‘The Body Snatchers’, and ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’

The basic concept of The Body Snatchers has always fascinated me — alien facsimiles of humans that look and act like people, but aren’t human.

The idea of human copies not behaving in character to the original that they were cloned from, often lacking empathy and emotion, is a common science fiction trope. In The Thing an alien life-form mutates from one species to another, slowly learning how to successfully replicate itself. The human clone who isn’t like you and me has echoes of the enemy within and thought reform. It’s a metaphor for brainwashing, social peer pressure and the loss of individuality.

The human clones are unable to feel human emotion, rendering them into terrifying monsters. Unlike Frankenstein’s monster (who does feel emotional pain), these monsters believe that feelings are a human limitation.

Jack Finney’s 1955 novel, The Body Snatchers, is set in a real American town and it’s written in the first person. The story happens through the eyes and experience of the protagonist. There’s a slightly gothic tone to the narrator’s voice. The 1956 adaptation, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, feels like a metaphor for Communism and Cold War paranoia. The 1978 adaptation is more science fiction horror addressing issues around the creepiness of social conformity and retaining independent thought, but it can also be interpreted within a domestic US political context. It’s also a great example of a film with a shock ending.

Science fiction stories that feature aliens mimicking humans, virtual worlds, or stories that incorporate synthetic human-like characters, provoke audiences to ask, what does it mean to be human? They also present us with the fear of losing our humanity, and they pose questions about authenticity — real versus simulation. What is real?

The body snatcher stories are sometimes referred to as ‘paranoid conspiracy’ stories. They express powerful fears and anxieties about the uncanny, reality and illusion. They are also classic mystery stories, where the protagonist must uncover the truth. In the case of the 1978 film, the ‘pod people’ are metaphors for social programming and a widespread fear in the US of government duplicity in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

The Body Snatchers (novel, 1955): Interesting.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (film, 1956): Interesting.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (film, 1978): Brilliant.