THE INVASION

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I think it was bad reviews that dissuaded me from watching this film at the time of its release – this despite my sense that Oliver Hirschbiegel (DER UNTERGANG/DOWNFALL) is pretty much a genius.  I’m glad I didn’t listen to the reviewers this time!

Based on a 1955 novel by Jack Finney, INVASION is the fourth notable adaptation of the famous story about the Body Snatchers – aliens who attack people in REM sleep, transforming them into emotionless zombies.

INVASION works on so many levels, it’s a shame the snotty critics panned it as they did, back in 2007.

First of all, it’s about the only movie I ever saw (besides maybe EYES WIDE SHUT) in which Nicole Kidman is a good actress. This due to the fact that she’s in chase sequences where she has to stay calm so that the aliens (who have no emotions) wouldn’t recognize her. Now there’s nothing that Kidman does better than a wax museum face: this is because she can’t really act, she can only FROWN. Also, Nicole’s characters have to neurotic, as this is the best wy to disguise her  limited emotional range.

And then we have the more-than-inspired casting of Veronica Cartwright as dr. Kidman’s patient, plagued by a sadistic  husband. From her early appearance in Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS across her turn as Lambert in ALIEN, Cartwright’s always played these conventional women in emotional disarray. What the hysteria brings to the fore are the unconscious conflicts in the other characters (the arrival of the birds, the attack of the alien, etc). Veronica is thus one of those ”girl who cried wolf” faces you can never forget. She is cast ideally in THE INVASION as the Cassandra who will set dr. Kidman on the road to self-knowledge.

But on to sociological matters. One of the reasons I like Hirschbiegel is that he’s the type who will marry crass action sequences with philosophical debates. There are so many laborious scientific and philosophical explanations in the dialogue, you wonder how the movie was ever released to American audiences. The discussions vary from interesting to funny, but the common thread is that the aliens want to remove human emotions from society.

This is precisely the updating that the Body Snatchers story needed in the 00s. In the 1950s film, the aliens were a metaphor of anti-Communist paranoia. In Philip Kaufman’s 1970s update, they were the fear of technological bureaucratization. Then Abel Ferrara brilliantly turned them into the American militaristic complex, which was growing profusely in the 1990s.

In modern-day America, we have reached the apex of all these developments. The USA has become a melting pot of militancy, bureaucracy and paranoia that the three previous directors envisaged in their films.

But the agenda of the aliens, this time round, isn’t bad – they want to calm humanity down, creating a sedated socialism. Wars do not happen, everyone has enough to eat and all the public services run smoothly. The biggest problem of the alien society seems a creeping sense of boredom. Other than that, it is a much nicer world than Kidman’s world of ”emotional management” in the midst of uncontrollable, market-driven individualism.

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3 comments

  1. ktismatics · May 1, 2012

    First commenter! I get an eerie sense that this blog has itself been body-snatched. I’ve not seen the updated version, but here’s something I read on another blog — I wonder if you would agree:

    The apex of ALL these developments was reached in neoliberal capitalism. Socety has BECOME exactly the Hellhole combination of militancy, bureaucracy and paranoia that the three previous directors envisaged in their films… Kidman’s disgusting emotive-rational therapy is supposed to ”help” distressed women like Cartwright to ”manage” their ”marriages” (all the while, of course, Kidman retains her bourgeois privilege). She even gives her own child anti-psychotics to alleviate his Oedipal nightmares. She’s so completely in fucking control, readers, that you sense early on she may be more of an alien than the actual aliens trying to rob her of emotions.

    Being first commenter, I feel that I am entitled to a bit of self-indulgence. In one of my fictions I allude to the first Body Snatcher movie, which is the only one I’ve actually watched:

    …At first Ulrich had been energized by Debbie’s strange tales, but for awhile now he had found himself falling softly into a kind of verbal narcosis. He felt as if something he had been pushing against for a long time had finally given way. “Your husband was different after the closet,” Ulrich O’Connor said to Debbie, his enunciation slow and precise; she received his words not as a question to be answered but as the initial pronouncements of an oracle just getting warmed up. “Of course he looked the same,” Prop went on; “he acted the same, sounded the same, even smelled the same. He went to his job, cleared the table after dinner, fell asleep watching the ball game, everything just like always. Even so, you could tell he wasn’t the same. Maybe that’s how you knew, because after the closet something should have happened but it didn’t.”

    As a kid Ulrich had seen on late-night TV the movie where an entire town was taken over by aliens who had arrived from their insidious planet in the form of giant pods. Having assumed this weird and seemingly obvious disguise, the aliens somehow infiltrated people’s homes where, in the middle of the night, they would take over the bodies of their human hosts. Overnight whole grocery stores full of fifties housewives would be transformed from placid conservative suburbanites into even more placid and conservative versions of themselves. It was uncanny. Still, you knew from the beginning that, once the real humans caught on to the scheme and tried to put a stop to it, the aliens would fight back with a ruthlessness rendered all the more creepy by their hypertranquil demeanor. Zombies, vampires, communists – in other movies all of them tried to get away with variants on the pod people’s trick; always they were found out. Ulrich had come to suspect that there was something false about a genre where everybody in the audience gets the sense of being clued in to the conspiracy, of being fellow travelers with the heroic resistance. Recently he had watched many of these paranoiac conspiracy movies again, and he had begun to think that the shoe was really on the other foot, that maybe the whole purpose of the genre is to reassure the viewers that they haven’t already been taken over. Snap out of it, he chided himself.

    “Tell me about the stain in the carpet, Debbie.” As he spoke these words Ulrich could almost feel the shudder climb up her back, into her shoulders, through her neck, and out through the hairs on her head…

  2. nikolicdejan · May 2, 2012

    Recently he had watched many of these paranoiac conspiracy movies again, and he had begun to think that the shoe was really on the other foot, that maybe the whole purpose of the genre is to reassure the viewers that they haven’t already been taken over. Snap out of it, he chided himself.

    Yes, I think this film (and the others of its kind) work by teasing the viewer’s fears of becoming a zombie himself, or perhaps better to say the universal fear of going insane.

    As for your story, the possibility that it opens is that the hero realizes the world around him is turning into an alien, just like in the movies. (This is basically the postmodern set-up of Stephen King and John Carpenter’s tales, like the Cigarette Burns.) But then the really interesting twist is when the hero figures out that he is immune, and then has to build his place in the new society. Is he going to become a new revolutionary – or is he going to adapt. The story has something simultaneously horrific and mournful about it, like Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND.

  3. ktismatics · May 2, 2012

    “the hero realizes the world around him is turning into an alien, just like in the movies”

    Right, it’s a sort of haunted house story, with the hero gradually catching on: it’s not me but the world that’s got a problem. But I have also a nostalgic memory about Body Snatchers: When our daughter was young I would ride bicycles with her to her school. Some of the kids would be carrying their band instruments to school; we pretended that the trombone cases were pods and that the trombonists were pod people.

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