Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Are the Pods Really Outer Space Invaders
Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Are the Pods Really Outer Space Invaders
The era of 1950s in America was an era of paranoia. Following WWII, it was a time when the Americans were confused and neurotically preoccupied with international political events, especially the on-going Cold War.
For Hollywood, these fears turned into the exploration of the science fiction genre, while huge numbers of movies about monsters, alien invaders and modern technologies like hydrogen bombs and spacecraft were made to covertly mirror the fact that the America was filled with severe anxiety, fear and even hysteria under the shadow of “Red Scare”——the danger of nuclear wars and the possibility of Russian Communist conspiracy, as well as Americans’ suspicion of its own capitalist system and political tendency.
Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is such a “social” science fiction film that expresses the psychological tension and unbearable fears that swept the country during the fifties. The film tells the story of the heroic but helpless struggle of Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy), a doctor from a small Californian town of Santa Mira, to vainly combat with the deadly, indestructible threat of tremendous alien invasion by large seedpods that replicate and take over people’s minds.
To be short, it is a film about…“Pods”, which Siegel answered in an interview. Kaminsky 133) These huge vegetable seeds actually serve as metaphors of the issues of communist subversion, atomic bombs and McCarthyism conformity, which illustrate the main factors of the mass paranoia at the time. “Something evil had taken possession of the town. ” Dr. Miles Bennell The pods, most obviously, are the metaphors of Russian communist ideology, reflecting Americans’ fear of communist subversion in 1950s for their identical characteristics of invading into people’s minds without their awareness and changing their mentality.
“The notion of the slowly rowing seeds which essentially take over the minds of normal Americans, converting them to an alien ideology and invisibly substitute them with replacements who look the same as everyone else, but feel no emotion and have no individuality” in Body Snatchers, as Keith Booke stated, “directly echoes the era’s most prevalent stereotypes about communists”(64). The idea of communists’ attempt of secretly taking over our country through some kind of conspiracy plans was prevalent among Americans. The invasion goes into the very heart of American people’s lives.
This is clearly reflected in the film, which sets its location in a small suburban town of Santa Mira in California, a place that should be the most peaceful and securest in Americans’ minds. Dr. Miles, hurrying back to town for a whole bunches of medical appointments, only to find that most of the schedules are cancelled, and the rest patients insist that their family members are not who they seem anymore. Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter)’s cousin Wilma insists that her Uncle Ira is not her Uncle Ira, little boy runs down the street crying to escape from his mother who he thinks is not his mother.
It turns out that some alien pod invaders replace these people, as M. Keith Booke points out that, “These replacements, who look the same as everyone else but feel no emotion and have no individuality, directly echo the era’s most prevalent stereotypes about communists”(65). The growth of vegetable seeds, along with the characteristics that they can appear any where, at any time to replace Americans (greenhouse, back of car, pool tables), resonate the popular image of the way how Russian ideologies spread in most Americans’ minds.
The mass annihilation people’s soul by the alien pods in Body Snatchers allegorizes another important element of “Red Scare” in 1950s, the tremendous paranoia toward nuclear bombs and the possibility of collective extinction in a quiet and invisible way without any previous signals. When the relationship between Russian and U. S intensified in 1950s, which signals a possibility of nuclear wars, they could not bear the panic and fear because they had seen closely and realized the power of atomic bombs since two were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki earlier.
So much has been discovered these past few years that anything is possible,” says Dr. Bennell after he discovers that mysterious seed pods grow into human forms and take over actual persons, retaining their former physical characteristics but completely transforming their personalities. “It may be the results of atomic radiation on plant life, or animal life…some wired, alien organism…a mutation of some kind. ” On one hand, atomic bomb brought death close to people extremely in such an unprecedented extent that they had never perceived death as so near, real, immediate and inescapable.
On the other hand, the Bomb’s “dehumanizing influence has made death invisible, abstract and threatening”(John Whitehead). Destruction caused by atomic radiation has an invisible property, killing people even without their awareness. This is exactly how the pods in Body Snatchers deprive people of their lives. Anyone might be replaced when they are asleep. We have no idea how they do it and only can see the obscure outline of a forming replacement in those pods.
At that time no security could be ensured and once a nuclear war began, death was inevitable, just like you cannot possibly escape from being replaced by pods in the film because they kill you in your unconsciousness of sleep. Dr. Miles Bennell’s fear of becoming “pods” in film resonates the American people’s fear of losing feelings by the communist dehumanization, and at the same time, the capitalist conformity in America itself. The fear within Americans was not simply about death.
When they were hiding from the pods mob, Miles said to Becky: “In my practice I see how people have allowed their humanity to drain away… nly it happens slowly instead of all at once. We harden our hearts… grow callous… ” Just as the film implicated, the most dreadful thing that could happen to a person is the loss of his humanity, the turning into an “ice cold, outwardly peaceful but very authoritarian and emotionless” creature, which “represents the limitless parallels between the film’s villains (the alien pod people) and the public’s view of the Communists”, John Whitehead writes in A Tale For Our Times. The vision of Russian conformity resulting in dehumanization is a deadly threat in the notion of American individualism.
