The 1950s were a strange time. Last night, I watched the original 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid. It is a really good film. I’d have to say that it is better than the excellent 1978 remake. But it could have just been my mood. The action sequences work so well, and the music is dynamite. But while I watched it, all I could think was, “This is an allegory for communist infiltration into America.”
Now I know: everyone wants to say that it is about McCarthyism. And the filmmakers didn’t think they were making any kind of political statement at all. But it was in the air, just as fluoride is in the water to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. What’s more, McCarthyism wasn’t about losing our identity in the public mind. In fact McCarthyism was not all that popular. But the belief that the Soviet Union turned people into automatons was so universal that people didn’t even think about it.
Body Snatchers Is About Communism
At the beginning of Body Snatchers, Miles (Kevin McCarthy) and his nurse come upon a boy running away from his mother. The family owns a produce stand that is now shut down. The mother (who has been taken over) says, “We gave the stand up. Too much work!” Miles thinks it is odd and reflects on the “littered, closed-up” stand that had recently been the “cleanest and busiest stand on the road.” The word “cleanest” is telling, because of America’s long obsession with physical and spiritual purity.
But the more concrete aspect of it is that everyone gives up their passion for work. They give up their passion for each other too. They are simply part of the collective and that is all that matters. Now I would say that this reflects on McCarthyism in the sense that reactionary movements are almost always mirror images of what they are against. I’ve marveled since I was a boy at how conservatives believe in certain rights as long as those rights are never used. So you have the “right” to denounce the NSA right up to the point where you do denounce the NSA. Lucky for us, the conservatives have not gotten their way on this issue (at least not directly).
Another “red scare” aspect of the film is the way that the pod people lack passion for anything except making more pod people. This was a common contradiction of the fear of communism: it turned everyone into brain-dead zombies, yet it was super clever when it came to disseminating propaganda and turning good Americans into fellow zombies.
The Faculty Is About Nothing
So watching Body Snatchers was a mixed bag. It is unquestionably a great film, but the politics of it bother me. So I followed it up with The Faculty. Now much of what I said about Body Snatchers can be said about The Faculty. For that matter, what is Body Snatchers other than a science fiction take on Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros? But the original Body Snatchers was made during the Red Scare, while McCarthyism was still going on. Even the remake was made while the Cold War was going strong. The Faculty was made in 1998 and it is post-ideological.
The Faculty is just silly fun. The film is just the good weirdos against the bad alien. It’s discussion of conformity is not political but cinematic. The monster is creating a collective because that’s what happened in Body Snatchers. It’s all just an excuse to entertain people who loved Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the remake of The Thing. But, as Aliya Whiteley noted at Den of Geek, it also has “a spoonful of The Breakfast Club.” I only disagree in that it would have to be an enormous spoon.
Body Snatchers is a great film. The Faculty isn’t; but it is the perfect film to to watch after Invasion of the Body Snatchers.