Invasion of the Body Snatchers Revisited
I just completed an Invasion of the Body Snatchers marathon. I watched both movies, the original 1956 version starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, and the more recent 1978 version starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Veronica Cartwright, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy. Then I read Jack Finney’s book The Body Snatchers written in 1956—the inspiration for both films.
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Once again I am fascinated with how accurate, relating to our current affairs, some of these older “creative ideas” were. Obviously 1984 nails it, and I have written about C.S. Lewis’ insights. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a bit subtler, but really presents some chilling analogies to what is happening in the world today.
The book and the 1956 movie focus more on these philosophical metaphors. The 1978 movie is fun (in its “70s” campy ways) but it focuses more on “horror” than the deeper revulsion attributed to the end of humanity through the loss of being “human.” That is what is so stunning about the book and the ’56 movie. The book was written the same year the movie came out. We can safely say that the ‘50s began the hallmark era when the world became acutely aware of the encroaching tidal wave of technology.
Although most obvious technological advancement in the ‘50s had been in the works for quite some time in the preceding decades, the general masses really didn’t become aware of it all until the ‘50s. This was the decade directly after the atomic bomb blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended the war with Imperial Japan. It is the time that television broadcasting was changing the world in a big way, the proliferation of transistor technology which made most technological wonders quite a bit smaller, our venture into space began around this time, and of course the word “computer” was making its way into the commoner’s lexicon.
The book is probably the place to start if you, dear reader, are interested in delving into this bit of iconic literature. As I said, if you only have time for one movie, check out the 1956 version. It falls short of the book (as most movie versions do) but it has a few gems in the script that aren’t even in the book. I’ll end this article with one of them.
If you are not familiar with the story, here is the gist of it:
The book, and the ’56 movie version, follow a small town doctor, Miles Bennell, and his “new found girlfriend” Becky Driscoll (he knew her in high school before both experienced failed marriages). Bennell is a bit of a hound dog with Becky, but it turns out that is an important element of the story. The good doctor has a few patients who come into his “country” practice complaining of a strange “feeling” they have about a particular loved one. In one case it is the patient’s uncle—he just isn’t himself. In another case it is a little boy who refuses to go home because he doesn’t think his mother is really his mother.
Bennell is curious about all this but doesn’t really take it seriously. He consults with a colleague and friend psychiatrist, who assures him it is just some psychological glitch (a favorite diagnosis from psychiatrists—is there a pill for that?) Soon this strange phenomenon reaches epic proportions and nearly every other person in the town is afflicted. Another curious thing that the good doctor notices is that after a bit of time the first ones to complain totally recant and calm down—all is fine once again.
It is eventually figured out that there are strange, giant, seedpods milling about where people have suddenly gone “brain dead” (which is what makes them unfamiliar to their loved ones). And thus the game is afoot. Miles and Becky, and another couple who are friends, try to do something about it all, first calling the police, then the FBI, then the military—all to no avail.
It is important to mention that when someone is “snatched” they don’t change all that radically. In fact, to someone who isn’t close (such as a romantic partner or family member) no change at all is detected. There is an early scene in the movie where Becky and Miles approach the uncle who has supposedly “changed.” He seems perfectly fine. It is interesting to me how in the movie the director gave no hint at all this person was weird. No typical (as in the 50’s sci-fi/horror genre) strange eye glance, or spooky music cue (bring out the theremin) confirming to the audience that the person is indeed possessed by some evil power. This is obviously to show that when a person loses their “humanness” it may be difficult for the average person to even notice. That this “change” is not so much a material change, but a “feeling”—a “soul change.”
I may have gotten ahead of myself here in explanation. Let me fill in the gaps. The strange seed pods that Miles and Becky discover are responsible for the changes in people they observe. It is explained, bit by bit as the book and movie progress, that an alien presence has descended on earth from a distant galaxy, apparently floating through vast expanses of space much like a seedling caught in a summer breeze. The book further explains that eventually these pods will infect the entire universe, and they will ultimately destroy any life on any planet they find.
Although left rather confusing, the mechanism of these pods is to take over the bodies of humans the pods are in close proximity to. And thereupon replaces them, flesh, blood and mind. The old body simply withers away into dust. The new body emerges out of the pod, like a literal birthing, and continues the life that was started as a living human being. It seems odd that Finney (the author of the original story) would choose such an awkward process. It seems it would have been easier to just have the pods alter the minds of the individuals, rather than insist their entire physical body is replaced, as in a rebirth. The plausibility of this process, as it is presented in the book and the first film, is rather dubious. The second film makes a go at explaining this a bit better, but then the labored explanation causes the narrative to lose its original flexibility in making its point.
I think Finney was making an important statement here, and that is why he stuck with the very physical replacement as a rebirth, flesh and blood, through the pod. Finney wanted to be certain the soul, or human-ness, of a human being was directly related to their physical body. He was foreshadowing the ungodliness of transhumanism. I believe the pods from “outer space” were metaphors for human technology. It is interesting he chose a plant form for this, and even the “alien invasion” concept seems a poor choice, so maybe he wasn’t even consciously aware of his latent comment on transhumanism. Or, probably more likely, I personally have not figured out what Finney was up to. Any thoughts?
The author makes several revealing comments in his narrative. One that I particularly liked was his observation of the old time country doctor who made house calls as a general part of his practice. He even mentions rotary phones as an example of technology run amok.
