Invasion of The Body Snatchers: gender and sexuality in four film adaptations.
* Jack Finney's novel The Body Snatchers has proven highly adaptable, inspiring four films: Don Siegel's 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Philip Kaufman's 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Abel Ferrara's 1993 Body Snatchers and Oliver Hirschbiegel's 2007 The Invasion. The later films adapt Finney's story as much as they do the previous films--expanding on similar themes, echoing the character dynamics, and even re-casting the same actors. (1) Each film reveals profound anxiety about women's social and familial roles. The female presence vis-a-vis the pods in each adaptation demonstrates American fears about male-female relations in the particular era in which the film was produced. At the end of Siegel's 1956 film, the panicked protagonist Dr. Miles Bennell [Kevin McCarthy] crosses a busy freeway on foot, crying out to passing motorists: "They're after all of us! Our wives, our children [...] you're next!" (2) This quotation foregrounds male unease about losing control of reproduction, heterosexual relationships and the family--an anxiety that continues in the remakes.
Finney's The Body Snatchers first appeared as a Colliers serial in 1954, and was then expanded and published as a novel in 1955. The narrative follows small-town doctor Miles Bennell as he investigates a spate of bizarre claims by his patients that their relatives are imposters. It is soon revealed that extraterrestrial seedpods have drifted to Earth, growing cloned bodies to replace the townspeople. A pod double develop in a matter of hours and absorbs the human mind while the victim sleeps, reducing the original body to dust. Only the person's closest loved ones can perceive the sole difference: the pod's lack of emotion. Though it possess the victim's memories, it can manage only the pretense of human affection, passion or ambition. Miles and his high school sweetheart Becky Driscoll uncover the truth and work together to defeat the pods. In the midst of this crisis, Miles and Becky, both recently divorced, rekindle their youthful romance. The couple saves the town, prevents the pods from taking over the planet, and a happy ending is assured.
Finney's story of courage and love conquering the impassive pods seems made for Hollywood. Each film adopts the same basic structure, including a heterosexual couple that opposes the cloned invaders. Yet the films show less confidence in the redemptive potential of both human fortitude and heterosexual relationships than does the novel. The endings vary widely from Finney's upbeat finale. Both the 1956 and 1993 films are ambiguous: The hero reaches the world outside the pod-infested zone in time to warn of the danger, but the final outcome of the war with the pods is unknown. In the 2007 remake, the world goes back to normal, allowing the lamentable return of human violence after the pod invasion brought about world peace. In the 1978 adaptation, all is lost: The former hero transforms into a pod, and the alien epidemic begins to spread from San Francisco across the country. In each film heterosexual and family relationships are troubled. Rather than Finney's successful romantic alliance against the pods, the films depict problematic male-female and family relations that recall social changes taking place at the time the films were released.
Sleeping With the Enemy: Heterosexual Alliance and Betrayal
Male anxiety about women persists throughout the various adaptations of Jack Finney's original story. In an essay about the 1956 film, Nancy Steffen-Fluhr suggests that the pods threaten male sexual dominance by offering women an alternative form of asexual reproduction.
The story of the alien pods is an artfully disguised version of certain ancient patriarchic myths about reproduction. In these myths, it is asserted that the fetus is a homunculus, complete at conception, and the pregnant woman merely a pod. Human life, the immortal spirit which animates mere matter and makes it grow, is deemed to come from the male sperm alone. [...] [T]his patriarchic myth of conception begins as a pathological denial of women's central role in reproduction. This denial serves to cover up terrible doubt about the male role in procreation, the fear that women might be able to do the whole thing by themselves, might not need men at all. (Steffen-Fluhr 211)
Similarly, Katrina Mann observes of the first film that Miles's "seed [...] simply cannot compete with the seeds of the pods for speed and efficiency of reproduction" (62). The theme of male reproductive insecurity carries into the other films with pertinent variations as the era, setting and gender of the protagonists shift.
The 1956 film begins with an alliance between Dr. Miles Bennell and Becky Driscoll [Dana Wynter], as the young divorcees renew their teenage romance in the small California town of Santa Mira. This sexually charged and witty relationship is adapted in some form in each remake, providing the foundation for an alliance in the war against the pods. These alliances are always fragile. Ultimately, the man and woman will become enemies, at least for a time. Female characters are in constant danger of succumbing to the pods through sleep. If "sleep" can be seen as a version of the euphemism "sleep with" (Steffen-Fluhr 214), then the conflict becomes clear: Males attempt to retain female fidelity, and therefore control over the reproductive process, by preventing their partners from sleeping with or being impregnated by the enemy. (This theme shifts with the 2007 female protagonist, as I will detail later.) Giving into the pods becomes a sexual liaison, producing offspring (cloned doubles) to which the human male partner has no claim. Becky and the pods "conspired to banish Miles from the reproductive equation" (Mann 63). Male characters retaliate by attempting to craft a reproductive narrative in which they retain dominance. For example, when Dr. Ed Pursey [Everett Glass] sees Becky, at whose birth he was an attending physician, he claims to have "brought her into the world," erasing the role of her mother (Mann 62-63). Female characters undermine the heterosexual bond through all four films by betraying fathers, sons and lovers. Male protagonists--advocating for patrilineal, patriarchal, heterosexual norms--maintain at best a tentative alliance with their female partners, who are at all times in danger of succumbing to the asexual allure of the pods.
Becky rapidly transitions from ally to enemy in the original film. She makes her sexual fidelity to Miles explicit. Miles and Becky's friends-turned-pods imprison them in Miles's medical office. When informed that, as pods, they will feel no emotion, Becky tells Miles, "I want to love and be loved. I want your children." She chooses his sexual partnership over the pods' asexual cloning. Mere hours later, however, Becky chooses another lover. After the couple escapes their captors, Becky goes to sleep while waiting for Miles in a cave outside of town, transforming into a pod person. He returns, and knows by kissing her that she has changed. Don Siegel aptly refers to Becky as a "limp fish" in this scene (Kaminsky 155), implicitly acknowledging that she has betrayed the heterosexual alliance by ceasing to function as an object of desire for Miles (Mann 62). Miles draws back from the kiss and Becky's blank, wet, dirty face is shown in extreme and terrifying close-up. Miles narrates, "I didn't know the real meaning of fear until I had kissed Becky. A moment's sleep and the girl I loved was an inhuman enemy bent on my destruction." Becky's crime of "sleep" indicates sexual transgression. She no longer wants Miles's children. She has chosen the pods' instead, making Miles obsolete. The kiss indicates "patriarchal and paternal loss" for Miles (Mann 62). On a date early in the film, Miles says to Becky, "I'd hate to wake up some morning and find out that you weren't you." Becky quips, "I'm not the high school kid you used to romance, so how can you tell?" After which he kisses her and says confidently, "You're Becky Driscoll." In the later kiss scene the reverse occurs. The joke has become literally true, her real identity ascertained with a kiss.
