A part of me believes it might be more than a coincidence that I decided to write about the original and remake of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ with this week being an election week. However, similar to Don Siegel’s denial that his original 1956 film was an overtly political response to McCarthyism, I certainly don’t intend for today’s Throwback Thursday (a column that looks at sci fi classics) to be interpreted as a tirade against any type of conformity our society may exhibit during an election.
Many people find ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ to be immensely disturbing. Both movies capitalize on one of our biggest irrational phobias: that the people we love and trust aren’t who they really are. We’ve all had those days where we wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Everything feels like a dream, and seeing anyone slightly deviate from their normal pattern of behavior sends us into a paranoid tailspin. Some people attribute this to not having their morning cup of coffee yet. Others are able to brush off this fleeting thought of pod people being a reality and accept that they’re just having an off day. However, watching either version of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ certainly makes you question these unfounded observations.
The original ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ stars Kevin McCarthy as Dr. Miles Bennell. Bennell starts noticing that many of his patients are complaining that their loved ones aren’t themselves. While the town psychiatrist attributes this to mass hysteria, once Bennell discovers the bodies of townspeople growing out of pods, he quickly realizes that everyone around him is overtaken by aliens and completely devoid of emotions and any sense of individuality.
The remake of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ was released in 1978 and directed by Philip Kaufman (‘The Right Stuff’). Donald Sutherland stars as Matthew Bennell, a San Francisco health inspector with seemingly no relation to Miles Bennell from the original. Oddly enough, McCarthy does make a cameo as a man shouting “They’re here!”, so it certainly makes you wonder if that was indeed Miles Bennell continuing a 22-year quest to warn others about the existence of pod people. Sutherland’s Bennell follows a similar trajectory to the Bennell from the original, desperately trying to avoid being replaced. The remake is just as thrilling as the original with more visual scares and, of course, more Jeff Goldblum.
I think both versions of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ are important viewing, not just for science fiction fans. They make you question your own fears of conformity as it relates to your own experience, and, ultimately, reminds you to appreciate that which makes us human.