Tuesday, April 5, 2011


In the book I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History, Walter Mirisch writes: "Neither Walter Wanger nor Don Siegel, who directed it, nor Dan Mainwaring, who wrote the script nor the original author Jack Finney" saw Invasion of the Body Snatchers as an allegory for McCarthyism. The film's star, Kevin McCarthy, also dismissed this analogy in an interview with the Bangor Daily News in 1997, saying, "There was no assignment of political points of view when we were making the film." These denials raise two interesting questions about the movie. If it was only intended to be a sci-fi thriller, why are viewers and critics so eager to read allegory into it? And if it was intended as an allegory, why would the creators deny this?

I wonder if The Invasion of the Body Snatchers can be read as a practical joke on the viewers who are eager to read allegory into everything. One of the movie's major themes in paranoia, experienced not only by the characters on screen, but also by the audience, who must also wonder at every moment who is real, and who has become a copy. In fact, this paranoia appears to summarize reactions to the movie as a whole, both in the immediate viewing experience, and in the criticism regarding it. "Think about it, and then you'll know that the trouble is inside you," Miles tells Wilma, after she tells him that her uncle isn't really her uncle, and the line suggests a new way of looking at the movie: that the problem is inside the viewer. The "trouble" is their own fear and paranoia that others are not who they appear to be, that their community has been infiltrated, that something indistinct and almost inexpressible is wrong with the people around them. If the film can be read as an indictment of McCarthyism or as fear of a Communist infiltration of America (and the fact that critics have read it as both suggests the weakness of the supposed allegory), it can also be read as a teasing attack on paranoia itself. Although this analysis could be used to support either side of this debate ("It's an attack on McCarthyism because it mocks the fear of infiltration!" "It's in support of McCarthyism, mocking the fear that it is dangerous to Americans!"), it could also be said to mock both camps by invoking their mutually exclusive fears simultaneously. The same movie has been considered an allegory for two perspectives that are, by their very nature, utterly contradictory. At least one group of critics must be paranoid, projecting their own political concerns onto this fantastical horror movie.

The film leaves many questions about the pod people unanswered, bringing their very nature into question. If they can take on any form they like, why would the pod people need to copy bodies? Why do they need to replace the original? Why does the replacement have all of the original's memories? What happens to the original bodies? The transformation of Becky was particularly troubling, as it was unclear (at least to me) when the replacement took place. On first viewing, it looked as though Becky fell asleep on screen and was replaced as Miles kissed her. However, this does not make sense if the originals are actually replaced by the pod bodies. I was also troubled by the scene immediately preceding this, when Miles discovered that the pods were capable of beautiful singing. Becky says that the singing "means we're not the only ones left to know what love is," assuming that only someone human, someone with emotions, could produce such a sound. When they discover that the "inhuman" and "unfeeling" pod people produced the singing, does it therefore suggest that they are not as "inhuman" as Miles has believed? Could it in fact suggest that the whole idea of the pod people was paranoia on the part of Miles, a paranoia that the audience then fed upon, bringing it to reflect political problems they saw in their own lives?


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