there and considering how many nerds/geeks have access to computers it’s almost inconceivable that no one walked this path before. Still, I don’t remember reading anything of the sort. There are two reasons for that. First – I rarely read anything about movies I watch; second – many authors have sided with usual approach to Don Siegel’s movie, the one that contextualizes events of the movie within the framework of Cold War and McCarthy’s Which Hunt. This reading is appealing, especially in the light of later Siegel’s movies all of which can be called reactionary at the least. However appealing, I find little or no interest in it. If only because it has been done and overdone and I don’t think that I can add anything to that particular type of discourse. There are aspects that are still worth checking out. McCarthy or not. Siegel’s movie is a true classic that transcends the boundaries of particular time and space.

bscap0001Anyhow, to think about Invasion of the Body Snatchers outside the usual box one has to think within a framework of science fiction and about particular set of problems that SF usually deals with. To simplify, we might say that Invasion of the Body Snatchers deals with the utopia. To complicate it a bit we have to deal with problems of episteme (trotting along these lines we find out that Invasion of the Body Snatchers is prime example of anti-science “movement” of the 50s which featured heavily in tons of B-flicks produced during that time). What is happening in the movie? We have a “space-travelling” life-form, exact nature of which we can’t quite fathom because the movie never concerns itself with it at length. All we can say for sure is that it follows the routine of every life-form we know of – the routine of reproduction and survival. Like any biological life-form it’s rather mechanistic about it and no one could really call it a great strategist. Its approach is simple and effective, it has its natural pattern and it knows no need beside those. For our purposes we’ll call it the ratio-seeds. We’ll call it that because all our space faring “plant” does is über-rationalizes human behavior, integrating every individual into a perfect, universal machine intent on reproduction and survival. Our space-plant prefers Apollo instead of Dionysius.    

bscap0000Hero of this narrative is something like a science-man (one wonders why he wasn’t a priest). He knows this rational drive, he knows the advantages of pattern-recognition and structural-empirical world view and so on. He is still reluctant to let go of an individual. In his mind, Dionysius is necessary for a true progress. The Bomb that went off decade earlier is the main argument for the cause. While destructive, the passion (with all it implies) is both the show-stopper and initiator. Being human means not being a machine. To refute Darwinian nature is the main task of a civilized American man. Being purely mechanistic in nature, our ratio-seeds fail to think in the long run (though we can safely assume that this was the script-writer’s fuck-up). In the event of successful transmutation of every Earth-citizen, eventually resources would have been depleted and new need for migration would appear. Unfortunately, there would be no means for migration left. New inventions, required for the “colonization” of planets outside the Solar system, require a passionate mind which by then would have been obliterated. Eventually, transmuted humans would have died in where they appeared. Not a great reproduction strategy as it happens.

So, it is only by combining both sides of the human-coin that true progress, true education and true utopia can be achieved. Don Siegel (or our good doctor if you like it better) fails to address many problems that stem from this particular ideology but talking about that would lead us not so much astray as in a long rant. We should conclude this short exposé instead. It seems that “unnecessary” focus on anti-Communist propaganda did obscure the central point which makes this movie relevant after six decades. It was never about (American) individual vs. (Soviet) collective. It was always about passion vs. intellect. Dionysius vs. Apollo. Nietzsche vs. Plato. In this day and age it would be creationism vs. evolutionism but no one likes to think about seminal movie of the 50s advocating something crazy like creationism. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is much more than a propaganda but it plays dangerously just on the edge of the metaphorical blade. Few times it tips over but it always manages to pick itself up and do the routine once again.

Directed by Don Siegel
Produced by Walter Wanger
Screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring
Based on The Body Snatchers by
Jack Finney
Starring Kevin McCarthy
Dana Wynter
Larry Gates
King Donovan
Carolyn Jones
Music by Carmen Dragon
Cinematography Ellsworth Fredericks
Edited by Robert S. Eisen
Distributed by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation

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