Shot Through the Heart – The Invasion of the Body Snatchers

“Shot Through the Heart” is a weekly segment in which I rant about a story that means the world to me. Each week we’ll go over a film, book, short story, or game that touched me in ways that are hard to put into words without them just turning into word vomit. This week I’m going to talk about one of my favorite sci-fi films – The Invasion of the Body Snatchers [1978]!

So many people just sleep on this movie. It’s got popularity, but the reality of what it means to me is staggering sometimes. Seriously.

In 1956 there was an adaptation of a little novella by Jack Finney titled The Body Snatchers. The adaptation mostly stuck to the name and kept people coming back. Twenty years of followers make something a cult phenomenon, but when you re-release it there’s always a risk of not delivering to the fanbase. I’ve been subjected to this multiple times, from the Apes franchise to even my beloved Star Wars. It’s a fine line of subject matter to walk, and you have to be careful with how you attempt to execute it. 

The 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a perfect film. Fight me.

Nothing like this exists. To me, the original feels like a cheap ripoff, and the 2007 version with Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman feels like a pittance in comparison. Director Philip Kaufman did something wonderful here, combining tone and imagery and atmosphere while guiding performances from some of Hollywood’s best to a stunningly symphonic climax. Some of the awkward visual imagery, the desperate performances, and the absolute mayhem behind the idea of replacing humanity with a peaceful hivemind. It’s an astonishing bit of cinematic wonder and I love every bit of it.

Let’s talk something everyone will recognize – baby Jeff Goldblum. Sure, he’s not actually a baby, but he’s so young here that it’s hard to recognize him when you know he’s going to move forward to be Seth Brundle or Ian Malcolm. His more iconic roles came later, but here we get an early look at an awkward young man that is portraying a struggling poet that just wants to be taken seriously. Seems like a lot of personal experience went into this role, as nothing Goldblum had done to this point had truly popped and he was still in the early stages of a career. I struggle to see him as Hollywood’s cool uncle here, but there are small shades of the hipster-daddy he would become later in life. Parts of his performance feel staged, but it adds to the pageantry of someone that wants to be taken seriously. I get it. Hell, anyone that’s ever tried to be creative and found resistance has felt that push to be taken seriously by those that stand against them. 

He’s paired with the likes of Donald Sutherland, Veronica Cartwright, and Brooke Adams for the group of heroes. They all work together in a perfect balance, a series of friends that exist within the city as a unit. They have separate lives and struggles while understanding each person’s stance and issues. No judgment from them, especially when one of the single men is in love with a married woman. Just acceptance and support. It feels like a group of friends when so many other films have to fight so hard to establish this sort of relationship. 

Oh, and just remember that Leonard Nimoy is here playing a self-indulgent psychiatrist that’s high on his own bullshit. He’s delightful here, ditching his Spock persona for something that’s more fun and a bit more emotional. He gets frustrated, he gets belligerent, and he puts himself into situations that are clearly either beyond his understanding or ones that he’s undermining. I just wanted to highlight this performance because it’s a standout for the actor.

And how about that finale? Seriously, anyone that doesn’t take Veronica Cartwright seriously as a scream queen has been ignoring this film for a long time. This is one of the absolute best endings in either sci-fi or horror, a brilliant bit of trickery that is built throughout the final third of the film into something unsettling and creepy. The premise is already enough to unsettle most, but adding the final moments really steps things up a notch. 

I cannot recommend trying this enough It’s an absolute favorite of mine and a complete classic piece of cinema. Part sci-fi, part horror, part interpersonal drama, it blends the elements together in perfect synchronicity. There’s a great release of the film from Shout! Factory that I highly recommend picking up, it’s worth your money in the way that the film is worth your time. You’ll love it.

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