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Invasion of the Body Snatchers

(1956 and 1978)

The Body Snatchers (a/k/a Invasion of the Body Snatchers) is a thought-provoking 1955 novel by Jack Finney, telling the story of a small-town doctor dealing with a pandemic. Unlike today's coronavirus (or maybe a little like it?), the symptoms are mental, not physical, as one by one, townsfolk become convinced that their loved ones aren't who they used to be. Something is not quite right with Uncle Ira.

The book is tense and terrifying; I've read it half a dozen times, and I'd suggest starting it in the morning hours — not near bedtime unless you want nightmares.

In 1956, it was made into an excellent low-budget film that, like the book, is still worthwhile more than sixty years later. You won't know any of the actors, unless you're an old movie aficionado like me. You might have heard of the director, Don Siegel, who later made Dirty Harry and Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of my favorite movies, and you can watch it here, for free. Sure, it's in black-and-white, the music is a bit overwrought, and the dialogue is occasionally corny, but give it a chance. Watch it on the biggest screen you have, with the lights down low, and without checking your email or playing video games. If you let the movie take you back to the 1950s, it'll scare the heck out of you. My favorite line: "Once you understand, you'll be grateful." Goose bumps, every time.

Hollywood remade Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1978, with Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, and Leonard Nimoy. This version was directed by Phillip Kaufman, who also made The Unbearable Lightness of Being and co-wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark. You can watch it here, for $2.99, but on my laptop the sound seemed oddly unbalanced. I've usually watched it on DVD.

I prefer the original version; there's something intrinsically more appealing to me, when it's low-budget with maximum script and minimal special effects. But the remake is excellent in its own right. Instead of the sleepy town of the book and original movie, this time everything happens in San Francisco, and the film is peppered with the kind of slightly-batty characters who inhabit the fringes of every city. I mean, of course Jeff Goldblum is a struggling poet who rents mud baths!

As a lifelong city dweller myself, the urban setting makes the story feel even more relevant. "You'll be born again into an untroubled world, free of anxiety, fear, hate." Doesn't that sound inviting?

Every few years, I watch both Invasions back-to-back, and it's a near-perfect double feature. It's science fiction, obviously, but it's also a political allegory that still rings true in 2020. 

 

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