Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) - Film Review
The end of World War II had left America in a decidedly unfamiliar world in which it was only one of two economic and military superpowers. The development of the atomic bomb by U.S. scientists in 1945, and the Soviet atomic weaponry of 1949, sparked the beginning of a new American culture filled with “drop and cover” drills, invaders from outer space, and subsequently, something it had never felt so strongly before, domestic fear. The 1950’s was a new era dominated by the Cold War in which America supported the free world in conflict with the communist world led by the Soviet Union. This consistent worry over an impending doom created surreal paranoia in the minds of Americans. As a result, political powers such as Senator Joseph McCarthy were able to lead extensive interviews to find communist spies in our own lands amongst our own citizens with outrageous leniency from the government to conduct their affairs as they saw fit. Americans were forced to suspect their neighbors, their own family members of communism. This fear gave rise to the popularity of science fiction in the 1950‘s, as the “invading alien monsters” were symbolic of Soviet Russia. Perhaps no other film could deliver with such subtlety and precision its anti-communistic stance as that of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). The film follows Dr. Miles Bennell who upon returning from a doctor’s convention discovers patients accusing mothers, uncles, and even spouses of being impostors. Upon his inspection, the accused look, act, and are who they claim to be, down to recognition and memories. Reason would led anyone to believe these people are who they say they are, yet the accusers remain adamant that something is different, something that can’t be seen but is felt. These impostors show no emotion, or at least, not at great length. One accuser states, “there's no emotion. None. Just the pretense of it. The words, the gesture, the tone of voice, everything else is the same, but not the feeling.” These newly formed individuals represent the dehumanization of individuals either from communism or from the Cold War mentality.
They are Pod people, created by alien “seeds drifting through space for years,” and they are slowly taking over the town. These seeds can be interpreted as the representation of the communist ideals in the minds of Americans. Starting by taking over a few loved ones but then gradual taking over the whole town. The goal of the Pod people remains ambiguous other than to “take over” and the audience is left to speculate as to their master plan. In its cultural contexts, audiences in the 1950s would have speculated on either the communist principle or the radical rebellious changes in its youth that would become evident and symbolic of the 1960s. Another interpretation could see the Pod People themselves as products of McCarthyism, becoming mindless, soulless stock abiding by the will of Joseph McCarthy because of the second Red Scare of the 1950s. Dr. Mills states, “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 film, the phones, police, even doctors cannot be trusted. This adds to the sense of paranoia resonating with the audience’s hopelessness. The town’s psychiatrist defines it in the film as “epidemic mass hysteria,” caused by “worry about what’s going on in the world probably.” Whatever the interpretation, wrapped up in the horror of Invasion of the Body Snatchers were American fears of invasion, communism, science, McCarthyism, and Nuclear War of the 1950s.