Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Analysis and Critique

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.

The Merchant of Death (Pendragon #1) by D.J. MacHale

Merchant of Death

The Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale

Publisher: Aladdin
Release: 2002
Reading Platform: Apple Books

Synopsis: BOBBY PENDRAGON is a seemingly normal fourteen-year-old boy. He has a family, a home, and even Marley, his beloved dog. But there is something very special about Bobby.

He is going to save the world.

And not just Earth as we know it. Bobby is slowly starting to realize that life in the cosmos isn’t quite what he thought it was. And before he can object, he is swept off to an alternative dimension known as Denduron, a territory inhabited by strange beings, ruled by a magical tyrant, and plagued by dangerous revolution.

If Bobby wants to see his family again, he’s going to have to accept his role as savior, and accept it wholeheartedly. Because, as he is about to discover, Denduron is only the beginning….

Review:  I find it only fitting that my return to book reviewing begins with the series that started it all. About ten years ago, in the midst of my early teendom, I stumbled upon this little gem of a novel by D.J. MacHale. The Merchant of Death became the catalyst for my interest in YA fiction and kindled a passion for sharing my thoughts on the many novels I voraciously read. You could even say that the Pendragon series as a whole marked the embarkation of my journey through website building, blogging, and written commentary.

The inspiration was so thorough that I begin a fan club for the series, appropriately called Dark Matter. (For those familiar with Pendragon lore, you will know what I’m talking about!) The site evolved into an all-encompassing book club and eventually became my stepping-stone into the wider world of book reviewing and spiritual pondering. I don’t know why I never got around to a proper review for the books in this legendary series. They were certainly formative to the imagination and creativity of thirteen-year-old Ty. Perhaps, knowing how special they were to me, I was afraid of failing to do them justice. Well, a different state of mind and a decade later, I’ve decided to remedy that. And so, without further ado…. Hobey-ho, let’s go!

Like many of my favorites in the genre of YA fiction, The Merchant of Death is approachable to a wide array of ages. Contrary to what some might think, I value brevity and inclusivity of speech over obtuse language. The ability to reach a larger audience is sometimes more valuable than catering to the literary minded. In this case, The Merchant of Death succeeds by not alienating those of a younger age group who would benefit most from the themes of life it presents. But of course, one could argue this praise is better directed to the genre at large. My point is that some books are hastily judged by their intended audience instead of the potential universality of their content.

The greatest aspect of this approachability I keep waxing on about is the relatability of the protagonist, Bobby Pendragon. As a perfectly ordinary teen who is thrust into extraordinary circumstances, we are coaxed into reflecting upon our own life and the seemingly uncontrollable events of our own destiny. Many of the trials and tribulations Bobby faces mirror our own struggles, albeit embellished by fantasy. We see him endure the loss of his old life, a shattering of preconceived beliefs about reality, and his trust in important life figures put to the test. But most importantly, we see him make mistakes and endure the consequences of his actions.

By resisting his destiny and the call to do what is right, Bobby inadvertently causes the death of someone who was trying to protect him. The ripple effect of this mistake shapes the entirety of his proceeding journey. Whereas before he had a protector and a guide, now he and his comrades are more alone than ever. But as you will see later on, in a matter of fate, this occurrence was necessary for Bobby to confront his own selfish desires and rise to the occasion of fulfilling his greater destiny.

The character development of the protagonist witnessed in the first novel of this series alone is enough to continue reading. There is a bit of a redemption arc in here as we learn that Bobby forgives himself for being afraid of his destiny. His mistakes were a direct effect of fearing his newfound responsibility to the welfare of an entire people and civilization. By overcoming his fear and riding the waves of fate, he was able to save the lives of hundreds of people and become a better person in the process. As we see at the end of this particular journey, he marks this realization with a telling statement:

I feel as if I learned a few things. I learned that it’s sometimes okay to think like a weenie, so long as you don’t act like one—at least not all the time. I learned that it’s okay to be wrong, so long as you can admit it and are willing to listen to those who may know better.

As already hinted at, a major allusion of The Merchant of Death is the great tapestry of fate that is woven out of an unpredictable pattern of causes and effects. The theme of providence or a higher order guiding one’s destiny is prevalent at every turn. Where Bobby’s mistakes seem to be terrible setbacks, they are in fact serving a greater and unseen purpose. It encourages one to have faith that everything will turn out right in the end, even if it seems impossible at the current time. As the credo of the mysterious Travelers in the series goes, “This is the way it was meant to be.”

In a nutshell: D.J. MacHale embarked upon an epic and wholesome journey with The Merchant of Death. There is so much more I wish to say about this series, but I must save some musings for my reviews on the proceeding novels. I tried to keep plot specifics as vague as possible so you can find out more for yourself! As a very formative read in my early years, I can’t give this fantastic story enough praise. Filled with themes of friendship, destiny, and redemption, there is enough food for thought to satisfy the appetite of any reader. If you enjoyed this review, check out some of my other ones here.

MacHale, D.J. (2002) The Merchant of Death. United States: Aladdin

Story Beginnings: The Concave

I flew high in the night, the wings of my soul perturbing the very aether that kept them aloft. Soaring above an icy expanse, my awareness flirted with oblivion, yet was held fixed by an ethereal river of light that I do not think mortal eyes could behold. Onward this great rush of luminosity propelled me, across vast and barren stretches of land. I was caught in the toroidal currents of the sphere and moving toward destiny with great haste.

The northern curtain greeted my passing with elegant sublimity. Folds and ripples of indiscernible scale graced the night sky. This was where the heavens were reflected upon the Earth. This was where the spiritual danced with the temporal. I was naught but a wisp in the air compared to this grandeur, yet inherently connected to the spirit it bore. Beyond these far reaches I did traverse.

As the firmament depressed and curved inward, my awareness sank into a vortex of light. In that far, northern apex of the world lay a forgotten portal. An entrance to the cradle of life, out of which poured the forebears of mankind. Currents of fire twisted around like a chain, propelling my existence deep into the womb of the Earth. There was no discerning the passage of time, as all humanly measurements were lost in this ascended state.

A line of red appeared where horizons met, quickly filling out into a dim star as I was swept forth. Centered in my sight, this dull, smoky brother of our sun was both the source and destination of the current. Maintaining an inward approach, I then witnessed the inside curvature of the firmament. Far below, across, and all around stretched lands of plenty. I was at the doorstep of destiny — a child of the great smoky god returned home.

Note: As with many of my imaginings, I can provide no backstory here. This was written with the intention of being somewhat obscure, based upon the recent images and ideas welling in my subconscious. Inspiration was derived from the works of Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the adventures of Olaf Jansen, presented as a true account by Willis George Emerson.