The relationship between San Francisco residents Matthew Bennell [Donald Sutherland] and Elizabeth Driscoll [Brooke Adams] in the 1978 adaptation shows a similar struggle between heterosexual and asexual reproduction. The couple makes their heterosexual alliance clear by professing their love in defiance of their imprisonment by the pods. After they escape, Elizabeth (echoing Becky) repeatedly says that she cannot continue evading the pods, that she must sleep. Matthew leaves her alone for a few minutes, hidden among the reeds lining the shore of San Francisco Bay. She gives in to the pods through sleep in his absence, and Matthew is faced upon his return with the appalling, nude doppelganger of his former love interest. Her betrayal is complete when she raises the alarm to the other pods. Giving away her partner's location, she sounds the death knell of patrilineal reproduction. The pods eventually overtake Matthew, as well. Male submission to the pods is womanish: Men take; women are taken (Steffen-Fluhr 216). The pods claim the city, and the end of the human race seems imminent as the credits roll.
The 1993 Body Snatchers features two tenuous male-female alliances: One between parents Steve [Terry Kinney] and Carol Malone [Meg Tilly], and another between their teenage daughter Marti Malone [Gabrielle Anwar] (from whose point of view the story unfolds) and her boyfriend Tim [Billy Wirth], a young army helicopter pilot. Marti and her younger brother Andy [Reilly Murphy] are arrested during Tim's attempt to evacuate them from a pod-infested Louisiana military base. While preparing his helicopter to leave the base, Tim passes as a pod by showing no emotion when Pete [G. Elvis Phillips], his friend-turned-pod, attempts to provoke him to reveal human anger by saying, "I fucked your girlfriend." This scene indicates the pods' true threat: Theft of female reproductive allegiance. The pods promise to copulate with everyone's girlfriends. An emasculated, pod-Tim would relinquish Marti's fragile fidelity to the pods. When Tim returns to the base to rescue Marti, he must wake her up in a hospital. He tears pod-tendrils from her body, a process that kills her fully formed and awake double. The pods threaten Tim and Marti's alliance--an alliance Tim needs to affirm his heterosexual male identity in the face of the pod threat. Allowing the pods to take Marti would mean giving up his role in their sexual relationship. In effect, he would be submitting to the pods' disinterest in heterosexual reproduction, as he earlier feigned to Pete. Marti, like her predecessors in the other films, cannot be trusted to maintain her end of the heterosexual arrangement, necessitating constant vigilance by her male partner. Should that vigilance lapse, not only would the female partner be lost, but the male partner--like Matthew in the 1978 adaptation--would be emasculated, transforming into a pod through womanish submission.
Even the female action hero of 2007's The Invasion is in constant danger of surrendering to the pods. Psychiatrist Dr. Carol Bennell [Nicole Kidman] encompasses the traditional Bennell role as hero and the Driscoll role as sexual object. Her relationship to the pods differs from her male counterparts in the earlier films, and she struggles like her female predecessors to stay awake. In her case, she resists to protect her young son Oliver [Jackson Bond]. Her ability to defy the pod invasion as a woman is central to the film. The large seedpods are absent in this adaptation, replaced by an intelligent, virus-like infection that becomes active during sleep, transforming the host. Bennell has already been exposed to the alien infection, so sleeping will cause a transformation, sans pods. In one scene, she dozes off and is awakened by a dream of her other self attacking her with an ice pick--showing that her own weak, exhausted, infected, female body is the enemy. Carol Bennell manages to stay awake in the end only because Oliver wakes her up--with an adrenaline shot to the heart, no less. Her awakening--remaining human--requires male penetration. The little boy plays the role of the grown men in the other films, urging the woman to stay alert lest she give in to alien seduction.
Women in the first three versions of Invasion are not only betrayers but also the voice of temptation, calling men to shed their masculinity and join the pods. In the 1956 version, women are portrayed as weak and passive in their desire to sleep (with) and give in to the pods (Steffen-Fluhr 213). This theme extends to the remakes: In each iteration, men attempt to maintain women's allegiance to heterosexuality in spite of their propensity to passively give in to asexual reproduction. In each case save the 2007 adaptation, the female lead succumbs, after which she tempts the man to do the same. This vilification recalls Biblical interpretations of women as morally weak, leading trusting men into transgression. (3) As Miles says (1956), the pods were "death to Becky's soul." In the 1993 version, base psychiatrist Dr. Collins [Forest Whitaker] insists that the pods will "never get my soul," just before committing suicide. The abandonment of heterosexual and patriarchal norms is equated with nothing less than damnation, the blame for which rests with the female characters.
Betrayals of the heterosexual alliance are closely aligned with the female body. The opening sequence of the 1978 adaptation depicts the pods' arrival on Earth as a gelatinous substance that grows into small, attractively flowered pods. The sequence of their transformation from gel-pollen to pod is depicted as rapid and unstoppable development. (4) The insidious growth is soon connected to women, as Elizabeth plucks a flower in the park and brings it home, setting it near the bed she shares with her boyfriend Geoffrey [Art Hindle]. This scene resonates with the story of Biblical Eve and recalls the "death to Becky's soul" of the first film. Elizabeth plucks the forbidden fruit, visiting destruction upon both her and her partner. It is she who corrupts the home and causes the domestic invasion. Like the pink flower, Elizabeth's attractiveness conceals danger. Her own body becomes subject to unnatural, unchecked growth and transformation that threaten Matthew's sexuality and identity. The park scene recalls the metaphorical connection between flowers and female sexuality, aligning the pods with women if not coding them as female.
Attempts to manage the female body persist in these films, not only by wary male partners but also by wardrobe and the camera itself. The uneasy maintenance of women's sexual fidelity is visually coded through female characters' self-presentation. As the heterosexual alliance becomes weaker, female sexuality transitions from compelling to horrific. Becky's initial appearance communicates her participation in the alliance. In her first scene, visiting Miles at his medical office, she wears a full-skirted dress with a form-fitting, corset-like strapless bodice. This skin-baring frock indicates Becky's sexual availability compared to her more modestly dressed female counterparts. (In later scenes her cousin Wilma [Virginia Christine] wears a high-necked dress and Teddy Belicec [Carolyn Jones] is clad in a mock turtle-necked blouse.) Even as Becky's attire indicates her conformity to heterosexual norms, that conformity seems forced and fragile. Becky's fitted bodice metaphorically contains herbarely-manageable sexuality. The lace at the top both demurely conceals and dramatically calls attention to her breasts; the corset effect enhances her figure while constricting her movement and enforcing perfect posture (Steffen-Fluhr 208, footnote 2). The fragility of this containment is underscored throughout the scene as Becky describes Wilma's belief that their uncle Ira [Tom Fadden] is not himself. As the camera shifts between Miles and Becky, the shots of Becky are cut just above the lace of her bodice, so the viewer sees only the exposed skin above the strapless dress. In short, Becky appears naked. The framing of these shots highlights the implicit promise of nudity and threat of sexual transgression. Along with the bras, cocktail dress and heels of later scenes, Becky's wardrobe works both to showcase and limit her body. The trappings of female fashion enforce her uncertain and temporary submission to heterosexual norms. Just as her fragile loyalty is visually coded early on, so is her eventual infidelity. As Miles loses control of Becky and she becomes an object of fear rather than desire, her appearance becomes less carefully controlled. In her final scene, she wears a sweater and skirt that become filthy, wet and unkempt in the course of fleeing the pods. The disheveled, alien Becky of the betrayal scene contrasts starkly with the initial image of the radiant Becky in her feminine dress.
