Invasion of the Culture Snatchers
by Rainer Chlodwig von K.
LAST YEAR, Shout! Factory rereleased Philip Kaufman’s 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake through its Scream Factory label. Included on the stacked Blu-ray are interview extras imported from the 2007 MGM DVD release plus two commentaries and new interviews with members of the cast and crew. Interestingly, what emerges from the array of supplements is a lack of solid consensus about the movie’s meaning and significance. The film’s star, Donald Sutherland, preferring to leave the matter vague, only remarks that Invasion of the Body Snatchers was “politically sensible”, while screenwriter W.D. Richter disagrees, insisting, “It wasn’t political […] It was just kind of a vote for, don’t become a conformist, don’t march with the herd.” Leading lady Brooke Adams, meanwhile, had the impression that the movie was somehow about “fascism”. “I thought that was what it was in Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” she says, adding that director Kaufman confirmed for her that this was true. If Kaufman said so, he was lying. The director, if unforthcoming, is more honest during his audio commentary when he says, “It’s a film about […] the process of change. […] If it’s a metaphor, it’s […] the metaphor of humanity being lost, of a certain type of person, of a certain type of life that can vanish or fade away or disappear or become transformed in some way.” This essay elaborates on that “process of change” and, at the very least, seeks to dispel the notion of critic Richard Schickel that the remake’s screenplay is “laughably literal”.
Don Siegel’s original 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, alternately interpreted as an allegory about either communist subversion or McCarthyism, lends itself to either reading through its broad treatment of the themes; but the same cannot be said for Kaufman’s 1978 film, which invites a much more particular interpretation. Much had changed in the more than twenty years that had passed since the previous film, most importantly the cultural Marxist experimentation and coup represented by the sixties-seventies counterculture and the sexual revolution. The first clue that the remake will be concerning itself with these social upheavals is the shift from the smalltown setting of the first film to contemporary San Francisco, ground zero for the counterculture and source of its exportation to the rest of the United States. 1978 was “sort of the end of the kind of hippie era,” the director remembers. Kaufman “wanted to move it into […] San Francisco,” composer Denny Zeitlin offers, “because he wanted this 1978 version to really just be full of urban paranoia.” Inadvertently giving an indication of what, potentially, might contribute to an air of paranoia in San Francisco, actor Art Hindle, in another interview, observes, “They just updated it, and they picked a fabulous city to shoot it in, uh, for so many reasons. Uh, there’s such a cross-section of people in San Francisco.” Indeed, the location shooting makes much of the city’s kaleidoscope of diversity.
The opening moments of the movie, moreover, make clear that the import of all of this is specifically racial, with a garbage truck crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, the word “WHITE” displayed conspicuously on the front of the vehicle. This is the story of the disposal of the European race, which is characterized from the outset as trash. Garbage trucks, seen more than once in the film, carry away the weed-like waste matter resulting from San Franciscans’ replication by alien pods. The impostor-people with their extraterrestrial spore-spawned pods provide the key to understanding the movie’s racial dynamic. Howard Preston, who designed the aliens’ home world as glimpsed in a prologue, remembers, “There was a sun that kind of […] had a bad case of measles, and that was supposed to be the sun that is going to doom this planet and cause these spores to go and try to find a better home.” Making the meaning of the spores’ ordeal more apparent, the Invasion of the Body Snatchers theatrical trailer announces, “They come from a dying world. They drift through the universe, pushed on by the solar winds. They adapt and they survive.” It is the intense heat of a sun that condemns them and drives them to emigrate in order to evade the cataclysm of a holocaust; and the second phase of the spores’ survival strategy involves adaptation – crypsis – which will enable the things to thrive among the host world’s lifeforms. The trailer’s narrator speaks over a rousing bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” – a Christian hymn thus providing the ironic background to the alien group’s catastrophe and exodus. Interestingly, “Amazing Grace” is utilized to different effect in the context in which it occurs in the film. The bagpipes sound as Sutherland’s protagonist, Matthew Bennell, thinks he has found a means of escape by sea – only to have his hopes dashed in disillusionment when he discovers that the ship and its crew are in the service of the invasion force, the implication being that Christianity, too, represents a false hope of salvation. Early in the movie, Robert Duvall enjoys a cameo as a priest on a swing who, as Art Hindle explains (and as Kaufman confirms in his commentary), “was probably the first body-snatched character” – possibly a sly allusion to the subversive Jewish manipulation of Vatican II. “My feeling was that if you’re doing a horror movie, there should be a priest in it,” Kaufman snipes. A counterculture participant who also worked on an Israeli kibbutz, Kaufman can be assumed to have a high degree of self-consciousness as a Jew. “They get you while you sleep” is a line of dialogue in the film referring to the way in which the duplicated pod-people replicate the humans’ bodies while they are asleep – i.e., racially unaware. “That’s one of the things, you know, which is in accord with all the great religious teachings which say wake up,” Kaufman adds, though the “They get you while you sleep” metaphor is more applicable to the idea of the red pill on race-consciousness and the Jewish Question – and, indeed, the protagonist gobbles some speed pills at one point in order to try to stay awake.
