I warn you that what you’re starting to read is full of loose ends and unanswered questions. It will not be neatly tied up at the end, everything resolved and satisfactorily explained. Not by me it won’t, anyway. Because I can’t say I really know exactly what happened, or why, or just how it began, how it ended, or if it has ended; and I’ve been right in the thick of it.
The 1970s film The Invasion of the Body Snatchers was my introduction to the Body Snatcher stories.
Alien plant spores drift to earth and start to replicate, and replace, the (mostly human) life it encounters. Everything about the resulting “people” remains the same, apart from a lack of genuine emotion. The memories are retained, as are all physical features, so the invaders are unnoticed until it’s too late.
After seeing the 70s film, I found there had been an earlier version released around 20 years previously. The older version had been slightly sanitised, originally having a much darker conclusion. The changes made gave it a more hopeful conclusion, but in my opinion weakened the film. The 70s film addressed that weakness, and even contained a scene referencing the original conclusion of the earlier film.
(B & W still from 1950’s film. Colour still from 1970s)
I know of two other variations of the story on film to date.
While the 50s film was located in small town America, and the 70s film in San Francisco, the 1993 film Body Snatchers is mostly set around a US military base, while the The Invasion from 2007 is located in Washington DC.
The more recent of the films takes greater liberties with the story, and in my opinion is much weaker for doing so – with a very disappointing conclusion that takes the attempted hopeful ending of the 50s film into deeper saccharine sweetness territory.
The initial inspiration behind these films is the 1955 novel Body Snatchers by Jack Finney.
Finney’s story is followed quite faithfully through the early party of the original film version.
A small town doctor is contacted by his High School love interest when a friend starts to claim that her uncle is no longer her uncle.
This claim is only the first of many, as town’s people increasingly suffer from what is assumed to be a kind of collective delusion.
That assumption is overturned when a “body” is discovered in a friend’s home – a body that seems not to be fully featured, lacking finger prints and other indications of individual physical character. Then the body starts to accumulate detail when the friend falls asleep, somehow the “body” is starting to replicate the sleeping man, with the intended outcome of replacing him.
The assumed mass delusion is found to be something much more serious, with townsfolk literally being replaced by people who are no longer themselves: an uncle who is no longer the uncle, a wife who is no longer the wife her husband had known. What was a localised, puzzling psychological mystery is found to be a potential threat to life throughout the world.
Some media commentators have projected the political angst of various eras into the book and film versions of the stories. Originally written in the early cold war years, the threat of the time was a passionless red invasion of communist infiltrators, which along with the threat of nuclear annihilation, fuelled countless monster movies.
Maybe, ironically, the perceived threat could also be reversed with the affects of McCarthyism breeding suspicion, not only of “reds under the bed”, but of those in authority with the power to determine who was “red” and who was not.
It’s a scenario that can fit any perceived threat to the familiar, where society can seem to be moving towards apparently uncaring, unfeeling change – where a person no longer feels secure to be themselves, feeling under pressure to conform to a different, newly introduced societal paradigm.