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Invasion of the Body Snatchers

After screening the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I walked away with a sense of ambivalence about the debate that has centered around this film- was it a paranoid film about communist infiltration or a critique of American paranoia and conformity? As Professor Herzog aptly pointed out, a strong case could be made for either argument. The DVD commentary provided by the actor Kevin McCarthy states that there was no political ideology being represented in the film. An argument could be made that we often impose meaning on art which is not intended to be there. However, I would go a step further in hypothesizing that often art reflects on the conditions present within society without necessarily intending to do so and that there is a sort of subconscious drive that motivates and shapes the process of the creation of art. Taking this into consideration, I believe the film, intentionally or not, depicts the crisis of conformist, suburban America rather than a commentary on the thread of the spread of communism.

Invasion Promo

From the film’s inception, we are presented with images of suburban America and the people who inhabit small towns. Individuals begin to observe that people are not quite acting like themselves. Due to the fact that this threat is experienced on American soil, and people begin to turn on each other as their bodies are snatched, I would say this serves more as a comment on the nature of McCarthyism and the cultural war fought at home, which forced friends to turn on each other or face the consequences. Also, when considering the film’s initial intended ending, I would argue that this further enforces the notion of suburbia as a place where conformist nightmares take hold. If it had been a film reflecting the nature of communism, the directors would have intuitively placed the hero as the victor. However, it was the studio which forced them to tack on this ending, perhaps as an intuitive reaction to the themes the movie may have been interpreted to represent. By placing Dr. Bennell in a more hopeful position at the movie’s end, it becomes more synonymous with the struggle against communism with America emerging as the victor. However, as I stated earlier, this hopeful ending was not the director’s initial intention.

The silent issue of American conformity, as opposed to the more blatant and obvious enemy presented by communism, seems more in line with the quiet infiltration of the suburbanites by the “pod” people in the film, and the spread of “epidemic mass hysteria” is also more in line with the anti-communist sentiments that swept across the American landscape in such massive proportions. People with communist leanings were in the minority; the majority were either anti-communist or pretending to be, much like  Dr. Bennell and Becky do toward the end of the film when they pretend to be pod-people to get through the crowd of body snatchers. The threat, though appearing as something from outer space, is an unknown enemy, not easily identifiable, as the communists were. All of these factors seem more synonymous with a subconscious reflection of McCarthyism, which had a very large effect on Hollywood and most likely was on the minds of people within the industry.

~ by Jamie Parganos on April 7, 2010.

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