Elizabeth's wardrobe reinforces her body's weakness and barely maintained fidelity to a male partner. As Matthew's love interest, Elizabeth is romantically idealized throughout the film, often seen in close up, smiling and with immaculate makeup. Early in the film she is carefully aligned with heterosexual norms. Yet her appealing female body and feminine accoutrements prevent her from mastering the physical duress of their fugitive status. Her impractical dresses and footwear make it impossible for her to keep up with her male counterpart in the flight from the pods. Matthew leaves her alone near the shore because she injures an ankle coming down a ladder in high-heeled shoes, effectively disabling her and making her vulnerable to the pods. The same wardrobe that emphasizes her femininity enforces a physical weakness that leads to her betrayal of heterosexual norms.
Thwarted heterosexual alliances in both the 1978 and 1993 films rely on the nude female body as a site of abject, overwhelming physical otherness. Pod transformation radically desexualizes female characters, revealing the formerly desirable female form as horrific and confounding to the male witness (both to the male protagonist and to the presumed male viewer). Though the female pod double appears naked, her body is threatening, resulting for male partners not in sexual fulfillment but in emasculation. The true threat posed by female characters is clear in Carol's pod transformation in the 1993 film. Carol's young son Andy enters his parents' bedroom and peels back the bedcovers from his mother. He screams as her human body disintegrates and the unclothed pod body appears in the adjacent doorway. The boy's encounter with the female form is marked both by fear and apparent confusion. The nude woman towers over the small boy menacingly, her face impassive. Andy bites his lip and stares, abruptly aware of his mother's alienness, not as extraterrestrial but as sexual other. This is the second time in which Andy has made a foray into the world of adult sexuality. Earlier, he entered his parents' bedroom after having a nightmare, interrupting their foreplay. His Oedipal motivations are evident as he again enters the adult sanctum of the bedroom and, in his father's absence, uncovers his mother's body. But his curiosity about the female form is rewarded by the revelation of female sexual otherness and the pods' implicit threat of symbolic castration. (5) Pod-women promise to displace the phallus, feminizing male characters by turning them into hosts, forcing upon them the fearsome passive receptacle role of the pregnant female delineated in the homunculus myth.
The abject otherness of female genitalia is also presented in the 1978 and 1993 versions of the original film's betrayal scene. These scenes between heterosexual partners--Matthew and the Elizabeth (1978) and Tim and Marti (1993)--resemble Andy and Carol's confrontation. In each of these the nude pod-woman attempts an emasculating seduction, a facade of sexual come-hither that can only lead to a total loss of sexual power on the part of the male hero. The womanbecomes suddenly dominant and threatening in the guise of heterosexual promise. In the 1956 film, a fully dressed pod-Becky commands Miles to "accept us," following a brief, clandestine attempt to get Miles to sleep (with her), while pretending to be the real Becky. In the 1978 adaptation, Elizabeth enacts a similar scene when she transforms. Pod-Elizabeth calls on Miles to give in with the promise that "it's painless" and "there's nothing to be afraid of." Her nudity in this scene is a grotesque parody of her former romantic charm. If Matthew had hoped his flirtations would eventually lead to a naked encounter with Elizabeth, it is unlikely this demanding, impassive woman is what he envisioned. Suddenly, Matthew is no longer the dominant partner. Their gender roles reverse as she attempts a pod seduction; standing calmly before a panicked and stumbling Matthew, she tries to persuade him to join the pods. Pod-Elizabeth reveals a dominating, uncontrollable and fearsome female sexuality. Andy's reaction to Carol's pod double in the next adaptation mirrors the horror Matthew expresses when he faces Elizabeth's nudity. The young boy and the grown man realize that the former female ally is an unfathomable sexual other who threatens male identity.
Marti's transformation in the 1993 adaptation presents the female body as paradoxically desirable and horrifying. Her pod double comes to life with a groan, sitting up with a sensually arched spine. The doppelganger's body enters the frame breasts-first, and boasting picture-perfect hair and makeup. She lounges naked on the hospital bed, sinister, yet the picture of idealized femininity. As Tim prepares to awaken the real Marti, the pod-double gazes at him suggestively and begs him to wait, to which he responds with hesitation. The nude temptress contrasts with human Marti asleep on a neighboring hospital bed, dressed modestly in a sweater and jeans, and unattractively adorned with worm-like pod tendrils. As with the nude Elizabeth (1978) and Carol (1993), Marti's double threatens to eclipse or consume male identity and sexuality. Yet this perilous clone is an object of desire for Tim, presenting a version of femininity that is, at least momentarily, preferable to the real Marti. Even pod-Marti's undulating death throws perversely echo the sex act, as she writhes on the bed after Tim revives the human Marti.
In these films, the fine line between desire for and fear of the female form indicates male sexual insecurity. Miles's struggle against the pods is analogous to his reluctance to get romantically involved with Becky (Steffen-Fluhr 208, 210). He fears losing control of his life, and specifically his male identity, if he succumbs to Becky's temptations (Rogin 204-05, Steffen-Fluhr 208). This theme is supported by Miles's repeated insistence that Becky should not "get involved with a doctor" (whose loyalty must always be to his career), and his evident anxiety about having failed in his first marriage. Miles seems uncertain in his flirtations with Becky. His excessive bravado regarding his "bedside manner" barely conceals unease about his sexual prowess. He desires Becky and yet fears the sexual relationship.
Finney sets the precedent for this attraction/repulsion in the original text. Miles struggles between wanting Becky sexually and wanting to recover from his divorce, a conflict that reappears in the Siegel adaptation. His first-person narration assures the reader (somewhat unconvincingly) that Becky is just a friend--a fellow divorcee who puts him at ease (27-28). But his attraction to Becky and anxiety about romantic involvement become evident (Mann 60). Their friends the Belicecs discover a nearly formed pod person, after which they and Becky accept Miles's invitation to stay at his house for a few days. Miles says,
I was annoyed; I didn't want Becky Driscoll living here in my house, where I'd see her more every day than I ordinarily would in a week. She was too attractive, likable, and good-looking. (87)
Then, talking to himself:
You can marry them, all right; you just can't stay married, that's your trouble. You are weak. Emotionally unstable. Basically insecure. A latent thumb-sucker. A cesspool of immaturity, unfit for adult responsibility. (87)
Finney's text rapidly resolves this ambivalence. The author clearly allies Becky with Miles, not with the pods. Miles exhibits much less concern in the text than in the film that Becky will succumb to the pods through sleep. The couple simply takes amphetamines and continues evading the pods. Escaping the invaded town with the Belicecs, Becky and Miles stay overnight in a hotel, consummating their sexual relationship (116). This intercourse in Finney's story, only alluded to in the first two film adaptations, cements their alliance against the pods, rather than setting up Miles for betrayal. They turn back together the next morning to make a last stand in the town, and their every move for the rest of the tale is in concert.