San Francisco, in addition to its port, is also home to the Transamerica Pyramid (or “Pod Central”, as Kaufman dubs it), which is featured prominently throughout the film. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released by United Artists, which, as its logo indicated during these years, was “a Transamerica Company”, a subsidiary of the investment giant. On one level, the conspicuousness of the Pyramid is mere self-promotional product placement; but the obsessiveness with which it appears again and again imbues the image with the value of a symbol. The Pyramid, a striking feat of sinister modern architecture, is at the same time a reminder of an ancient imperiousness and an exotic inscrutability, vaguely conveying malevolence, its acute angles seeming to suggest a massive spike jutting up from the bowels of the earth and through the San Francisco skyline – some arcane and forgotten evil manifesting here and now. One has the sense, as well, that the Transamerica building serves as a beacon or headquarters of sorts for the alien presence in the city, hinting at Jewish domination of the financial sphere. As investigators are increasingly aware, it was the financial establishment itself that backed the countercultural revolution of the twentieth century.
The subjugation of sovereign nations was furthered through the financial agenda of neoliberalization, the erasure of economic distinctions between nations. “The idea of the pod became a symbol or a metaphor of the standardized thing that the culture was asking of us,” comments Hollywood development executive Christopher Vogler. “It was asking us all to create a new mass culture, something that would work on the world scale, and in order to do that you had to sacrifice some individuality, so you had to get squeezed down into some kind of a pod.” The film’s composer, Denny Zeitlin, remembers that Kaufman sought to “have the camera move through streets of shoppers, you know, having lost their souls in a department store.” “I think the big reason to change it [i.e., the film’s setting] from a small town to a big city was […] the idea that a big city was where you could lose your individuality,” W.D. Richter adds. He and Vogler are imprecisely correct. It is not only the individual’s identity that is compromised by the mass culture of globalism, but people’s ethnic and national identities. The individualization and atomization of the citizenry through pop culture, consumerism, and psychology was, in fact, a key component of the countercultural coup. “You know, pods just watch anything that’s on. […] it’s part of the podding of America,” the director observes of the pods’ TV viewing habits. “You know, the extensive commercials that we just watch while our minds go out the window, really.” “I love the cracked windshield here,” Kaufman also says of the protagonist’s (and the viewer’s) automotive point of view in another scene. “It just gives the proper outlook on the city, following the strange people in the street […]” The web of cracks in the glass appropriately fractures and atomizes the non-society of the diverse and the alienated. Kaufman reflects that “being a pod [i.e., a rootless and cosmopolitan global citizen, or Jewified man] cuts across all races, all sexes, and all religions. Anybody is capable of becoming a pod.” True enough, the pods are shown being loaded onto a ship for eventual export to other nations.
As Kaufman recounts, “there were also, as exemplified by Leonard Nimoy[’s character, Dr. David Kibner], the kind of pop psychologists who were, uh, telling everybody to relax, everything’s going to be okay, take it easy – in a sense, trying to humanize people by dehumanizing them in some way.” “In the seventies, a lot changes,” Kaufman adds during his commentary. “You have a lot of therapies that are trying to tell us and make us understand that everything’s alright, but as we all know, everything’s not alright – and, in fact, I feel that […] everything that was being talked about in Body Snatchers has come to pass and that we are now living in the world largely controlled by pods.” “Don’t be trapped by old concepts,” Kibner instructs his followers, all while seeming to espouse a concern for their personal and marital health. At the book release party for Kibner’s new masterwork of psychological literature, a mirror on a wall furnishes the guests with an appropriately distorted image of themselves – much as Kibner’s book will, the viewer is left to speculate. Kibner is, of course, revealed to be one of the aliens – the casting of Nimoy, a strikingly Semitic-looking actor, arousing suspicions in audiences familiar with Nimoy’s association with the science fiction genre through Star Trek – and, before that, Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952) and The Brain Eaters (1958). Kibner, Kaufman considers, “is a pod [at the end of the film], but as a pod he is almost the same guy that he was, only maybe slightly less so – or more so […] It’s almost hard to tell if he has been changed […]” If Jews were replaced with aliens, Kaufman seems to be asking, would we notice? In addition, Kibner affects a strange half-glove that could allude to the practice in Judaism of wearing tefillin (“And it shall be for a sign for you upon your hand […] that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand did the LORD bring you out of Egypt,” Exodus prescribes).
