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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Allegory, Symbolism, and Metaphor in Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Alien seed pods have taken root in lovely Santa Mira, California, the fictional suburban paradise that is the setting for Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Dr. Miles Bennell has just returned to town, and is surprised to find his patients suffering from a hysteria that leads them to believe that their close family has been replaced by something. He later finds out that they weren't hysterical at all, and there is not "a human being left in Santa Mira." There are many theories about what the pod people symbolize, but whatever your specific idea might be, it is clear that Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an allegory for the homogenization of American society. There are several incidents that would suggest that this dehumanizing homogeny is an allegory for the threat world domination by communism.

Immediately upon entering town Dr. Bennell nearly runs over Jimmy Grimaldi, who is running in terror from his mother. Screeching to a halt Miles jumps out to question Mrs. Grimaldi. She claims that Jimmy doesn't want to go to school. Also of interest is the Grimaldi vegetable stand that in less than a month has fallen into disarray. He asked if her husband was sick and she replied, "We gave the stand up; too much work." Those who criticize communism believe that this is a natural consequence. If citizens can not have the fruits (vegetables) of your labor, then why would people even bother working?

Later we find out that their labors have been redirected toward growing alien pods to distribute throughout Southern California. Any ambition they had to keep their road side stand open had been redirected to supporting the global domination of the pod people, or state. This seems to be the case with most of the citizens because later that night when Miles goes to a club with his girl Becky they find it deserted and devoid of music. It is just a well because they are quickly pulled away by an urgent telephone call from Jack, a writer. We find out that Jack has a "blank" corpse lying on his pool table. This is our first encounter with a preformed duplicate, and it is interesting that it is an artist that is being taken over. Toward the end of the movie our protagonist are briefly encourage by the faint sounds of an opera singer. They are certain that it means that there are still others like them. Of course, if we are taking from each according to his ability and giving to each according to his need, then the arts would seem to be superfluous since it does nothing to enhance the wealth of the state (increase the production of pods)

Production began when "a seed took root in a farmer's field."  This image drawn by the town psychiatrist brings to mind soviet propaganda promoting communal farms. And just like those farms a little coercion was required to get everyone go along with the program.
"We like farming. Yes we do. We like farming, how 'bout you?"

He goes on to say that the pods have eliminated "desire, ambition, and faith." Both ambition and faith are the traditional victims of communism, and it is unlikely that out of all the qualities the writers could have chosen, that these two made the list accidentally. Karl Marx referred religion as the "opiate of the masses," but later adherents to communism instituted state atheism. The Agrarian Reform Law enacted in 1945 in Albania banned the practice of religion. A year later all Roman Catholic clergy were forcibly removed from the country.

Whether the filmmakers intended to or not, the political climate of the Red Scare and McCarthyism was bound to seep into the production of this film. They have gone on record to say they were just commenting on the blandness and homogeneity of Americans, but in the rhetorically charged atmosphere of the 1950s viewers were bound to see this film as an allegory for current events. However, the film still resonates today because we must always safe guard our individual freedoms. The attacks on 9/11 rekindle the debate over the balance of freedom and safety, and without constant vigilance "you're next, you're next, you're next."

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