Finney's ending contrasts sharply with the film adaptations, reconciling the heterosexual alliance and banishing the asexual threat in a way the films do not. Becky proves herself a faithful and clever ally, designing the plan to escape captivity in Miles's office. She and Miles then incinerate pods growing in a field, prompting the invaders to leave Earth for more hospitable environs. The couple caps their victory with a shared home (and implied marriage). Miles's fear of Becky, and of his own inadequacy, prove unfounded and are resolved with the resolution of the pod crisis. (6) The film adaptations are comparatively grim. Male characters are more often broken by women's asexual betrayal, rather than finishing like the relieved and comfortable family man of Finney's original. Female transformations in the first three films throw the security of heterosexual alliances into doubt. Though he resists Becky's advances as a pod, Miles is reduced to an emotional lunatic by the end, ranting in a hospital. While the authorities do finally believe Miles's story, his victory is only partial. He has lost control of the woman he loved, and in so doing lost his masculinity. He becomes like the early identifiers of the pods, the "mixed up kid and a woman who need a witch doctor," that he so confidently dismisses at the beginning of the film (Mann 64, Steffen-Fluhr 220). Matthew (1978), Andy and Steve (1993) relinquish their masculinity by succumbing to the pods. They become indistinguishable from women as they join the sexless hive-mind. Even Tim (1993), who narrowly escapes with Marti, can no longer trust her. In witnessing her transformation, he has been confronted by her uncontrollable otherness. While Finney's ending reassures the reader of the security of heterosexual relationships, the films do quite the opposite.
"Something Was Wrong in this House": Changing Sex Roles and the Home
Anxiety about the pods' asexual reproduction in all four film adaptations belies fears about women's roles and the loss of sexual difference. The pods, devoid of passion, unable to reproduce sexually, are effectively androgynous. They have no gender and no sex lives. This is made explicit in Finney's story, where Miles asks if the pods can make love, to which the answer is, of course, no (183). In the Siegel adaptation, Miles and Jack Belicec [King Donovan] examine Jack's pod-double, but the scene leaves the creature's sex ambiguous--does it have a penis? (Steffen-Fluhr 213) Whatever physical characteristics the creatures might have, they are sexless. In the original story and in each adaptation, they have no emotion and no need for sexual reproduction. No sex means no sex differences. The women become like men and the men become like women.
The loss of sexual difference in the films has foundations in American life. The struggle against the pods in the 1956 film can be read as an allegory of changing gender roles in the United States after World War II (Mann 58, Steffen-Fluhr 212). Women had entered the work force en masse, and then been pressured to return to the domestic sphere when men returned from the war. This upheaval left many women frustrated, a discontentment which was manifest in 1956 and increasingly led to second wave feminism. Men returning from the war were left with the uneasy feeling that gender roles were more malleable than they thought, an anxiety evident in the original film (Steffen-Fluhr 212). The film identifies Becky and the pods with womanish submission and passivity, but also, ultimately, asexual reproduction which threatens Miles's (post-war, white collar) masculinity (Steffen-Fluhr).
Uncertainty about women's position in the home and the workplace is present in the adaptations, manifesting differently with shifting national concerns about gender roles. This unease can be seen most clearly in the different kinds of sexual transgression and familial instability that occur in each film. All the central relationships in some way transgress conservative norms around heterosexuality and the nuclear family. Becky and Miles are both divorced in an era when divorce was relatively uncommon (1956). An unmarried Elizabeth lives with her boyfriend but falls in love with her male co-worker (1978). A rebellious teenage girl has an older boyfriend, and causes conflict within her non-traditional family (1993). A single mother lives with her young son and is alienated from her ex-husband (2007).
Becky and Miles have an unconventional relationship for the time in which the film was produced. The young, glamorous divorcees break 1950s sexual taboos. Miles steals Becky away from her father's house in the middle of the night, in an elopement parody. Then, instead of marrying her he brings her to his house to live in a non-traditional setting (with another couple). They later spend the night together in his office, where they may or may not have extramarital sex (Mann 61). Like a similar scene in the 1978 version, the scene cuts as the couple holds each other, and the next scene begins hours later. In the original, Becky and Miles reappear with an ashtray of perhaps post-coital cigarette butts (Mann (61)). Divorced women in the 1950s were cautioned to guard their reputations carefully, lest they be perceived as sexually available (Mann 60). Becky seems heedless of this advice. Her unbounded sexuality may have been a way to sell movie tickets, but it also illustrates the threat to postwar masculinity. Becky is, relatively speaking, a sexually liberated woman, a quality Miles finds both alluring and intimidating.
In the 1978 film, Elizabeth also portrays a new and potentially threatening sexuality. She lives in apparent dissatisfaction with Geoffrey, who is more interested in basketball playoffs than in Elizabeth. After Geoffrey becomes a pod, Elizabeth goes to psychiatrist Dr. David Kibner [Leonard Nimoy] for advice. Kibner tells her that she is looking for a reason to get out of her relationship:
People are stepping in and out of relationships too fast because they don't want the responsibility. That's why marriages are going to hell. The whole family unit is shot to hell. [...] You're jumping to a very bizarre conclusion: that this man you live with has been replaced by somebody else. Isn't it more likely that you want to believe he's changed because you're really looking for an excuse to get out?
Ruth Rosen's observations of the 1970s resonate with Kibner's:
Marriage--already battered by growing divorce rates, the values of the counterculture, and new ideas about sexual freedom--began to seem like just one of many lifestyles that men and women might choose. Never before in American history had such ambivalent attitudes toward fidelity and commitment entered mainstream culture. (314)
It is significant that the film is based in San Francisco, the wellspring of 1960s and 1970s sexual liberation. The sexual freedom promoted by the free love generation has resulted in what Kibner sees as an assault on committed heterosexuality and family values. Elizabeth shifts in and out of relationships over the course of the film. She begins with her troubled relationship with Geoffrey, and then forms a romantic alliance with Matthew, only to eventually join the pods. Matthew's anxiety in the film about keeping Elizabeth awake belies a concern of the "Me generation": More sexual freedom has not solved the problem of male-female relations. The role of women has become nebulous. Like Becky, Elizabeth need not be married or have children, but she can still have a sexual relationship (or many), and, in Elizabeth's case, she can have a career. This shift in gender roles can also be seen with their friends Nancy [Veronica Cartwright] and Jack [Jeff Goldblum] at Bellicec Baths, where Nancy runs the desk, helps men out of mud baths, gives massages and cleans up. All Jack does is nap.
