Lesley Conner on Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Posted January 23, 2015on:
Today’s guest post is from Lesley Conner. Lesley is one of my go-to people when I have a crazy idea at 4am and need someone to tell me that yes, the idea is crazy, but let’s do it anyway. Everyone should have a Lesley in their life.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, on Page and Film
a guest post by Lesley Conner
Lesley Conner is a writer, social media editor and marketing leader for Apex Publications, and Managing Editor for Apex Magazine. She spends her days pestering book reviewers, proofreading, wrangling the slush pile, doling out contracts, and chatting about books, writing, and anything else that crosses her mind on the @ApexBookCompany Twitter account. Most of her nights are spent with a good book and a glass of wine. She recently sold her alternative history horror novel, The Weight of Chains, to Sinister Grin Press. It’s slated to be released in early 2015. To find out all her secrets, you can find her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.
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Invasion of the Body Snatchers has become an iconic cultural reference over the years. If things feel off, if people seem to be acting a little strange, whispers of how it must be the pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers fly. I smile and bob my head like I know exactly what people mean, and go on with my day. And the thing is, I do know what they mean…. vaguely. In the hazy vision of a giant seed pod popping open and a perfectly formed, adult body emerging to take the place of my friends and neighbors kind of way.
Until recently I hadn’t read Invasion of the Body Snatchers or seen any of three movies that the 1955 novel inspired. I knew the basic premise of the story – we all do – an alien species is taking over Earth by replacing all of the humans with exact replicas grown in giant pods. But beyond that… shrug, I didn’t know.
So when the chance came up to do another vintage sci-fi post for Andrea, I decided it was time to find out more, reading both the novel and watching the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers so that I could compare and contrast the book to the film. (Why did I pick the 1978 film? Besides the fact that Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy, and Jeff Goldblum were in it? It was available through Netflix streaming. I searched and pushed play. Easy peasy.)
The 1955 novel takes place in a small town, told from the perspective of the town doctor Miles. Miles meets up with his old flame Becky (who just happens to be recently divorced, how convenient!), his friend Jack and his wife Theodora when people all over town start acting… well, completely normal, but they’re definitely not themselves! After finding bodies that are more or less people blanks that absorb your you-ness when you go to sleep, they flee their small town, spend the night in a hotel, get busy (well, maybe not Jack and Theodora, but Miles and Becky get down), and then realize in the morning that they are being completely ridiculous! Of course, there’s nothing wrong with their neighbors, families, and friends. They got hysterical and turned nothing into a big deal – forget about the body that started turning into Jack when he was asleep, it was a trick of the light, Theodora overreacted.
RIIIIGGGHHHHTTT! – so they head back into town.
When they get back in town they suddenly realize how run down it is, how the town has slowly been pulling away from outsiders, how the passion and emotion has seeped out of it without them noticing.
You get the feeling that this has been going on for a long time and that we’re coming in at the exciting climax. Our group separates, with Jack and Theodora going one way, and Miles and Becky going the other. Becky wants to go back home to reassure her dad that she is alright and Miles goes with her. When they get there, they overhear a conversation that confirms their worst fears – there is an invading alien species that is slowly taking over everyone in town and as soon as Becky gets home, they’re going to get her too.
At this point in the novel we have an exciting chase. Miles gives a cop a beat down and Miles and Becky end up back in his office where he gives them both uppers so they won’t fall asleep and be taken over by pod people. Ultimately that’s where they’re cornered. Eventually the whole devious plot is revealed: the pod people plan on taking over all people – all things – on the entire Earth, and there’s nothing humans can do to stop it because eventually we all have to sleep. Things do not look good for our courageous, but exhausted couple. Miles pleads with their captors, saying they don’t want to become pod people, they want to keep their emotions, but to no avail. Finally, he talks the aliens into letting him and Becky have some time alone, they’ll concede to the transformation, but they need some quiet time first. It is in these few moments that Becky hatches an outrageous escape plan.
Are you ready for this?
Here it comes….
When the pod people come to transfer them to the police station, Becky will fight back. Rather than cowering in a corner like a good woman would do, she will help Miles so they can live another day! And because the pod people would expect her to behave like the stereotypical woman, shrieking and backing away, they’ll never think Becky could be a threat. At first Miles is appalled. How could Becky suggest such a thing? She can’t raise her hands to defend herself! Becky sways him with her unquestionable argument of “Why not, Miles; why can’t I? …. I can!” So this is their grand escape plan – Becky will take an active role in defending herself.
And guess what, it works.