The blank fingerprints of the unformed alien pod found on the pool table in Jack’s house marks the loss of individuality while conformity becomes the new domination. However, the tendency toward conformism does not only come from the extraterritorial forces. Siegel denied an implication of communist invasion when talking about the theme of the film: “People are pods. Many of my associates are certainly pods. They have no feelings. They exist, breathe, sleep. To be a pod means that you have no passion, no anger, the spark has left you…Of course, there’s a very strong case for being a pod.
These pods, who get rid of pain, ill-health and mental disturbances are, in a sense, doing good. There’s regimentation, a lack of having to make up your mind, face decisions… People are becoming vegetables. ” (Stuart M. Kaminsky 133) When Americans were overwhelmed by the fear toward communists and nuclear wars with their inability to find any solution or escape to them, they followed regimentation, like “the assurance given to Bennell by the pod people that his life would be far more pleasant if he simply goes along with the crowd and learns to live without emotion” (Booke 67) so that they could get rid of these anxieties.
John Whites also stated, “The real enemy was, therefore, totalitarian conformity”. The scene in which Miles and Becky see the town people and farmers who they are familiar with are assembled in the town square, where a police authority gives the order to everyone allocates the pods to other towns symbolizes that thinking and working for the group become more adopted.
A regimented society was forming with “the burgeoning capitalist system of 1950s which not only produced unprecedented opportunities but also operated through an unprecedented level of efficiency and standardization”, says Keith Booke, and he also further states that the standard brands “establishes a central driving idea of homogeneity selling identical products in identical ways at thousands of identical franchises across the country”(67).
The industrialized capitalism created a culture of homogeneity that, surrounded by a pressure to conform, people had a fear of not fitting in, but meanwhile they also had a fear of the losing of their distinct individual identities. Although the paranoia in 50s seemed to be toward the outsiders, worries that the “pods” may originate from American people themselves show that both the emerging capitalism and the radical anti-Communist McCarthyism were probably the real cause of this conformity of Americans.
If the pods in Invasion seem to incarnate the popular image of a communist totalitarian state,” LaValley points out, “it is only because the government-dominated, bureaucratic, and conformist fifties was itself creating an America like this picture of Soviet Russia. ” Americans, especially some government officials like Senator Joseph McCarthy, believed in that the Soviet had severely infiltrated in United States so much that witch-hunts were launched, every one should declare his loyalty to prove that he is not a communist spy.
In Hollywood a blacklist was made by he HUAC to exclude any filmmakers who could be suspected as subversive. John Whitehead comments: “The mob hysteria, the sense of paranoia, the fascist police, the with hunt atmosphere of the picture certainly mirrors the ills of McCarthy’s America. ” It looked like that Americans made up an imagery enemy to get hysterical about. The sarcasm in film is, when Dr. Miles tells the psychiatrist in town Dr.
Kauffman (Larry Gates) all the strange things he witnessed, the psychiatrist assures him that town people including Miles himself are suffering from an “epidemic mass hysteria” which the cause is unexplainable. Thus, Americans suddenly put everyone in the position of suspecting and being suspected, even the closest relatives, or authorities like psychiatrists and governors could not be trusted. This emotion is so manifested so well by Kevin McCarthy with his alert look and vigilant “Who are you? ” said to the new psychiatrist who is sent to see to him. Like David J. Skal said about the film, “The enemy is them, and us”.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers does not conceal its anti-McCarthy view as it expresses the worries for outsiders as well as raising questions within our own nation. Near the film’s ending, Miles Bennell as the town’s last remaining human escapes to a highway, stands in the middle of traffic and cries, “Look! You’re in danger! They’re already here! You’re the next! ” This sense of paranoia haunted throughout the film is exactly the mood most Americans had in 1950s. Movies based on the original novel of Invasion of the Body Snatchers were remade three times in 1978, 1993 and 2007 (The Invasion).
The 1978 version reflects Americans’ fear of conspiracy and mistrust on the government and people around them in the background of Watergate Scandal and Vietnam War, which also receive much resonance among the audience at the time. But the 1993 and 2007 versions were disappointments to the box office and didn’t receive many positive comments, mainly because that at the time they were released, America was in economic prosperity and political stabilization, audiences cannot find anything arousing their fear or anxieties except for plain scary images.
The 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers was significant because this simple science fiction genre film contains complex metaphors to address a number of issues, dealing with the fear within Americans of communism, nuclear bombs, conformity and sensational anti-communist hysteria of McCarthyism in its contemporary historical context.
Subject: Nuclear weapon,
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 25 December 2016
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