Elizabeth notably works as a laboratory technician at the San Francisco Department of Health--in a traditionally male-dominated scientific field. Anxiety about female participation in this line of work is evident in a scene in which Elizabeth attempts to have a pod flower tested and is told by a pod-technician that she has been "consistently late and you're behind on your work." Her barely-repressed indignation at this unfounded accusation emphasizes the challenges of a woman seeking success in a traditionally male domain. How can Matthew maintain patrilineal codes with a woman who will not stay home, will not marry, and "step[s] in and out of relationships" so quickly? Her alliance with the pods brings the horror of her independence to the fore. As with Miles, Matthew's worst fears come true: The modern woman does not need him at all. He pays the ultimate price for his inability to control Elizabeth: the loss of his own identity to the pods.
The threat posed to men by the modern woman takes another form: her encroachment on male-dominated environments. Two similar kitchen scenes in the 1956 original and the 1978 remake are emblematic of the films' overall gender ideologies and their related anxieties. In the original, Becky makes breakfast for Miles. He emerges to find her busy in the kitchen, with the dining room table set and orange juice ready. He attempts to kiss her and she orders him to the table. When she proposes two minutes as the cooking time for his egg, he agrees uncertainly. Moments later he examines the cooked egg skeptically. Jack enters the dining room to ask if he and Teddy can continue to stay at Miles's house without interfering in any possible seduction plans for Becky. This conversation takes place while Becky is apparently within earshot, quietly cooking in the background. The men effectively conspire to determine what role the woman will play in the domestic space. Her sudden presence at the scene of his bachelorhood is carefully managed so that Miles does not relinquish any power, say, to determine the characteristics of his breakfast or his rights to make romantic advances.
In a similar scene in the 1978 remake, Matthew cooks an elaborate meal for Elizabeth, instructing her to chop and hand him ingredients. While cooking, Matthew is more interested in the meal than in Elizabeth's distressed confession that "Geoffrey is not Geoffrey." Throughout the kitchen scene Elizabeth is in the background visually while Matthew is foregrounded, recalling the visual elements of the 1956 scene. In both these cases, the male domination of the domestic space is literally front and center, while women struggle for recognition in the background. Certainly, in both kitchen scenes, the greatest error would be to relinquish control to the invading female by, for example, assuming that Elizabeth can identify chopped ginger or that Becky knows how to hard-boil an egg. The 1978 version shows a perceptible shift in expectations of masculinity, where a baby boomer male embraces his right to appreciate the culinary arts, but must also police the potentially womanish role. (7) With her help enlisted under his watchful eye, the single, modern, urban male sensualist is king of his domain, and retains his masculinity as he dominates the female in the domestic space. In the original film, Miles oversees Becky's cooking to assert himself as the head of the household in the face of her encroachment. With both women also representing asexual pod reproduction, their threat to the virility of the male space is heightened.
The infiltration of the male home continues in later scenes in which both Miles (1956) and Matthew (1978) must kill their own asexual, emasculated doubles. Pod reproduction literally goes on behind Miles's back in his home. He enters the greenhouse to obtain lighter fluid for a barbecue and nearly departs before noticing the pod-people being born on the other side of the room--one for him and each of his three guests. The pods open in an obscene birth parody, oozing fluid and disgorging clone bodies. The pods in Matthew's back yard germinate while he sleeps peacefully in a lawn chair. A pod opens to reveal the head of Matthew's double crowning like an infant in the birth canal. The creature then emerges from the open pod, coated in slime, flailing its arms and cooing like a newborn. The pods' appearances echo female genitalia and reproductive processes, again aligning the pods with the female body (Steffen-Fluhr 211). Significantly, Miles kills the forming doubles with a pitchfork and Matthew does so with a hoe. In both cases an act of penetration assures continued male relevance, at least for the moment (Steffen-Fluhr 215). These violent domestic scenes pair with the earlier kitchen scenes to illustrate the desperate fragility of the male home-as-castle. and the struggle against the female threat to male identity.
The two most recent remakes are also concerned with the home. They focus on mothering and the family as a locus of female transgression, in addition to the threat of liberated female sexuality. This anxiety has foundations in Siegel's 1956 film. Miles races out of his home late one night in his pajamas, intent on rescuing Becky from her pod-father. When he arrives at Becky's home, his voiceover tells the viewer simply: "Something was wrong in this house." A later scene recalls this sense of the corrupted home. Miles and Becky go to the house of his nurse co-worker, Sally [Jean Willes], only to find it busy with a pod meeting. As Miles peers in the window, Sally prepares to put a pod in her child's playpen. "There will be no more tears," she says blandly. In this moment, one can hear the tearful cry of young Jimmy Grimaldi [Bobby Clark] echoed from the beginning of the film: "She's not my mother!" This cry will be repeated explicitly in the 1993 remake, and implicitly in the 2007 remake, as mothers continue to threaten fragile American domestic life.
The Ferrara and Hirschbiegel adaptations reflect growing anxiety about the changing American family and male and female roles in it. Certainly, the family transformed over the half-century spanned by the Invasion films. When Body Snatchers was released in 1993, scholarly, political and popular discourse were replete with negative depictions of transforming family structure and women's behavior (Rice 561). Several issues were, and continue to be, the focus of this anxiety, including shifting attitudes toward marriage, evident in increasing unmarried domestic partnerships and a higher divorce rate. Divorce, remarriage and single parenthood have altered the character of American families, manifesting in stepfamilies, half-siblings and joint custody (Jagger and Wright). This variety is often compared to an idealized nuclear family, which includes a male wage earner and a stay-at-home wife and mother. Popular discourse on family values often portrays variations from this ideal negatively and aligns them with the changing roles of women, particularly women's increasing presence in the work force. The working mother plays a number of roles in the popular imagination, ranging from the selfish individualist to the overburdened "second shift" worker (Genz 120, Rosen 296). National anxiety about marriage, family and women in the workplace certainly manifested in popular entertainment. It is evident in the 1993 film and continues in the 2007 remake.
The 1993 Body Snatchers portrays the breakdown of the nuclear family, largely at the hands of female characters: a daughter and a stepmother. The Malones present a re-formed structure resonating with shifts in the contemporary family: Marti Malone's mother died when she was a child; her father Steve remarried Carol, and Marti has a half-brother, Andy. Marti's teen angst fractures the family, particularly her relationship with her father, who cannot control his daughter's budding sexual adulthood. Marti returns from a late night with her boyfriend Tim and Steve tells him never to come back. An explosive fight follows, where Marti accuses Steve of treating her like a child. In a breakfast-table discussion the next day, she insists he would be happy if she left home, because "Then it'll just be the three of you." When Marti tells Steve she cannot wait to be eighteen, he responds, "Why, you think you won't be my daughter anymore?" Eventually the invasion literalizes this estrangement, as the rest of Marti's family succumbs to the pods. They become the aliens she always felt they were, and make her fantasy of escape a reality. The rift in the modern nuclear family is complete as Marti destroys the doppelgangers of her father and brother. The pods expose pre-existing fissures in this conflicted late-twentieth-century family.