A memorable quote from the book:
But now we have dial phones, marvellously efficient, saving you a full second or more every time you call, inhumanly perfect, and utterly brainless; and none of them will ever remember where the doctor is at night, when a child is sick and needs him. Sometimes I think we’re refining all humanity out of our lives.
I love it. Too long ago to remember the slow loss of humanity in such a minor technological advance, and one that of course was so welcomed, unless you were a telephone operator. I am old enough, and lived in a small enough town growing up, that I experienced having to talk to an operator every time I made a phone call. We even had a “party line” at one point. I remember my sister and I having such fun trying to get a song request into the local AM radio station (The Royal Guardsmen’s Snoopy vs The Red Baron if my memory serves me). The number was endlessly busy. We personally knew the operator on duty that night, and she said she would try the number over and over, as only she could do, and ring us up when there was an answer. We were delighted.
Anyhow, Miles and Becky try with all their might to avoid being snatched by the pods. The townsfolk, including most of their friends, had succumbed (the psychiatrist was one of the first to get nabbed, and he of course deceived our heroes for quite some time after he was snatched). Falling asleep is what did them in, which has a striking correlation with today’s situation. Stay awake, don’t succumb to blindness, or else you will lose your soul.
They also try their hardest to convince other people that what they were experiencing was true. This also correlates to today. Each person they approached simply could not venture out of their limited sphere of belief. And as more and more of these people had become pod people, it was impossible to convince anyone that the world was being taken over and that humanity itself was threatened. It had become a closed system.
“It takes a long time,” Jack agreed. “Hundreds of years to accept the fact that the world is round. A century resisting the knowledge that the earth revolves around the sun. We hate facing new facts or evidence, because we might have to revise our conceptions of what’s possible, and that’s always uncomfortable.”
(Apologies to those readers who indeed believe the Earth is flat. Save that argument for another day.)
In the book both Becky and Miles tirelessly attempt to fight the “invasion.” In the beginning they realize how subtly things were changing in their once familiar little town of Mill Valley, and how the people they once called friends were no longer friends, no longer even the humans they had once known.
In Miles’ words:
Now they were menacing, all these familiar things and faces; the town had changed or was changing into something very terrible, and was after me. It wanted me, too, and I knew it.
(In the paraphrased words of New Zealand’s soon to be Prime Minister, “We will chase you down and force the vaccine into you if you continue to resist.”)
The book ends rather differently than both movies. The ’56 film presented some sort of “possible” hope in its ending. The ’78 film instilled the opposite, it ended with a clear “we are all doomed, expect to experience the horror of being a pod person” (which is rather ironic because one of the points the already snatched bodies kept pushing on the pod candidates, was how wonderful and peaceful it was to feel no emotions, no conflicts, no sadness, no anger, no fear, no human-ness.) The book had a more chilling ending. Its ending implies hopelessness. Both Miles and Becky finally have to sleep and thus they succumb to the horror of pod-dom. They are taken. The world was slowly dying, and there was nothing to be done about it.
There are so many gems to be found in this book and these movies. The book emphasizes the number of times Miles, Becky and their two “awake” friends try to escape Mill Valley, only to decide to come back and try to “live with it.” This also correlates to what we are experiencing in our own current pod-world. When things seem to ease up, we say to ourselves, “I think I can make a go of this, I am so anxious to live a normal life, it seems normal enough to give it a try…”
Miles says over and over again that if you take away a person’s ability to love and to be passionate, you take away the essence of being a human being. If the ability to love, and the need to be close, and affectionate, and physically connected to fellow human beings is ignored or taken away, then you lose all ambition, all passion, and all motivation (think “social distancing” and “masking”). His love for Becky is underscored throughout the book and the ’56 film. It is integral to the story. In the first film, Becky “falls asleep” first. And Miles can see this change in her eyes. He has lost her. It is one of the most chilling moments in the film.
I will end with this quote from the ’56 film, which sums it all up pretty well. Are we currently living the invasion of the body snatchers? Which should possibly carry the more apt, Invasion of the Body, Heart, and Soul Snatchers as a title.
Miles says this to Becky right before they attempt to escape their captors toward the end of the film.
We can't close our eyes all night. We may wake up changed...into something evil and inhuman.
In my practice, I've seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away. Only, it happens slowly instead of all at once.
They didn't seem to mind. But just some people. All of us--a little bit. We harden our hearts and grow callous.
Only when we have to fight to stay human...do we realize how precious it is to us...how dear...
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The much maligned investigative journalist, Jon Rappoport, described the non-curious public as the ‘pod people.’ Thus your excellent article reminded me of him. He was one of the first to spot the covid con having thoroughly investigated the AIDS con decades before and was, therefore, familiar with the deployment of tricks and callousness. I offer below his latest blog which, I’m sad to say, is even more depressing than usual but, regrettably, probably accurate. However, we must be aware in order to take evasive action! (P.S. I remember the Leonard Nimoy film – it frightened the life out of me!)
"I prefer the company of peasants because they have not been educated sufficiently to reason incorrectly." - Michel de Montaigne
"I quote others only in order the better to express myself." - Michel de Montaigne
Todd, I love your book reviews. I just bought Player Piano (I am a huge Vonnegut fan) and I will definitely buy Invasion. It describes most of the people I know who took the poison death jab.