After their daring escape, they hide in a field (yes, I said a field!), lying completely motionless until they think it’s dark enough for them to sneak out of town. Unfortunately, the pod people know this is what’s going to happen, so as Miles and Becky reach the edge of town, there’s a mob of pod people waiting for them. And since this is a novel and not reality, they also happen to come out of town at the exact point of a farm where the pod people are growing more pods. It looks bad, very bad, for Miles and Becky who are faced with the proof that the human race is about to be wiped out and being surrounded by an unemotional mob of pod people.
And…. That’s where we’re going to leave them for a bit. I need to talk about the movie.
So the Donald Sutherland version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers came 23 years after the novel was released. In that time Miles changes his name to Matthew and is a health inspector rather than a doctor. Becky becomes Elizabeth, friend of Matthew who is engaged to a man who suddenly begins acting strangely – though Matthew is giving her sexy bedroom eyes from the very beginning and it is clear Elizabeth is way more interested in him than she is in her fiance. Jack is still Jack, but he’s married to a Nancy instead of a Theodora. Okay, now that we have the names and relationships straight, let’s get to the meat of it.
The basic story from the novel is the same in the movie: an alien life form comes to Earth and starts replacing people with pod people. The pod people absorb everything that makes you you while you’re sleeping, which makes sleeping a dangerous pastime.There’s still a farm where the invading aliens are growing new pods – though it is much more scientific and modern than in the novel – and the ultimate plan is to take over the entire Earth, person by person, until humans are extinct.
Other than that, you can forget about the book, because we are in a different decade, a different format, and things have changed. Move over small town, because we are now in San Francisco.
Everything is sleek and modern (for the 70s) and the alien threat is much more aggressive. While in the book the pod people seemed more or less happy to let exhaustion take over people, forcing humans to change when they can hold out no longer and sleep, the film is full of devious cab drivers, lurking janitors, loads of chase scenes (How the actresses ran so much in high heels baffles me. I am in awe.), and a weird shrieking that they do whenever they uncover a human and are on the hunt. Honestly, the shriek is totally creepy.
Unfortunately, the women in the movie version are about as useful as they are in the book. Lots of crying and swooning because they’re overwhelmed, exhausted, and couldn’t possibly go on without the men helping them ‘Oh, poor me,’ damsel in distress scenarios. They even take away Becky/Elizabeth’s monumental “I can!” moment. Instead, the heroic female moment occurs when Nancy (who really is a minor character) figures out that they can move among the pod people by not showing emotion.
Fast forward to the end of both the book and film. We’re at the farm. In both the book and the movie, Miles/Matthew decide to strike back at the invading aliens, destroying as many of the growing pods as possible even though he knows it is impossible to make a lasting impression on such a massive threat. In the book, Miles and Becky stand together against the mob, unwilling to give in, unwilling to take defeat without a fight. In the film, Elizabeth has fallen, been taken over by the pod people, and Matthew is losing his resolve. He’s exhausted, doesn’t know where to run next or how to hide.
I’m going insert a big *SPOILER ALERT* right here. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s late, but I’m about to reveal big plot twists at the end of both the book and movie, so if you want to discover anything new while reading/viewing Invasion of the Body Snatchers, stop reading now.
So in the book the aliens decide to just leave. Yep, after Miles sets fire to their crop of pods, the remaining spores that are growing the pods decide that Earth is too defiant, too inhospitable for them to take over. And they leave. Hm… The pod people who are already fully formed are still around, populating the small town, but they’re content to live out their normal pod people lives. Miles, Becky, Jack, and Theodora all get to live happily ever after.
Things are a bit different in the movie. Movie Jack gets taken over and turned pod pretty early on. Nancy slips away, pretending to not be human. Matthew and Elizabeth make a final stand but Elizabeth can’t help falling asleep and turns into a sexy, naked pod Elizabeth luring Matthew to the dark side. He keeps up the fight, resisting her. The movie ends with Matthew moving through the city, moving among the pod people. The viewer is unsure what happened to him (is he human, or is he a pod person?) until Nancy arrives, calling to him. Matthew turns, raises his hand, and shrieks. End scene.
The shock of the final scene is abrupt and heart wrenching. When Nancy appears I cheered – she’d made it, despite the fact that the women in the movie seem capable of doing little more than running in heels, she figured it out. She survived and, with Matthew, they can beat this thing. And then Matthew shrieks, and poor Nancy (sigh) poor Nancy, she finally snaps, covering her head and crying. And I wanted to cry with her.