Carol undermines the family by being the first to submit to the pods, then attempting to convert her husband and children. Marti identifies her in the first scene as, "The woman who replaced [my] mom." When a literal replacement occurs, Carol takes on the betrayer-temptress role, but directs it not just at a romantic partner, as in the first two films, but at her entire family. Echoing little Jimmy Grimaldi (1956), Andy insists to Marti that Carol is "not Mommy." Carol putting Andy to bed and wishing him goodnight in one scene becomes sinister, like Sally (1956) putting the pod in the playpen so "There will be no more tears." After putting Andy to bed, Carol urges her daughter and husband to sleep, where they begin to transform. Marti awakens before the process is complete, waking her father. As Steve urges the family out of the house, Carol tempts him to come to bed, but his concern for his son and daughter overshadows his desire to sleep with his wife (with its sexual/asexual double meaning). He cries, "Get away from my kids!" As with Sally in the original film, the mother becomes a threat to the children. Carol breaks her sexual alliance with her husband, using the pod banshee cry to rouse the neighborhood to attack her own family. It is up to Steve to save the family from Carol's sabotage.
The divisions and tensions in the Malone family--evident in their daily interactions and allegorized through the invasion--recall popular anxiety about the changing American family of the 1990s. The beleaguered male, in a country increasingly populated with non-traditional families, cannot retain his position as head of the household. He can no more trust his rebellious teenage daughter than he can his new wife. Steve loses control of his family, and, like Matthew in the 1978 adaptation, eventually loses control of himself as a result.
In 2007's The Invasion, Dr. Carol Bennell is the locus of anxiety about the roles of women as wives, mothers and workers in the twenty-first century. In Carol, the traditional Bennell role has been feminized: the tidy suit tailored to fit Kidman's idealized representation of white, wealthy, female beauty; the profession altered (to a private psychiatric practice) to emphasize her women's intuition. Carol has won sole custody of her young son, Oliver, after instigating a divorce with her husband, Tucker [Jeremy Northam]. She is single, working a high-status job and living alone with Oliver in a large house in Washington, D.C. Carol's fear of losing her son is the emotional center of the film, rather than her romantic relationship with Dr. Ben Driscoll [Daniel Craig], her ally against the pods.
Carol's fear of losing Oliver to the pods masks another, more pedestrian worry: losing her son to her ex-husband. The struggle between the human Carol and the pod Tucker is an extension of their custody battle. Early in the film paperwork is visible on Carol's desk indicating that Tucker has contested her majority custody of Oliver. When faced with the prospect of Oliver's first visit to his father after the man's long absence, Carol expresses worry to Ben. He responds, "Oliver loves you more than anything else on Earth and there is nothing Tucker or anyone else can do to change that." Later, as Oliver prepares to go to his father's house, Carol exclaims, "We've never been apart like this before!" The pods, and particularly Tucker as their representative, threaten Carol and Oliver's close, exclusive, and apparently delicate relationship. Oliver's weekend visit with his father turns into a pod abduction, where Carol has to infiltrate the apartment of her former mother-in-law in order to rescue Oliver. Like the 1993 remake, the 2007 film reveals anxiety about the state of the American nuclear family. People once loved become imposters and strangers. The pods only change the stakes of a pre-existing family conflict.
With a female protagonist the parenting threat shifts: In this version fathers are troubled figures. Tucker, like Miles (1956), Matthew (1978), Steve and Tim (1993), has lost control of his female partner. But the gender roles are reversed from the other films: Tucker is a pod and Carol is human. After Carol and Oliver escape the mother-in-law's apartment, pod-Tucker corners them in the basement of a nearby building. As he moves into the recesses of the room to find them, he says:
Son, this is your father. Son? Where are you? [...] I don't understand your resistance, Carol [...] It's a pity. I had hoped we could be a family again. Do you know why our marriage failed, Carol? 'Cause I was third. The thing you loved the most was your son. After him came your job. After that came me. I was third on your list. That can't happen in our world.
The moment Tucker walks into the basement he asserts his identity as father, revealing insecurity in his position in the family. He cannot compete with the closeness between mother and son. Oliver and Carol are almost physically fused in this scene. They crouch on the floor together, moving toward the door in unison, Carol's hands on Oliver's shoulders. They circle the room together as Tucker crosses it alone. With his last words Tucker attacks them, bent on killing Oliver (who has recently been identified as immune to the pod infection). In contrast to the other film adaptations, Tucker's alliance with the pods threatens to enforce heterosexual norms, rather than a female-pod alliance threatening to undermine them. When Tucker says, "that can't happen in our world," he indicates that the pods will return Carol to her traditional role, where her husband is her first priority. Tucker will eliminate the offending son and career that compete for her affections. Tucker hoped they could be a family again on his terms, where he, the discarded husband, could return to his rightful role as head of the household. An earlier scene underscores this forceful maleness: Tucker holds Carol down on the floor of the home they once shared and infects her with the pod virus (by vomiting on her face) while a number of pod people look on. This humiliating, rape-like scene highlights Tucker's desire for dominance.
Tucker's insecurity and ongoing efforts to impose his will stem from Oliver and Carol's attempts to expel Tucker from the family triad and retain a dyadic mother-child relationship. Oliver and Carol work together to overthrow Tucker in the basement scene: Oliver saves Carol from Tucker's chokehold by disabling the man, striking him across the legs with a tool. Carol then takes a hammer to the back of his head when he grabs Oliver in retaliation. Oliver acts out the Oedipal fantasy by attempting to kill his father and preserve an exclusive relationship with his mother. Carol seeks to maintain the undifferentiated, fused mother-child relationship of early childhood, retaining her son as a substitute phallus in preference to her relationship to Tucker. Both mother and son work to preserve this exclusive arrangement, consistently choosing each other over other relationships in the film. Carol and Oliver are the true couple of the narrative. This is most evident when the duo hides in a drug store, where Carol puts Oliver in charge of ensuring that she does not sleep by teaching him to penetrate her with an adrenaline shot. It is perhaps significant that the syringe goes into the heart, as Oliver is the true love of her life.
Carol's struggle to stay awake and Oliver's assistance take on another meaning: By falling asleep, she will betray her own priority--her son--and be forced to accept the priorities of others. In a train bathroom, Carol nods off and dreams of washing her face to wake herself up. In the train mirror, another self appears with a pickax, which it swings into her body just as she wakes up. This scene indicates that Carol remains her own greatest enemy. She is in danger at all times of giving in to female passivity and becoming "not Mommy," like women in the other films. By sleeping, she would lose her status as an independent single woman, her successful career, and, worst of all, her son. Her predicament shows the inevitable failure of the contemporary woman to live up to professional and familial ideals. Carol's struggle to stay awake and avoid the pod transformation is an allegory of her daily war against herself--the ice pick-wielding other self in her dream, who represents her competing desires.
