Note: I am finally biting the bullet and starting a new category of posts called “Lost Writings.” Digging through all of my old files has been a reacquaintance with intriguing content from my past. Whether from a formal prompt in English or a free-write session in Writer’s Workshop, they will be shared here. This next piece was an assignment to analyze and critique a movie that happens to be one of my favorites: Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Not many of my initial thoughts have changed, so I am posting the original unedited.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) has been seen by many as an allegory for the Cold War and the conflicting political ideologies within the United States during that time. Two prominent theories abound as to exactly what message this movie is attempting to espouse. On one hand, some argue that it is merely a warning of the Communist threat to the American way of life. Others take the plot and characters in an entirely different context and argue that the message is a critique and exposé of American conformity. Both perspectives are valid, yet the latter theory is a more accurate portrayal of the essence of the film.
The premise of the movie is unabashedly science fiction—Giant pods created through atomic mutation take over the small town of Santa Mira, California by turning themselves into mirror images of people. On the surface, these ersatz citizens resemble the originals in every way except for their soulless demeanor and total lack of emotion. The plot situates around the character Miles Bonner, a general practitioner who has returned home for a conference. Upon arriving in Santa Mira he begins to have suspicions that something strange is going on. A warning bell goes off in his head and he thinks to himself: “Sick people who couldn’t wait to see me, suddenly were perfectly alright.”
The film deeply explores the concept of how abnormality or deviance is perceived in society. As Miles questions Wilma, who starts to fear that something is amiss, he initially recommends professional psychiatry as a way to rationalize her fears. This is an example of the usual response to deviance by the general, conformist populace. It shows that people are more willing to believe the problem is a figment in one’s head, rather than taking the issue seriously. However, Miles eventually does come around when his friend Jack shows him the “body” or still-forming pod-person. The moment that ultimately wakes Miles to the reality of the situation is when Jack asks: “Would you be able to forget that you’re a doctor for awhile?” This marks the point in which Miles stops looking through his narrow professional lens and begins to use common sense and critical thinking. When he begins to unravel the secret of what is truly happening, he discovers that authorities are highly reluctant to take his own claims seriously.
This represents the discrepancy between common sense and the conformist complacency that often arises from narrow viewpoints. The film adequately expresses how dangerous political apathy can be to the wellbeing of a nation through the metaphor of the pod people. Another prominent metaphor is sleep, which is used to portray the process through which regular individuals are taken over by the invading pods. This is metaphor for the arising of general conformity when individuals are least alert and self-aware. This notion alludes to the importance of independent judgement and intuition.
The most frightening concept is the new world order that will be created after the pod- people have succeeded in their mission. Resembling the old society in every way, it will be a world devoid of any emotion, including love or sadness. It is akin to dehumanization or soullessness. “Life will be much simpler and better,” says one of the transformed townspeople. The ultimate threat to humanity depicted in the film can be seen as two-sided in nature. On one hand there is the external invasion of the pods, but on the other there is the narrow-minded rationality of professionals who fail to use common sense and understand the reality of the issue. In order to reconcile the internal and external threat, one must look at possible allegories that explain the reasons for both.
All in all, Invasion of the Body Snatchers could be interpreted as two distinct allegories: a warning of the threat of communism to the American way of life, or the threat of conformity and political apathy within the United States itself. However, by analyzing all the metaphors stretched throughout the duration of the film, from the professionalism of the characters to soullessness of the pod-people, one can see that the true allegory represented is one of complacency, conformity, and over-rationalization of deviance. The makers of the film were attempting to espouse the dangers of mass society and the degradation of individual critical thinking skills. The Cold War is a shallow metaphor often attached to the film, but by delving deeper, one can understand the true perils being represented.