2007Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Cast: Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Northam
ince 1956, there has been a film adaptation of Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers about once every seventeen years. It is clearly a powerful and inherently terrifying story, and versatile enough to be molded to whatever society’s big concerns might be at any given time.
This year’s version has certainly pinpointed many of the Big Issues—Iraq, civil liberties, a touch of bird flu—though, unlike with previous versions, it is difficult to say how the movie feels about them. The opening sequences of the movie, with their Andromeda Strain-esque bunk-science explanation of how the alien infection begins, naturally reminded me of Michael Crichton and his rabid neo-conservatism, a feeling that was hard to shake for the rest of the movie. Indeed, at times The Invasion seems to be telling us that we can either accept atrocities like the Iraq war, or risk the total loss of our humanity—a false choice very similar to the one the neo-cons themselves present. This leads to the bizarre final moment of the movie, where I think we in the audience are supposed to be happy about continuing violence in Iraq.
In between, though, the movie presents some pretty daring parallels between a world taken over by pod people (or, rather, not-pod people; more on that later) and the police state the current administration seems to dream of. Perhaps my favorite moment in the whole movie came during the sequence, common to every version of the story, where the main character (in this version, Nicole Kidman’s Carol), still fully human, is moving through hordes of changed people, trying to avoid detection by showing no emotion.
A changed person in a police uniform stops her, saying, “I need to see your ID, ma’am.” In the world of the movie, he is trying to verify that she is from a region considered to be fully conquered, but coming as the movie does in the midst of America’s real ID “papers, please” fever, the moment resonates powerfully. As the movie escalates, so does the “If you tolerate this” allegory, as the remaining humans try to figure out who they can trust, hope not to give themselves away as resistors, and look on helplessly as people like them are beaten in the streets. All this leads me to believe that the occasional pro-war stance is some kind of accident.
It is true that the movie’s politics as a whole seem to be adrift in confusion. Early on, Carol presents as a sign of human progress the fact that “postmodern feminists” did not exist five hundred years ago (leading me to wonder why she reached back so far; fifty or sixty years would have worked just as well), but come today, there she is, an example of one herself. It’s a shame that the movie, like so many others with female leads, feels the need to explain this postmodern feminist’s will to survive solely in terms of the maternal instinct. Again, a nod in the direction of the progressive left, followed by what feels like an instinctive retreat to reactionary narratives.
Hollywood’s instincts are also at play in this movie’s biggest departure from previous versions. Before, the aliens came in the form of seed pods in which grew exact replicas of human beings; when the replica was complete, the original human died. This version eliminates the pods, instead having the alien beings take over the original body. In the interest of avoiding what might be considered a spoiler, I’ll leave it to the reader to deduce the ending this twist allows, and just say that it is a cop-out on more than just a plot level, in that it also calls into question the morality of certain of Carol’s actions in a way the movie is neither able nor willing to deal with.
Clumsiness aside, I do find myself surprisingly impressed with some aspects of the movie. Even though it negates most of the political points it makes, it nevertheless makes them, forcefully at times, in a way that, if nothing else, at least makes the audience think about them. Technically, too, it is more than competent; I particularly like the way it plays with time, often intercutting one scene with another that, chronologically, comes shortly afterwards.
This is particularly effective in action sequences, as in one where a scene of Carol and Ben (Daniel Craig) discussing escape plans is broken up with shots of the escape itself. In fact, the action sequences, though sometimes pretty silly (does the car really need to be on fire?), are for the most part clever and entertaining. My favorite was the moment when some fancy car maneuvers threw a crowd of alien-infected people into a store’s window display, knocking over all the mannequins.
Is it scary? Aside from the fifty-one year old concept itself, not particularly. I am under no illusions that this new Invasion is a classic on the order of the 1956 and 1978 versions (the 1993 version is best left unmentioned), and I can’t imagine any reason I would ever choose to watch it over either of them. Sixteen or seventeen years from now, when we’re due for the next version of the story, it’ll be interesting to watch it again and see how it’s held up. For the summer of 2007, it’s awfully relevant.
Invasion is currently in wide release.
By: Ethan Robinson
Published on: 2007-08-21