The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the most enduring classics the horror genre has to offer. It’s spawned multiple remakes, and even though many people haven’t seen it, pretty much everybody knows about it. It’s permeated the cultural air we breathe in a way that few films from the 1950s ever have. So, you’d think it would have a timeless message that people from any generation can appreciate. However, the way most people see it, that’s not actually the case.
Instead, it’s usually seen as an anti-communist flick. It came out in 1956, at the height of anti-communist sentiment in America, and a lot of people believe its message is very specific to that historical context. They interpret the pod people as an allegory for the communists that many at that time feared were infiltrating American society and trying to remake it in their own image.
But I’ve never viewed the movie that way. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t around back in the 1950s, but I’ve always understood the film’s message to be much broader than is commonly imagined. See, there’s nothing in it that’s explicitly or uniquely communist. The pod people aren’t trying to overthrow the government or implement a new political system.
Rather, they’re striking at something much more fundamental. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is primarily about what makes us human and gives our lives meaning. It’s about love and beauty and deep emotions, so it actually has a timeless message that transcends its original setting and can apply to any time or place. Admittedly, that may sound a bit grandiose for a 1950s sci-fi flick, but it’s true. We just have to look closely at some of the ways the movie lets us know what it’s really all about.
Let’s start with one of the opening scenes. We get our first hint that something dastardly is going on when Dr. Miles Bennell, the main character, goes to see several patients who claim that their relatives have been replaced with identical doppelgangers. For instance, a woman named Wilma tells him that her Uncle Ira isn’t really Uncle Ira, and when Miles asks her how she knows this, she can’t point to anything concrete. She says he talks the same, he moves the same, and he even remembers things that only her uncle would know, but there’s one key ingredient missing: “Uncle Ira” doesn’t really have any emotion anymore. He fakes it, but it’s not truly there.
When you watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the first time, this clue is easy to miss, but it’s actually really important. The pod people are trying to remove emotion and feeling from the human race, and that’s a big deal. We’re not robots. We feel things like joy and sadness and fear and relief, and all of these emotions are important ingredients in a worthwhile and truly human life.
Think about the best things you’ve ever experienced, like being in love, spending time with a close friend, or seeing a really beautiful work of art. While those things are objectively good in themselves, that objective side isn’t enough. As human beings, we also need to subjectively feel their goodness. Otherwise, those experiences will remain surface-level, and they won’t truly nourish our souls.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times in life when we need to do the right thing even though we don’t feel like it. But we can’t live our entire lives like that. Emotions are how we internalize the good things we experience and make them truly ours. So, we need to feel good at least some of the time. It’s a key part of what it means to be genuinely human. And it’s one of the biggest reasons why human life is truly worth living.
Love and Humanity
That’s just a slight hint of the theme, but the movie lays it all out for us pretty explicitly a little while later. At one point in the film, Miles and his girlfriend Becky hide out in Miles’s office and try to stay awake all night, and they talk a bit about the threat posed by the pod people. During their conversation, Miles comments that in his work as a doctor, he’s seen “how people have allowed their humanity to drain away…only when we have to fight to stay human do we realize how precious it is to us, how dear, as you are to me.”
This confirms for us that Invasion of the Body Snatchers isn’t really about communism. Rather, it’s about fighting for the things that make us human and that make life worth living. What’s more, the last phrase of this line also connects the love story between Miles and Becky to this larger theme, adding another layer to it. Much like our emotions, love is also being threatened by the pod people because it’s another thing that makes us human and gives our lives meaning.
Again, think about some of the greatest moments of your life. I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of them (if not all of them!) involve someone you love, like a friend, a family member, or a spouse. More than anything else in the world, love is what makes life worth living, and being without it is the worst hell imaginable.
The most miserable people in the world aren’t the ones who lack money or material possessions. No, the unhappiest people are the ones who lack love, and with good reason. Love isn’t just the most important thing in the world. In a very real sense, it’s the only important thing. With it, everything else in our lives has meaning, but without it, nothing else really matters.
From the Pod People’s Mouths
And in case there’s any doubt about this, there’s one more scene that lays it all out even more explicitly. Towards the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Miles and Becky’s recently changed friends try to convince them to just accept the inevitable and let the change happen, and they straight up say that they’re trying to make a world of pure pragmatism and efficiency. They explain that they want to eliminate things like love, desire, ambition, and faith, and they want to make human life about pure survival and nothing else.
This is our smoking gun. The pod people themselves tell us that they’re not trying to set up a communist government, nor are they trying to eliminate capitalism or democracy. No, their goal is much more far-reaching than that. They want to do away with the very things that make us human and give our lives meaning, like love and emotions, and make society about cold, unfeeling pragmatism instead.
All that being said, though, it’s not quite true that Invasion of the Body Snatchers has absolutely nothing to do with communism. The genius of this movie is that its message transcends every time and place, so it can apply to any time and place. Because it deals with universal human values, the pod people can be a metaphor for anything that threatens those values in any given context. If people in the 1950s really thought that communism threatened their very humanity, then sure, this film could apply to communism, but it’s not limited to that one issue.
We can also apply this general message to our own day and age, and every subsequent generation will be able to do the same. That’s what makes this movie such an enduring classic. It’s the perfect blend of timelessness and cultural relevance, and it encourages us to fight for our humanity no matter who or what is threatening it. It inspires us to do everything we can to defend the things that give our lives meaning, and it shows us just how scary society would become if we lost sight of the things that make us human.