Images of America

A Social and Historical Look
at America Through the Movies

Study Guide - Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Director : Don Siegel

Stars :
Kevin McCarthy .... Dr. Miles J. Bennell
Dana Wynter .... Becky Driscoll
Larry Gates .... Dr. Dan 'Danny' Kauffman
King Donovan .... Jack Belicec

Preparation :
Read the Science Fiction Film Review and the gadflyonline article

Historical/Social Significance :
"One of the most influential science fiction films of all time."

"In order to protect themselves from accusations from HUAC, the American society started to become obsessed with conformity - individualism could easily be interpreted as radicals, so people became aware not to stand out." American Film Interpreting the Hollywood Image (1979)

"In Body Snatchers, the pod people, who, like McCarthy and the other red-baiters, look like typical, fine upstanding Americans, search out rebels like Miles who refuse to conform to what has been newly defined as the "American Way"—just as McCarthy and HUAC destroyed the lives of those who refused to knuckle under to their directives. The mob hysteria, the sense of paranoia, the fascist police, the witch hunt atmosphere of the picture certainly mirrors the ills of McCarthy’s America."1

"Few products reveal so sharply as the science fiction/horror films of the 1950s the wishes, the hopes, the fears, the inner stresses and tensions of the period. Directly or indirectly, Invasion deals with the fear od annihilation brought on by the existence of the A-bomb, the pevasive feeling of paranoia engendered by an increasing sense that something was wrong, an increasing fear of dehumanization focused around an increased massification of American life, a deep seated expression of social, sexual and political frustration resulting from an ever-widening gap between personal expectation and social reality, and a widespread push for conformity as an acceptable strategy to deal with the confusion and growing insecurity of the period.2

Synopsis :
Dr. Miles Bennell notices that some funny things are going on in his town, but he can't quite figure out what is wrong.

    Guided Questions for Viewing :
    Assessment questions will be based on the following :
  • One interpretation of the film is that it is a metaphor about the Communist witch hunts (McCarthyism) of the 1950's. Talk about the movie with reference to this.
  • Another interpretation of the film is that it is a metaphor about creeping Communism taking over the world. Discuss the movie in reference to this concept.
  • Another interpretation is that the movie is a warning about conformity. Discuss the movie with reference to this.
  • "Once you understand you'll be grateful. Remember Teddy and I fought against it. We were wrong." Discuss what this line from the movie means to you.
  • "Less than a month ago Santa Mira was like any other town. People with nothing but problems. Then out of the sky came a solution." Discuss this line from the movie. Don't you think the town will be better off?
  • "Remember, always, that it could happen here and that there are thousands of people in this country now working in secret to make it happen here." J. Edgar Hoover FBI Director (1958) Discuss this quote with reference to the movie.
  • "Following World War II, the atomic bomb and the Korean War, Americans were confused and neurotically preoccupied with international political events—much like they are today." (Whitehead) Comment on this quote with reference to the movie and today's political/social environment.

1. Whitehead, John. "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers : A Tale for our Time"

2. Samuels, Stewart. "The Age of Conspiracy and Conformity", ,u>American History/American Fim. ED. John o'Connor and Martin Jackson

Dirks, Tom. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"

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