Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Directed by Philip Kaufman. US. 1978. R. 115 minutes. MGM. 35mm.
Fri., September 4, 2015
“Falling from a sky into a 1970s San Francisco in which plants and street grime are as prominent as humanity, the aliens in 1978’s Invasion Of The Body Snatchers remake arrive with a sales pitch at the ready. “You will be born again into an untroubled world,” one tells protagonist Donald Sutherland after he figures out their scheme. They aren’t kidding, either. Walking around as if they’ve just seen the light (or taken too many Quaaludes), the pod people have been freed from the burdens of love and hate by an invisible conspiracy claiming to act in their best interest. It’s as if the invaders had prepared by studying Watergate and I’m Okay, You’re Okay.
Set at the intersection of post-Vietnam paranoia and the myopic introspection that became hippiedom’s most lasting cultural contribution, the Philip Kaufman-directed Invasion alternates social commentary with impeccably crafted scares. As much an echo of Don Siegel’s 1956 original as a remake, it does little to change a formula that worked fine the first time around. Sutherland’s city-health-inspector character observes as the evidence slowly mounts that humanity is being leeched away by some pitiless outside force. Driving with unrequited crush Brooke Adams, Sutherland watches as a ranting man (original Invasion star Kevin McCarthy) appears to lose his mind, then get chased down by a mob. After expressing faith that the police will know what to do, Sutherland turns a corner to see police and pedestrians alike staring down at McCarthy’s corpse. Who isn’t in on “it,” and how deep does “it” go?
A better question: Who’s going to stop it? All fuzzy emotion and unforgiving eyebrows, Leonard Nimoy plays a psychiatrist with a healthy sideline peddling self-help books and a seemingly unshakable belief that any problem can be talked through. His attempts to console Sutherland, Adams, and another couple played by Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright sound like excerpts from the least helpful group-encounter session in history. “He’s trying to change people to fit the world. I’m trying to change the world to fit people,” Goldblum says of Nimoy at one point. He’s a failed poet with an axe to grind, but he has a point: The enemies here are less like monsters from the id than demons born of complacency.” (Keith Phipps, The A.V. Club)