One of the greatest advantages of modern cinema is its ability to transform its audience into another reality. This other reality can be full of wonder and excitement or in the case of Philip Kaufman’s Sci-fi horror Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a world of paranoia and fear. The film leaves the viewer questioning ones perception of reality and sense of self. Kaufman incorporates film noir style, Surrealism and psychoanalysis in his modern remake of the original film to depict the disempowered fragility of the Individual. In altering my viewing of Invasion of the Body Snatchers I played a repetitive loop of the song “Cirrus” by Bonobo in order to heighten feelings of fear, agitation and anxiety that the “Imposters” provoke. In unifying these two medias I hope to discover a new way of experiencing Kaufman’s Dystopia in which anxiety is the new norm.
At the beginning of the film Kaufman cleverly uses foreshadowing techniques incorporating loose frame shots of human and plant integration. The camera starts off with a wide angle shot of a hallway and then zooms into the scene of a glass door in which the characters appear off screen. The camera invites us to look at the reflection cast on a glass door to where the characters sit on a bed. As the viewer you experience both the plants behind the glass and the characters reflection. This dream like scene with props such as a bed sets the tone for an exploration of unconscious fears in which alien and humans collide.
The film unifies the duality of human and alien with the conscious and unconscious mind. Parallels of these themes are depicted throughout the entirety of the film as characters fear the most human basic need, sleep. For this fear translates to the death of humanity, feelings of hope, anger and love lost, and in its place a transformation to something alien. During this transformation we see the short lived moments of “Doppelgangers” and the relationship of parasite to host. One cannot exist without the other, much like our conscious and unconscious mind. These visual elements of surrealism can be identified in this portrait by the Artist Frida Kahlo titled “The two Fridas” and echoes that of the garden scene of Matthews’s partial transformative experience.
As Matthew dozes off to sleep plant like tendrils disperse from a small pod nearby in the garden and make their way towards him. The web-like tendrils act like veins connecting the pair giving the audience a horrifying insight into Matthews fear. During my altered viewing of this scene the music plays the role of a siren call for the alien pod, gently lulling Matthew to sleep creating a false sense of security and rest. The rhythm echoes Matthews breathing as the “blooming” alien comes into being. The heavy bass tones indicate the menacing growth of the alien and help to envelop me as a viewer into a world filled with psychological fear. Watching this I’m thinking Matthew wake up!
In the unaltered viewing of this scene Ben Burtt the Sound designer chooses the familiar technological sound of an ultrasound. The sound of a fetus heartbeat, with its positive connotations associated with human life, are all of a sudden portrayed as somewhat sinister as this sound now emits from this growing alien life form. Begging the question are the aliens human after all? And is this transformation part of humanity’s upgrade? As the character of the Psychiatrist Dr. David Kibner states:
“You will be born again into an untroubled world. Free of anxiety, fear and hate. Minds and memories become absorbed. You are evolving into a new life form. “
Throughout the film the characters refuse to accept Dr. Kibner’s rational analysis much like how Surrealism rejects psychology.
A battle of minds can be seen here in this distorted mirror shot of the characters of Matthew and Jack. This is indicative of the fight for dominance between the conscious and unconscious self, simultaneously paralleling the battle between human and alien. The shot is tightly framed to give the audience the illusion of claustrophobia and a distorted sense of self and others, heightening feelings of paranoia and hostility. In the unaltered scene the characters are both talking and nobody is listening giving emphasis to being seen and not heard. With the altered viewing the music plays and emphasises the characters movements and sense of urgency. The lack of dialogue forces importance upon the characters facial expressions which appear angry and frustrated. Kaufman scatters other surrealist shots pertaining to perception of self and others with the use of a fish eye lens and props like the broken windshield.
Characteristics of film noir are shown throughout the film as most of the scenes take place at night or in low light settings. The characters of Matthew and Elizabeth are marked by fatalism and experience a kind of “doomed love.” In this close up, balanced shot of Matthew chiaroscuro is used to add an element of horror. Half of his face is in shadow as the artificial light source comes from below signifying a part of him that is yet to be revealed and how the unconscious mind is never fully revealed.
At the end of the film we are enlightened as Matthew has in fact been transformed. Kaufman uses this fantastic notion of addressing the viewer directly with Matthew’s shriek and finger point. His horrifying gaze and hand gesture implies that us as the viewer must be assimilated.
The repetitive music played during my film watching experience had some unusual findings. Not only did it change the way in which the film was understood with no narrative, it was replaced by a heightened sensitivity to body language. The first hour or so I was feeling anxiety ridden much like the characters would have felt in their efforts to survive. After that point I was surprised to find myself feeling soothed by its mindlessness and predictability which left me with the desire to be assimilated with the aliens. Hahaha yep. I also noticed the after effects of not listening to the music. I could still hear it play! Not physically but a kind of earworm effect. I like to think that I temporarily tricked myself into a surreal experience were my own reality was in fact altered.
By Caroline Cox