If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high ... hooray for you.
Friday, October 24, 2014
31 Days of Horror: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The occupation has begun, but the enemy may already be standing right beside you in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
In addition to our
regular programming, every day this month, Last Cinema Standing will be
bringing readers recommendations from the best of the horror genre as we make
our way to Halloween. This should not be treated as a “best of” list but more
as a primer. You can read the full introduction to Last Cinema Standing’s 31
Days of Horror here, and be sure to check back each day for a new suggestion.
Day 24: Invasion of
the Body Snatchers (1956)
If you are not with
us, you are against us. It is the rallying cry of many regimes in times of
great turmoil or uprising. It is a powerful accusation, depriving discussions
of their nuance and situations of the gray area between the well-defined black
and white. Nobody wants to be “against us.” Most people just want to fit in or
glide along, and there is no better way to get pulled into a fight than by
challenging the perceived mainstream.
objection is rarely applauded, and more often than not, bystanders are pushed
or pulled onto one front line or another anyway. Think of post-9/11 U.S.
foreign policy in the Middle East. You are either with us, or you are against
us. Thanks for nothing, France. Think of the Salem Witch Trials. You are either
with God or against Him. Burn the witches and the liars. Think of the Crusades.
You are either Christian, or you are going to hell. We will help you along one
way or the other.
In America in the
1950s, communists stood at the head of the line to be burned at the stake,
alongside anyone who refused to take a side. If you are not with us, you are
against us. We now know Sen. Joseph McCarthy was a disreputable crackpot
inspiring fear in the masses to make a name for himself. But it is easy to take
a smug view of history: Iraq is a quagmire we would have been better off
avoiding, religious persecution is wrong in all its forms, and the number of
real witches burned throughout history numbers exactly zero.
That last one is
simple. Witches are not real and never have been, but communism is real, and
during the Cold War, the fear that your neighbors, friends, and even family
members may be other than they appear was very real, too. Enter director Don
Siegel’s subversively allegoricalInvasion of the Body Snatchers. The belief that the enemy is everywhere is a trait of
paranoids such as Sen. McCarthy and the main character of this film, Dr. Miles Bennell, played by Kevin McCarthy, no relation to the infamous politician.
The last few days, we
have talked about body horror and deformity and just about everything that can
be done to harm the human vessel. While the aliens in this film literally take
over the bodies of humans, the distress they inspire is not so much physical as
mental and emotional. When we can no longer trust anyone, it violates a
fundamental belief in the communities we have built, the neighborhoods we
inhabit, and the families we love.
Except, in this case,
the paranoid are correct. The aliens are among us, but here is the flip: What
the occupying force in Invasion of the
Body Snatchers wants is to take over our planet and turn us all into pod
people, conformist clones who will do what they are bred to do. For once, the
still-human majority is on the side of dissent. The message is to fight conformity
and embrace individuality, the implication being that these are the things that
make us human. If that sounds like a radical idea today, imagine expressing
such a point of view in Cold War America.
The writer of the film,
Daniel Mainwaring, and its star both deniedInvasion
of the Body Snatchers was meant as anything but an entertaining thriller.
Siegel recognized the parallels that would be drawn and attempted to dial back
any political undertones. But sometimes the context of the times adds meaning
to art where the artist would prefer it left unexplored. Such are the perils of
releasing a complex film into complex times.
Tomorrow, we plow ahead into the final week of our project with
another movie that explores complex themes from a more modern perspective.