Based on the novel The Body Snatchers and a remake of the 1956 film, director Philip Kaufman creates a successful rendition of the importance of individuality in his sci-fi horror Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, and Jeff Goldblum, this film brings back the horror of parasitic pods, sleep deprivation, and mass hysteria with a fresh location and memorable ending.
When a strange space flower hastily plants roots in the city of San Francisco, health inspector Matthew Bennell notices a rise in complaints that others’ friends and loved ones are no longer acting like themselves. Initially unconvinced, Bennell comes around when his coworker and friend, Elizabeth Driscoll (Adams), begins to spiral due to the strange nature of her once amiable husband. Seeking the help of psychiatrist Dr. Kibner (Leonard Nimoy) and Bennell’s friends Jack (Goldblum) and Nancy Bellicec (Veronica Cartwright), chaos ensues as they discover the flowers have grown into pods that prey on the sleeping, cloning humans into mindless versions of who they once were. Those able to stay awake must find a way to spread awareness before the pods hunt them down.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers sheds light on the horror of losing your identity and becoming just like everyone around you. It's a timeless story that blends sci-fi and politics as it depicts the true order that comes from falsified existence. The pods are soulless, emotionless robots with one mission: survival. Unable to thrive in space any longer, these pods have come down to Earth to snatch humans, clone them, and continue until no person is left alive. They have no feelings or notion of freedom, just obedience to the bigger picture.
The pods have a life without passion, pain, or anger — it’s one not unlike what people seek out today. Parallelling the regimentation of life, specifically within the military and prison, many people have lost their curiosity — taking life into their own hands and facing their own decisions. While the film does not quite provide an answer for this vegetative state that many people openly welcome, it brings attention to the growing problem.
As the original film came out in the ‘50s, it can be said that these films are like many others that attempted to covertly address the anti-communist paranoia that was rampant during the Red Scare. From the mass paranoia and witch hunt for individuals like Bennell who refuse to conform to the distrust of fascist police, many qualities of this film mirror the strains present in 1950s America. Just as is true for the Red Scare, there is hope for those defiant to mob hysteria and conformism. Bennell represents the enduring conflict between society and the individual, going to show how the villains may be from space or the other side of the world, but they can also be your neighbor or overbearing government. The film delivers a perennial message that Americans must fight against all forms of conformist policies, protecting civil liberties and individualism to avoid an “us versus them” battle.
This film is a rare example of a remake equaling, if not superseding, its original. Kaufman’s addition of updated visuals, increasingly interesting characters, and a larger span of destruction all help create a smartly executed reworking. The setting of the film has been amplified, no longer affecting the small, fictional town of Santa Mira, but now focusing on the pods' takeover of the greater San Francisco area.
The leads are upgraded from being the common local doctor to being public health workers. The relationship between Goldblum’s failed poet and Nimoy’s renowned yet deceiving psychiatrist is an added gem. The pods are beautifully illustrated as a creepy and fast-working parasitic plant, but the beginning five minutes are the most captivating of all. As we watch these foreign space plants rapidly spread through an eerie replica of spider webs, we receive our first look at just how quickly things can change.
These additions make for a beautifully crafted rendition without losing its focus and delivering a fantastically twisted ending to top it all off. With a stacked cast, entrancing visuals, and a gripping story, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a remake that is a debatably greater classic than the original. While not providing solutions to the growing issues of conformity, the film provides an important message on individuality that is digestible to all audiences and is a great watch overall.