Term Paper: Siegel's 1956 Film Version

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[. . .] Similarly, a shot of the public square helps to illustrate the creeping of the nightmare into the world of light and rationality. The shot shows a wide angle of the public square that is taken through an office window, and shows the square almost in its entirety. All appears normal as people go about their everyday business, until visitors are cleared and the square becomes eerily quiet, and then mechanistic and ordered as the pod people use the square as a distribution point for delivering pods all over the country. Symbolically, here the nightmare invades much more than an individual reality; it becomes a public and nationwide menace that suddenly threatens all of humanity.

Siegel allows no one to be spared the insidious, creeping infringement on reality. He shows a shot of eavesdropping on a seemingly happy young married couple with a baby reveals the terror underneath the facade of normalcy. On the surface, the parents seem to be discussing the baby's welfare, by asking quietly if the child has fallen asleep. The horror of the reality appears in the veiled answer that she will be asleep soon, and that there "will be no more tears." What once would have been an innocuous, normal conversation has been turned by circumstance into a horrific discussion about the transformation of an innocent life by evil. Siegel's decision to show this scene through eavesdropping only heightens the horror, as the viewer realized that they are hearing something not designed to terrify or disturb. Instead, they are simply hearing the how the nightmarish world had become the new reality.

Even more techniques contrast sharply with the realist techniques used earlier in the film's rational, daylight moments. Earlier in the movie, McCarthy and Wynter are shown in straight-on shots that highlight the realism and logic of the moment. At the end of the movie, Wynter pulls McCarthy close to him for a slow kiss, a moment of sanity and connection and normalcy in the nightmarish world of the invasion. As Siegel's camera pulls slowly into a disturbingly close shot of McCarthy's face, her black, expressionless eyes reveal that she has been taken over by the invaders.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is really a movie about the darkness that hides just under the surface of a seemingly innocuous ideal of what is normal and desirable. As the movie progresses, the idyllic small-town life of Santa Mira is shattered by the horror and evil that hide just under its surface. Even more disturbing is the ease with which this evil invades their lives - it is almost as if the evil and nightmare are the true reality, while the appearance of normalcy is the illusion.

In the movie, the figures that fight the aliens seem to be fighting to restore morality and individuality as much as they are fighting against the alien invasion. They are fighting a nameless, faceless threat against their humanity. Wynter notes of their humanity, "In my practice, I've seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away. Only it happened slowly instead of all at once. They didn't seem to mind...All of us - a little bit - we harden our hearts, grow callous. Only when we have to fight to stay human do we realize how precious it is to us, how dear."

In the movie, the clearly overt threat to humanity is the invasion of the body snatchers, who replace emotional, flawed humans with their emotionless, unfeeling counterparts. It is interesting that in the movie, it is the rational, less emotional context of daytime that is depicted as normal and therefore shown in the tradition of realistic techniques. In contrast, the horribly emotional, messy, nightmarish world of the nighttime is shown in techniques that are in dramatic contrast to the realism of the daytime sequences. It is almost as if director Siegel wants the viewer to see that the daytime world of rationality and logic is simply a thin veneer over an emotional, messy core that is symbolized by a nighttime world of shadows. Ultimately, it may be this night time world of suppressed emotion and uncontrolled thought that defines our true humanity.

It is telling that the pod people take over the humans as they sleep, when the humans are at their most vulnerable. In their dreams and nightmares, people can be argued to be at their most humane and emotional, without the cover of their cold, rational selves to explain away their desires and emotions. In stripping away humanity in their unconscious state, the aliens reveal when humans are at their most deeply human - when they are most at touch with their emotions and desires. It is in this sometimes nightmarish world of shadow that humanity is the most vulnerable.

Ironically, Siegel seems to argue that it is the nightmarish world of shadow and darkness that houses what is the most valuable and true to human nature. He uses realistic techniques like eye-level shots and undistorted angles to showcase the waking, logical world that is paradoxically more devoid of true humanity than the nightmarish world that he depicts with distorted shots and odd camera angles. In the daytime, all appears rational and normal, and the characters can explain away their loss of humanity with relative ease. At night, in the time of shadow and distortion, humanity is revealed at its messiest and most emotional, and horror cannot be explained away by logic.

It is only as this humanity is threatened by the alien invasion that the distortions of the nighttime begin to paradoxically appear in the daytime as well. As the very basis of humanity is threatened, and emotion and love are replaced by logic and a lack of emotion, that the main characters bring their need for emotion and true humanity into the light of day. It is as their true humanity is threatened that the characters allow their emotion and subconscious fears and desires to be seen in the daytime. Here, realistic techniques previously used in the daytime are replaced by bizarre camera angles, and disturbing close-ups, revealing the emotional and unconscious self in what used to be the realm of logic.

In Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the darker side of human behavior is not seen through spectacular violence, brutal aggression or sexual deviance that often characterized aliens in other movies of the science fiction genre. Unlike movies like Alien, Men in Black, or even Independence Day, no deaths or violence are clearly shown in the movie. The aliens in Invasion of the Body Snatchers are sub-human in their lack of emotion and feeling, rather than in the excessive violence and aggression displayed by aliens in many other science fiction movies. The darker side of human behavior is seen in the slow, insidious loss of humanity that is characterized by a growing coldness, and lack of empathy and feeling. Here, the alien threat simply represents the darker side of human nature that is characterized by a loss of humanity and empathy.

According to the ever-evolving standards of spectacular special effects seen in recent science fiction movies, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers employs little in the way of special effects. Movies like Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, and even the gentler Contact and the Cocoon have showcased more visually appealing depictions of aliens. In these movies the aliens were sometimes beautiful and benevolent, and sometimes nightmarish and horrific, but they were almost always visually interesting. In The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the aliens are largely seen in their innocuous human form or as unmoving pods. One scene in a greenhouse shows pods 'erupting' and spewing a sticky sap about, but this is the most exiting and visually appealing depiction of the aliens seen in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Instead, the horror that the viewer feels in watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers comes from the loss of humanity depicted in the film, rather than in any outward appearance of the aliens. It is the loss of emotion, love and individuality that is the basis of true horror, rather than in any aggressive, brutal action of the aliens, or even a fear of the horrific appearance of the aliens.

As the town doctor, Miles Bennell represents the logic and rationality of a small town. He is one of the most respected members of the community, and it is to him that the community turns when the alien invasion is first felt. Instead of listening to their seemingly irrational fears, he explains away the inexplicable with rational and logical explanations of mass hallucinations. The psychiatrist is an important partner in the explaining away of the irrational, and his input helps the doctor to put to rest any lingering doubts about the odd occurrences. In a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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