Film Analysis #2

December 5th, 2010

For my analysis, I decided to analyze the ending scene of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” in which Dr. Miles Bennell, who is now the last human in Santa Mira, tries to warn people on the highway that they are in danger. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” directed by Don Siegel and released by Allied Artists Pictures on February 5, 1956, is the first of four films based on the novel “The Body Snatchers,” by Jack Finney. At first glance, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is a sci-fi film, which provokes fear in the audience. The film, and the ending scene in particular, portrays a fear of humans, and Miles in particular, being turned into controlled masses. This theme related to the fear that Americans had in the 1950’s related to Communism and McCarthyism. It was thought at the time that if Americans were not vigilant to the perceived threat, our own democracy would be overthrown for the Communist ways, and our individuals turned into “zombies” unable to act on their own.

There are, in my opinion, four parts of the scene. The first part is with Miles and his love interest, Becky Driscoll, together in a cave. The first shot is of Miles clutching Becky, trying to keep her awake. As they kiss, they portray a unified front as it is them against the rest of the town. Then, all of a sudden, very sinister background music starts playing, and the camera focuses on Miles’ face as he realizes that something is wrong. The next shot is of Becky, who is now a pod, opening her eyes as if she has been reborn, and the shot after that is of Miles’ eyes widening in fear. Interestingly, when Becky awakens as a pod, she gives a calm and beautiful impression, especially as compared to Miles’ filthy and frightened appearance. Next are a variety of shots of Miles, Becky’s double, and both of them together, in which Becky’s double tries to convince Miles to stop resisting the Pod People, which he refuses. The background music then shifts from a sinister tone to an almost sad and resigned tone. After he refuses, Becky’s double starts yelling for the other pods, at which point Miles starts running.

The second part of the scene shows Miles running away from the Pod People. At this point, he is completely alone, having just lost his love and only companion. The first shot of this part of the scene is of Miles running out of the cave, which from the outside looks pitch black. It looks as though he is running out of the darkness and into the light. The next shot is of Miles running down a cliff, while dozens of pods chase after him. This scene is a wide shot in which the viewer sees the massive cliff, and Miles looks small and alone against the massive and sinister view of the darkened cliff. A few shots later, Miles finally manages to get to the highway. Throughout the chase, the pod people appear in the background, but the camera shot clearly focuses on Miles, the protagonist attempting to save the world. The lighting is interesting in that as Miles runs out of the cave, he emerges from darkness into some light, but as he runs to the road, he appears to run into the darkness and at that moment, he appears as the only light in the scene. In this part of the scene, the background music picks up speed and has an exciting, nerve-wracking feel. At that point, the Pod People stop chasing him, with one of them saying that they should just let him go, and that nobody’s going to believe him.

The third part of the scene shows Miles in the middle of the highway, desperately trying to convince the people driving along that they are in danger. This part of the scene begins with a variety of shots of Miles walking in the middle of the road, screaming and trying to stop the passing cars. Miles is always in the central focus, though the scene has the cars moving quickly around him. The scene is dark, and the pinpoints of light emerging from the headlights appear as his only hope for salvation. No one is listening to him; they all think he is either crazy or drunk. At some point, there is a shot of the Pod People watching from the distance. They seem to be watching in amusement (that no one is listening to him) and anticipation (that all the people who will not listen will soon join them). After one more shot of Miles trying to stop one of the cars, there’s a shot of him climbing onto the side of a truck, and begging the driver to pull over. The driver pushes him off, and in the next shot, Miles seems to be rolling along the side of the truck. Again the shot pans in such a way that Miles appears small compared to the larger truck, as if to infer that this role of saving the world is too large for this solitary figure. It also shows him against the truck which has in large lettering “Los Angeles – San Francisco – Seattle”, inferring that the “problem” is no longer local. In the next shot, Miles runs after the truck, planning to jump on the back. The next shot is the point of view from the inside of the truck, showing Miles climbing onto the back of the truck. His eyes widen in fear, and in the next shot, we see what he sees: the truck is filled with unhatched pods. The next shot shows Miles falling off the truck, and getting out of the way of the car behind it, ending up back in the middle of the road.

In the fourth and last part of the scene, Miles seems to have given up on trying to convince them, and is now just screaming hysterically. This part consists of three shots. The first shot is of Miles screaming at no one in particular that the Pod People are coming for them. The camera focuses on the top half of Miles’ face and body as he waves his arms and screams, his face clearly frightened and frantic. The second shot is a severe close up of Miles’ face as he screams “They’re here already! You’re next!” The way the camera focuses only on his face and he looks directly at the camera makes it clear that he is speaking straight to the viewer and warning the audience. The last shot almost appears as if Miles is falling backwards as he runs through the traffic, warning, “You’re next!” At the end, there is no background music; the viewer hears the sound of traffic, as the people around him remain oblivious to the danger.

As mentioned previously, many of the symbolism of this film relate to Communism and the Cold War. As opposed to an actual military war, this enemy sneaks up on its enemy as they are sleeping and attacks one person at a time. The fear of becoming a pod person was similar to the fear that Communism, if it took over, would turn our citizens into people, all alike and unable to think or act on their own. I have several theories on who Dr. Miles Bennell represents. Perhaps he is the entire country of the United States or in my preferred theory, he represents Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy was tremendously fearful of the spread of Communism, and made many accusations of Communist infiltration within America. According to that theory, Miles sees the danger that no one else seems to see; he foretells the spread of the aliens outside the small town and throughout the country. He looks for allies everywhere, but he is alone as a solitary figure and all of the cars turn him away. McCarthy also looked to others to help his with his fear of the spread of Communism, but in the end, he was turned away when the Senate censured him in 1954, just a few years prior to this film’s production.

“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is a great film, whether it is taken as an enjoyable sci-fi film or analyzed on its greater themes. The many film elements, such as the lighting, camera angles, and music tell a story beyond its actual story. This scene has much to be analyzed and represents a significant time in American History.

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2 Responses to “Film Analysis #2”

  1. jengesser1 on December 13, 2010 8:35 AM

    I agree with your interpretation accept I can’t decide if the director was for or against McCarthyism. McCarthy was such a jerk and yet Dr. Bennell is a likeable character I think we side with most of the time. SO maybe the pod people are the anti-communist supporters who have the Red Scare and are all alike and blindly accepting McCarthys warnings?

  2. Amy Herzog on December 29, 2010 2:24 PM

    A very belated note to thank you for this detailed and convincing analysis– you do an excellent job framing this scene historically, and offer a number of possible interpretations of its ambiguous political message.

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