Carol's precarious balancing act between motherhood, career and romance recalls the superwoman figure pervasive in narratives of womanhood since the 1980s. The superwoman strives to combine domestic and professional commitments, and is often confronted with the exhaustion of trying to live up to both. Feminism has been criticized for promising women freedom through economic independence and instead offering the frustration and exhaustion of the "double burden," as women working professionally often return home to a "second shift" of cooking, cleaning and child care (Genz 120). The superwoman also appears in cultural narratives as the isolated individualist whose selfishness causes the breakdown of the family (Rosen 330). While Carol struggles to balance career, romance and motherhood, she skirts demonization as a single, working woman because of her focus on parenting over career, and the ways in which the film codes her economic and social class. The denigration of single mothers in popular culture and political discourse relies on a rhetoric of women's reproductive irresponsibility and abuse of government aid, arguments that ignore deeply embedded issues of racial inequality, gendered income gaps and educational privilege. Feminists have long called for better government assistance for working single mothers, including subsidized childcare, health care and job training. The Invasion circumvents these critical issues by portraying Carol as the exemplary, economically independent single mother. She may face the challenges of the superwoman, but her struggles are minimized by her social location.
Carol manifests a consumer capitalist rhetoric of personal advancement, rather than feminist values of collectivism and mutual aid. (8) Her feminism entails personal and professional success, economic freedom, social status and education, and motherhood as a status symbol or affirmation of personal worth. She is identified in the film with symbols of economic and social status: a large and well-appointed home; a private office with a personal assistant; an elegant wardrobe, complete with professional attire and glamorous eveningwear; an apparently new and spacious vehicle; and mobile electronics for both her and her young son. Carol models a particularly affluent and idealized version of single motherhood, in which she has the resources to maintain a high-status career, enjoy an active social life, and still have time to walk her son to school and take him out to trick-or-treat. Carol's "postmodern feminism" (which she publicly identifies at a party with Ben) belies the economic and social realities of most single mothers, who struggle making less money than their male peers, juggling childcare and jobs without flexibility.
Carol has a single-minded dedication to her role as a mother, over and above her commitments as a doctor, lover or as a member of the community. This characterization recalls criticism that contemporary feminism is focused on individual achievement rather than social responsibility, particularly to other women (Rosen 295-96). Carol's devotion to Oliver borders on sociopathic. She accumulates a substantial body count trying to save her son, killing Tucker and shooting (presumably killing) six people who have what she knows may be a curable disease. She also shoots Ben in the leg to prevent his pursuit. Knowing she is infected, she violates government quarantine so she can rescue Oliver. She fails to help five different women in public places who are pursued by the pods--after it has been made clear early in the film that helping women in distress is an important part of her private practice.
Carol's focus on Oliver and her social and class status guarantee her position as a "good" single mother. Even so, the film shows that the Carol-Oliver family is incomplete without an adult male, aligning with ideology that portrays children as better off raised in homes with fathers. It is significant that Carol self-identifies as a "postmodern feminist," considering the rarity of such a declaration in Hollywood cinema. Her pathologically fused relationship with her son and neglect of female alliances do not paint this postmodern feminism in a particularly positive light. Tucker seems to blame feminism for the breakdown of his marriage, citing Carol's preference for her career and child over husband. It is, apparently, her insistence on setting her own priorities that makes her feminism threatening for Tucker. Importantly, the film only shares Tucker's narcissistic version of the breakdown in their marriage, and the viewer is drawn to sympathize with Carol. Yet her inability to balance marriage and career is a conflict of the film whose resolution (her marriage to Ben) seems inevitable. Regardless of what occurred between Carol and Tucker, the film portrays Carol--the postmodern feminist--as imbalanced in her superwoman role. Her hysterical over-identification with Oliver is portrayed as the logical consequence of being a single mother. Carol's neuroses can only be corrected by the introduction of the husband and complete nuclear family in the finale. Carol's single motherhood ultimately is not a permanent state of self-reliance but a temporary, unnatural and unhealthy condition.
Carol's status as action heroine is contradictory and ambiguous. Her anxious mothering combined with action heroine gusto echoes characterizations of the popular culture, action heroine "supergirl" as conflicted, even "schizophrenic" in her split between masculine and feminine traits, "suggesting that being tough is not 'normal' for women" (Sherrie Inness qtd. Genz 153). Like the supergirl, Carol transgresses male-female boundaries by offering women an active rather than passive role, yet her feminine coding limits her, reifying gender roles even as she challenges them (see Genz 153-54). She embodies supergirl dualities, particularly as both victim (for example, in the "rape" scene with Tucker) and aggressor (as her frequent use of firearms attests). Similarly, her heroic willingness to control situations, run, shoot and fight are contrasted by her visual coding as the object of the film's sexualized gaze. Like Becky and Elizabeth before her, Carol's feminine accoutrements impair her ability to be active and resist the pod forces. Carol is compulsively clad in stride-restricting pencil skirts and high-heeled shoes that remind the viewer that she is a hero in spite of her gender. Carol's femininity and motherhood are used to minimize or justify her toughness. Effectively, her feminine coding excuses her from her action-hero excursions into male territory.
Rather than the superwoman or supergirl, a more accurate term for Carol might be supermother. She combines the superwoman's competing maternal and professional desires with the supergirl's femininity and physical prowess. Carol's heroism depends on her maternal status, at the cost of her identity and the safety of herself and others. (9) Where men protect women in the other films, here a woman protects a child. (There are hints of this in the 1993 version, where Marti looks after Andy. But in that case, Marti and Andy are both protected first by Steve and then by Tim.) Without Oliver's wellbeing as motivation, it is difficult to imagine Carol as an action heroine. In a pivotal scene, pod-Ben confronts Carol in the drug store and nearly convinces her to submit to the invasion with the promise that a world of pods would be entirely peaceful. She refuses only when Ben informs her that there is no place for the immune Oliver in pod society. If Oliver's safety had been guaranteed, it seems she would have given up her quest for a cure and relinquished her consciousness to the infection. From Carol's perspective, Oliver's survival is crucial for its own sake, not because his body holds a potential cure. Carol's status as an action heroine is based not on helping herself or countless others with a cure, but rather on ensuring the survival of her child. Neither humanity's imminent doom nor the potential loss of her own, unique identity (and feminist agency) seems enough to motivate Carol's continued heroism in her confrontation with Ben. The thought of her son's death, however, inspires her to fight on.
