Thursday, August 21, 2008

Is It Just Me or Have You Become an Emotionless Shell?

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The Long View: A Celebration of Widescreen
Pacific Film Archive
Berkley, CA
Friday, August 22, 2008
Available on DVD from Republic Pictures


"There's no emotion. None. Just the pretense of it. The words, the gesture, the tone of voice, everything else is the same, but not the feeling." What if your closest loved one suddenly seemed different? He or she looked exactly the same, spoke the same and remembered all those little things that only he or she could possibly know- the secret things you shared with him or her. The motions of affection are there, but the actual feelings are gone. Don Siegel's science fiction classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) explores this frightening concept.

Beautiful divorcee Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) asks small town doctor, Dr. Miles J. Bennell (Kevin McCarthy), to speak with her cousin Wilma whom she's worried about. Wilma is convinced that her Uncle Ira, who raised her as his own, isn't really her Uncle Ira. She tries desperately to explain to Becky and Miles that while he looks, acts and remembers like Uncle Ira- his emotions, especially his affection for her, have disappeared. Wilma knows in her mind that it must be him, but her heart tells her other wise. Miles hears similar complaints from multiple patients. He seeks the advice of a psychiatrist friend who convinces him it's some kind of mass hysteria.
But then his close friends Jack and Theodora Belicec show him something frightening, a human body laying on their pool table that looks unformed. The body vaguely resembles Jack, the same hair color, the same height and build but no wrinkles, no scars and no fingerprints. Yet. A little later, the body begins to resemble Jack more and more- he's being reproduced, but by whom and why? Miles, Becky and the Belicecs realize that the inhabitants of their town are slowly being replaced one by one by unfeeling aliens in a terrible conspiracy to take over the earth. How can they stop them?
The individuals flee society.
Much has been made of the political undertones of this film. Critics have passionately embraced this film as a prime example of cold war anti-communist paranoia and, on the other hand, as a satire of the same. So which is it? Neither. It addresses much more timeless themes- the individual against society and the question of what makes a human a human. Miles doesn't just fight a conspiracy; he fights to keep his individuality and humanness. Subtext aside, the tight plotted screenplay, based on the excellent novel by Jack Finney, the great acting and well passed action make this film worth viewing. So, sit back, enjoy the thrilling ride and contemplate the undertones later.

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