Individualism vs. Communism: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

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In Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) the residents of Santa Mira, California are transformed into pod people: alien duplicates who have a collective identity and purpose. The film can be viewed as an allegory for the Cold War: The pod people represent Soviet communism, while Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) and Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) stand for American individualism.

The pod people believe in collectivism: “a social organization in which the individual is seen as being subordinate to a social collectivity.”1 Their society is organized like a commune, but it is involuntary collectivism, not voluntary. The residents are transformed either against their will or without their consent. After their transformation, they are no longer independent individuals with their own hopes, dreams, or desires. Each pod person serves the greater purpose of expanding the collective.

In contrast to the forced collectivism of the pod people, Miles and Becky represent individualism: “a social theory favouring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control.”2 Unlike the pod people, they value each other’s individual identity. Miles says to Becky, “I’d hate to wake up some morning and find out that you weren’t you.” Fearing the loss of her individuality, Becky tells Miles, “We may wake up changed into something evil and inhuman.”

The pod people are inhuman because they destroy the humanity of everyone they transform. They are evil because they violate the free will of human beings to remain as independent individuals. Dan Kauffman (Larry Gates) tells Miles, “You have no choice.” Pods are placed in the adjacent room, and if Miles and Becky fall asleep, they will wake up changed. Kauffman has violated their free will—their desire to maintain their individual identity—and feels no guilt in doing so.

The pod people feel no guilt because they no longer experience human emotions. Wilma Lentz (Virginia Christine) says that her Uncle Ira (Tom Fadden) has “no emotion … just the pretense of it.” The pod people’s loss of human emotions represents the loss of their humanity. Without emotions, they believe they are superior to human beings. Kauffman says, “love, desire, ambition… Without them life is so simple.” He has lost what it means to be human, but he believes he has progressed, not regressed.

Kauffman has not only lost his emotions, but he has also lost his faith in God. He lists “faith” among the emotions that he no longer experiences. If any of the pod people were Christians prior to their transformation, they are all atheists now. Like the communists of the Soviet Union, they plan to create an atheistic utopia on Earth.

In the climax of the film, the struggle against the pod people is left unresolved. Becky tragically loses her individuality, while Miles escapes to warn the authorities in a nearby town. The film reminds us that freedom is something we must remain vigilant to protect. The pod people, like the Soviet communists they represent, do not allow individual freedom and liberty.

Notes

  1. Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. “Collectivism,” accessed May 21, 2015, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/125584/collectivism
  2. Oxford Dictionaries, s.v. “Individualism,” accessed March 6, 2014, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/individualism
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One thought on “Individualism vs. Communism: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

  1. Thanks for sharing this! I find it very interesting how we use different examples to relate to the film’s message. I wouldn’t draw very clear cut lines stating individualism as a general US American value and collectivism being the sole characteristic of Soviet Union, as I see these elements present in any society – but to varying degrees – in a yin/yang state, negotiating space and relevance. Marx himself always stated people should be free to form their own unions without any role being played by the state.

    I would have liked to see whom or what was behind the pod people plan. You see, as much as Soviet Union preached atheism, what in fact happened was that religions were gradually replaced by a “Lenin-cult”, to the point where one belief was simply replaced by another. I am not sure the pod-people would be simply roaming free without a bigger purpose behind them… What would they be used for? Now these are questions I would have really liked to see answered!

    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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