The Invasion has the most apparently cheerful ending of the four films. Ben's friend Stephen [Jeffrey Wright] finds the cure for the pod infection, presumably by testing Oliver. Humanity, perhaps unfortunately, returns to normal, resuming its violent activities after the pods' hive-mind brought a temporary world peace. Carol's heroism is rewarded with a new husband (Ben, apparently with a healed leg), and another child (Oliver's friend Gene [Eric Benjamin], whose parents died during the invasion). The final scene emphasizes a return to normal on a personal level for Carol. The scene opens with Carol wiping the countertop of her sun-filled kitchen, the remains of breakfast visible on the counter. She chastises Gene for playing his video game, and then sends both boys off to school with kisses and professions of love. It is only then that Ben is revealed behind his newspaper, seemingly an accessory to Carol's kitchen and her motherhood. Taking no note of the children, Ben laments the state of the world just as he did in the beginning of the film. Carol's skirt and heels indicate that she is about to leave for work, yet the scene in the kitchen aligns her with family rather than career. She first takes care of her husband and children in the kitchen, embracing the "natural" roles of wife and mother, before (presumably) departing for work in her immaculate professional attire. True throughout the film and reinforced in the final scene by the additional presence of Ben and Gene, Carol's career is acceptable as long as it does not interfere with her domestic obligations. (10)
The film depicts single motherhood as unnatural, prone to a lack of differentiation between mother and child, and remedied only by the acquisition of a "complete" nuclear family. The introduction of Ben into the family resolves Carol and Oliver's fused relationship. Oliver's ability to reduce his attachment to his mother and to symbolically reconcile with the father figure by accepting Ben contributes to the resolution of the film's family drama. The Invasion works to de-emphasize the importance of Carol's career, reduce her focus on her son (while still assuring the viewer of her dedication as a mother), and to resolve her problematic status as single by educating her in the worthiness of heterosexual commitment. The reduction of her pathological focus on Oliver is evident in the way he finally shares the spotlight with both Gene and Ben, and the fact that she sends him off to school on his own (rather than walking him as earlier in the film), followed by a quiet moment alone with her new husband in the kitchen. Her attentions have been distributed in a more balanced fashion; Oliver may now grow up independently and Carol may focus on matrimonial goals.
The final scene is one of fragile domestic bliss. While Ben laments the state of the world, Carol looks apprehensive. But that apprehension, while surely intended to be a lamentation for the post-invasion return of human violence, reads more as her own sense of the delicate balance she strikes between different commitments. Carol's apparent uncertainty and discomfort in the kitchen scene throws any comfortable settling of familial roles into doubt. The film's real crisis--of heterosexual relations--seems only tentatively resolved. As Carol stands in the kitchen contemplating humanity's violent nature, one wonders how she will live up to the expectations of her needful female patients, her new loving husband, and her two children. Will she continue to be in danger of betraying them and betraying herself?
I began this essay with Miles screaming on the highway about the threat to American wives and children; I will close with Matthew Bennell's appearance in the final scene from the 1978 remake. Nancy approaches Matthew in friendship, apparently the only person in San Francisco who is not a pod. When she reveals herself, Matthew turns on her, pointing and wailing the chilling cry of the pods. After Matthew's betrayal by Elizabeth, he gets the last word in betraying Nancy. Yet the finger pointing in this final scene looks like blame. It is as if an emasculated Matthew says to Nancy, "See what you and your kind have done to me." His accusing finger implies that women like Nancy and Elizabeth are to blame for the male loss of reproductive control, the disintegration of heterosexual norms and the breakdown of family values. Matthew's blame echoes through the other films. The American woman is always the enemy, whether her own or her partner's. In four adaptations of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, across generations, this war of the sexes continues, betrayals mount, and any truce is at best temporary.
Body Snatchers: The Invasion Continues. Dir. Abel Ferrara. Perf. Gabrielle Anwar and Terry Kinney. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1993.
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Invasion. Dir. Oliver Hirschbiegel. Perf. Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2007.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Dir. Don Siegel. Perf. Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter. Allied Artists Pictures Corporation, 1956.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Dir. Philip Kaufman. Perf. Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy and Donald Sutherland. United Artists, 1978.
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Rogin, Michael Paul. "Kiss Me Deadly: Communism, Motherhood, and Cold War Movies." Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Rutgers Films in Print. Ed. Al LaValley. New Brunswick and London: Rutgers UP, 1989. 201-05. (From: Ronald Reagan, the Movie and Other Episodes in Political Demonology. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 1987. 262-67.) Print.
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Steffen-Fluhr, Nancy. "Women and the Inner Game of Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Rutgers Films in Print. Ed. Al La Valley. New Brunswick and London: Rutgers UP, 1989. 206-21. (From: Science Fiction Studies 11.2 (July 1984): 139-53.) Print.
(1.) For example, Kevin McCarthy, who originally appeared as Miles Bennell in the 1956 film, appears in the 1978 adaptation to repeat his well-known penultimate scene of running through traffic warning of danger. Veronica Cartwright, Nancy Bellicec in the 1978 film, reappears as one of Carol Bennell's patients in the 2007 film.
(2.) Katrina Mann observes of this scene that Bennell breaks the fourth wall, looking into the camera and directing his warning not only to passing motorists, but also to the film's audience. She writes, "The film explicitly located a nodal point between the protagonist and the ideal spectator who was presumed to be a white heterosexual (benevolent) patriarch whose way of life was imminently threatened by invasive outsiders" (50).
(3.) For example, the stories of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3) or Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19:30-38). Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version. Eds. Scott Tunseth and Timothy Vinger. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1990.
(4.) Michael Paul Rogin writes that "[b]iology is out of control" in the original film (202), and connects the pods' unchecked growth to female reproduction (202,204).
(5.) Steffen-Fluhr observes a similar suggestion of castration in the nude, semi-formed pod person discovered at the Belicecs' home in the original film (212-13).
(6.) Steffen-Fluhr observes that the Siegel version follows the Jack Finney original closely until the end, diverging on Becky's transformation and betrayal in the film adaptation. In Finney's story Becky enables Miles to overcome his fear of intimacy. In the film she is "not a savior, but a Judas who betrays her lord with a kiss" (219).
(7.) Dana Polan notes this era's shift in expectations of American masculinity, evident in publications such as Playboy, which began to stress a sophisticated, urban, cultured version of manhood that deviated from earlier notions of rugged individualism or family man and provider. Polan, Dana. Lecture as part of course "Twilight Zone and the Politics of Paranoia." New York University Tisch School of the Arts. 22 Oct. 2008.
(8.) Ruth Rosen traces the commodification of feminism beginning in the 1980s through advertising and print media. Working women became glamorized, she writes, and associated with wide consumption and self-gratification (312-13). Diane Negra identifies a contemporary postfeminist emphasis on "an expressive personal lifestyle and the ability to select the right commodities to attain it" (4).
(9.) The supermother is common in science fiction action films, such as Aliens and Terminator 2. Though a full examination of this theme is beyond the scope of this essay, I direct you to: Berenstein, Rhona. "Mommy Dearest: Aliens, Rosemary's Baby and Mothering." Journal of Popular Culture 24.2 (Fall 1990): 55-73. Brown, Jeffrey A. "Gender and the Action Heroine: Hardbodies and the 'Point of No Return.'" Cinema Journal 35.3 (Spring 1996): 52-71. Greenburg, Harvey R. "Fembo: Aliens' Intentions." Journal of Popular Film & Television 15.4 (Winter 1988): 164-71. Zwinger, Lynda. "Blood Relations: Feminist Theory Meets the Uncanny Alien Bug Mother." Hypatia 7.2 (Spring 1992): 74-90.
(10.) Diane Negra's analyses of films such as Wimbledon (2005) and Just Like Heaven (2005) were influential in developing this analysis of Carol's relationship to family and career (86-116).