INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS
 
                                          "On that green evening when our death begins." 
                                                                                      Philip Larkin

                                                               
a commentary by Tony McRae


Caveat:  The following piece reflects my ideas about Don Siegel's original movie which does not contain a prologue and epilogue nor a voice-over narration.  These were added later by Republic Pictures in order to soften the picture's impact which was deemed too pessimistic at the time.  Unfortunately Siegel's original 76 minute film without the add-ons is not currently available.  Are you listening, Criterion?

When Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) returns to town from a conference, his nurse tells him something is awry, but she can't quite put her finger on it.  Everything seems pretty normal, but some people just don't seem to be themselves.  Like Uncle Ira whose niece is convinced he's not her uncle.  " There's no emotion, no feeling," she tells Dr. Bennell.  The good doctor suggests she get help.  When Miles asks his psychiatrist friend what he makes of a number of residents who don't seem quite the same, he opines that it could be  "an epidemic of mass hysteria."

Then there's Miles' good friend Jack Belicec who discovers a body stretched out on his billiard table, a body that looks strangely like Jack, though not fully formed (1).  Not yet (2).  Miles soon discovers that large pods each containing an entity of some kind are being transported into Santa Mira.  These pods will grow and eventually produce exact replicas of the Santa Mira residents.  These creatures will then interact with non-pods without being detected, gaining people's confidence and then substituting a pod person for each human, until Santa Mira is completely taken over, all its residents turned into emotionless creatures.  In Jack's hothouse Miles discovers his own replica--which he destroys--and Becky's (3) which he doesn't have the heart to destroy.

We do not know why the pod people (the body snatchers) have come to somnambulant Santa Mira, California, nor are we told their ultimate goal.  

In the movie's early stages we're not certain if an individual is a replica or not, but we do sense that the pods are increasing as humans decrease.  We're pretty sure, for instance, that Uncle Ira is indeed not Uncle Ira, and since his niece express her concerns, she's probably still human.  But as the story progresses, we begin to question everyone.  Eventually we get to the point that Miles Bennell and Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) are the only two humans left in Santa Mira.  

Throughout the story the outward appearance of Santa Mira remains the same.  Initially Miles follows his daily routine, greets the same friends, sees the same patients, but as his suspicions grow his uneasiness increases. When Becky later asks him where "they" are coming from, he speculates about "a weird alien organism" or "a mutation of some kind."  

Miles goes to his nurse Sally's house.  But he's become cautious; he sneaks around the house and peers into a window (4). Sally, along with Becky's father and Uncle Ira's niece, are seated sedately.  Their manner suggests they have been replaced.  Becky's father enters the room carrying a pod which contains the replacement of Sally's child.  "There'll be no more tears," Sally says as she takes the pod to place it in her daughter's room.  And she's right.  No more tears, no disease, no suffering, perhaps not even death.  

Finally Miles and Becky are the only humans left in Santa Mira. They watch the townspeople/aliens go about their business (5), outwardly the same but clearly their demeanor is somnambulistic.  Clearly they are rigidly orchestrated, disciplined to replicate humans mannerisms.  These aliens are efficient machines, their primary purpose to distribute pods to the neighboring towns (6) and accumulate all other humans.  There is no question of morality or immorality.  When Becky tries to figure out why this is happening, Miles tells her that "in my practice I've seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away...they didn't seem to mind...we harden our hearts."

There's been much talk about Don Siegel's intent in making this film.  Was it an attack on Communism or on Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his attempted purge of communists in the U.S. Army?  I believe "Body Snatchers" goes beyond these topical issues and addresses the issues of normalcy and conformism, and questions of power.  In "Discipline and Punish," Michel Foucault writes about the rise of the prisons and their function as "panoptic machines," all seeing entities which register everything while remaining undetectable.  This seems a pretty good description of the pod people who, once fully formed are able to move about, interact, observe.  The division of the normal and abnormal in Santa Mira gradually disappears until the humans, Miles and Becky, are the abnormals.  When Miles and Becky are confronted by Jack and Danny (7), Miles' psychiatrist friend, in Miles' office, they are treated as pitiable humans who can't comprehend the beauty of this new state.  Danny says, "Miles, you and I are scientific men who can understand the wonder of what's happened.  Less than a week ago Santa Mira was like any other town.  People with nothing but problems.  Then out of the sky came a solution."  When Miles tells them he loves Becky, Danny smiles and says there's no need for love.  "You've been in love before," Danny says.  "It didn't last.  It never does.  Love, desire, ambition, faith.  Without them life's so simple, believe me."  Humans like Miles and Becky may consider this punishment of a sort, but god-like aliens who impose their will on everyone, good, bad, rich or poor, will see to it that all are born into an untroubled peaceful world where everyone is the same.

The drama of individual life is gone but at least everything and everyone is saved from trouble.  Harold Bloom's "horror of finding oneself to be only a copy or replica" is turned on its head, because horror, like all feeling, is a thing of the past in the new Santa Mira.  

Miles loses Becky when she falls asleep and awakens as a replica (8).  Now he is truly alone.  He runs to the freeway on the other side of the mountain and shouts at the passing cars and trucks.  The drivers think he's either a drunk or a madman.  His plea in this last sequence (Siegel's last scene) is the cry, "They're coming!  You're next!" (9)  But to no avail.  No one listens to the rant of a maniac.   
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