The CIA and the FBI, one character guesses, are “pods already” – and, as revisionist cultural historians are increasingly aware, the CIA had its own role to play in seeding (or podding, as the case might be) the counterculture. “Flower power”, quintessential controlled opposition, was largely a Jewish creation, a means of dividing the generations through cultural subversion, and a COINTELPRO-style tool to marginalize legitimate citizen activism – as well as a lucrative product to merchandize, of course. “Well, why not a space flower?” asks the intriguingly far-out character Nancy, played by the very Aryan-looking Veronica Cartwright. “Why do we always expect metal ships? […] Look, there’s bound to be other ways they can get into our systems. […] We would never even notice it – not from the impurities that we have. I mean, we eat junk and we breathe junk […]” Interestingly, the alien presence on earth in Invasion of the Body Snatchersfirst takes the form of a rapid proliferation of strange little blossoms that grow “like parasites” – Bloom, it may be worthwhile to note here, also being a common Jewish name – a resonance reinforced by the casting of Jeff Goldblum as a poet and mud baths proprietor named Jack Bellicec. There could be a metaphor in the mud baths for the muck in which the counterculture was to dunk America. Funnily, a chase scene takes some characters past a couple of live sex shows that the pod-people completely ignore, the denizens of these places presumably already having been neutralized one way rather than the other. The sexual lure of the pods as a means of undermining the humans’ defenses and consolidating the infiltration is also emphasized when, after leading lady Brooke Adams’s character, Elizabeth Driscoll, is replicated, her pod replacement rises nude and beckons to Sutherland’s Matthew Bennell, appearing from behind some shrubbery like a tempting Eve in Eden. In one of the movie’s most infamous moments, a botched replication produces a dog with the head of a hobo, visualizing the ultimately degrading purpose of the sexualization and animalization of man. This scene, appropriately enough given the relevance of the counterculture to the theme of the film, is accompanied by some banjo playing from none other than Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.
Denny Zeitlin reveals that Sutherland’s character was originally supposed to be a jazz saxophonist. Instead, the decision was made to turn Bennell into a health inspector, so that the protagonist has an air of honest, non-spooky officialdom but is, in the parlance of the seventies, a representative of “The Man”. Bennell stands in natural conflict, then, with the promoters of unsanitary (and probably allegorical) filth and disease. (His friendship with the proprietor of the mud baths, therefore, is rather ironic and maybe intended as a joke.) Bennell’s latent or subtextual anti-Semitic and nativist function is illustrated when, early in the film, he makes a surprise inspection of a cosmopolitan restaurant with a Mediterranean-looking manager and more than one non-white face in the kitchen. Hilariously, Bennell finds a symbolic rat turd polluting a pot of the restaurant’s soup – as pungent a critique of the “melting pot” as one could possibly imagine. Non-white extras are used throughout the film to emphasize the aura of distrustfulness that has descended upon the city. Elizabeth, for instance, apologizes after getting in the way of a Chinese man in a hallway – after which the man gazes after her with enigmatic suspicion. After Kibner reveals himself as a pod-person and has Bennell and Elizabeth as his captives, a representative black man pinions Bennell’s arms as Kibner prepares his conversion. Like a Jew, Kibner explains that he only seeks to create a planet free of racial bigotry. “You will be born again into an untroubled world: free of anxiety, fear, hate,” adding, “There’s no need for hate now” – now, that is, that every potential source of dissent is to be rendered mentally uniform. “David, you’re killing me!” Bennell protests, the dual close-up of his face and Kibner’s emphasizing the Jew-gentile conflict (similarly, in a cameo for the original’s director, Don Siegel’s cab driver is seen in a shadowy profile shot that highlights the Jewishness of his nose and enhances viewer suspicions that he may be one of the pod-people). Bellicec, though seemingly friendly and independent of the alien/Jew agenda, is in this pivotal moment decidedly on the side of Kibner and one-world Jewified pod domination of the planet, Bellicec’s ethnonational sentiments having come into play when it counts.
Elizabeth is one of the first characters to suspect a “conspiracy” is at work. Bennell, the righteous but misguided normie, fails to take her suspicions seriously at first, and in fact suggests that she consult Dr. Kibner, insinuating that she is only emotionally troubled and therefore imagining things. Nancy, the Aryan truth-seeker, who ironically and rather tragically is married to Bellicec, is quick to agree that the strange goings-on are evidence of a conspiracy. Nancy, like so many well-intentioned internet dweebs of today, is something of an aficionado of zany revisionist theories and alternative ideas. She mentions having read Immanuel Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision more than once, and eventually she reveals her interest in the ancient aliens theory: “Yeah, they could start getting into our systems and screwing up our genes like DNA, recombining us, changing us,” she frets in words that could be read as expressing horror at the prospect of miscegenation. “Oh, of course,” Nancy continues her wild-eyed tirade, “this is just the same way those rocket ships landed thousands of years ago so those spacemen could mate with monkeys and apes and create the human race. It’s happening now!” Like so many would-be investigators and researchers in the present, Nancy has a piece of the truth but is gullible and incapable of distinguishing between legitimate research and the likes of David Icke. Whatever important information she has to share with the world is muddled and muddied with disinformation that makes her sound like the lunatic that, in all likelihood, she partially is. Ineffectual and ultimately self-defeating, hers is the blue-eyed horror that we in the audience share when she comes to the chilling conclusion about whom she and we can trust.
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Source: Aryan Skynet