August 17, 2007

"To be human is to be purely and violently self-interested."

That's the "creepy ideology that seeps into the movie ['The Invasion'] and informs its denouement," according to Manohla Dargis. I wonder exactly what got to her there. I'm guessing the movie felt right wing to her and that wouldn't do. But a good remake of "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" should have some political theme. The original did. And it was pretty right wing.

MORE: In the comments, Michael points to this WaPo review by Stephen Hunter and says it explains what bothered Dargis. It's a bit of a spoiler, but here it is:
What I like about the film, however, is that as an intellectual tiff, it argues fairly. That is, it doesn't give us an idealized version of "freedom," as off a Norman Rockwell magazine cover in the '40s. No, no, it says: Freedom will be squalid, violent and dangerous. The key moment in the film comes when Carol faces freedom's ultimate challenge, which is defending it. She faces six men who want to take her down and "cure" her. They have totalitarian will and little regard for their own lives. She has a gun. But does she have the will to use it? Very interesting question, not only within the movie but within the world. The movie, at least, has an answer.

Another excellent moment: After making her decision, there's a wonderful scene that finds her in the kitchen as she has a crisis of the spirit: Did she make the right choice? Why was she so sure? Maybe her primal instincts were wrong?

Her ambiguity is the best coda to a movie that really asks the hardest question of all.
This makes me think about the book "The Sociopath Next Door," which I've been reading. The sociopath, the author (Martha Stout) tells us, has no conscience and is able to manipulate and harm normal people precisely because they do continually question what they are doing, whether they are wrong, whether they've lost their mind, etc. To wonder if you made the wrong decision then, is to give proof of your humanity. Stout talks about Barbara Graham -- the woman executed for murder portrayed in the movie "I Want to Live" -- whom she characterizes as a sociopath. Graham's last words were "Good people are always so sure they're right," which Stout says is exactly not true. Good people are the ones who are not sure -- as Graham (Stout thinks) knew when she chose them for the purpose of inflicting torment.

26 comments:

ricpic said...

I don't quite know what violently self-interested means. But self-interested? Of course. Aren't we all?

Trevor said...

FWIW, the film's director resisted an anti-Communist reading of the film, which is one of many contradictory interpretations that have been made of the film. If you'll excuse the long quote, here's Don Siegel:

"People are pods. Many of my associates are certainly pods. They have no feelings. They exist, breathe, sleep. To be a pod means that you have no passion, no anger, the spark has left you…of course, there’s a very strong case for being a pod. These pods, who get rid of pain, ill-health and mental disturbances are, in a sense, doing good. It happens to leave you in a very dull world but that, by the way, is the world that most of us live in. It’s the same as people who welcome going into the army or prison. There’s regimentation, a lack of having to make up your mind, face decisions…. People are becoming vegetables. I don’t know what the answer is except an awareness of it. That’s what makes a picture like Invasion of the Body Snatchers important."

link to good essay on the many interps of the film

NSC said...

Yes, what does violently self-interested mean? As ricpic said, everyone is self-interested and sometimes violently (self-defense and the defense of one's loved ones comes to mind).

Zeb Quinn said...

Don Siegel was many things, but an ideologue wasn't one of them. The story taps into some kind of other fear percolating through the human psyche. While I liked them both, I thought the 1978 Donald Sutherland version was scarier.

Paul Snively said...

Stephen King's commentary on the first film, in Danse Macabre, is also slyly amusing. He makes the point that the sign that your neighbor is an alien seems to be that he loses even the barest of interest in basic home maintenance—a broken window here, an unmown lawn there. It's an interesting point, especially when viewed through a 1950s "Leave It to Beaver" lens, through which every American home scene looked a lot like that of a modern planned, gated community.

Paul Snively said...

Oh, and as others have said, the reviewer says "violently self-interested" like it's a bad thing. Invade my home, threaten me or my family, and you'll see what "violently self-interested" looks like, I assure you.

Cedarford said...

Lady is a critic that doesn't appreciate that the two versions before (1956, 1978) were considered classics by NY Times critic Pauline Kael. She comes off as elitist and doesn't "get" the powerful imagery, direction of the two flicks.

The 1st was done by Don Siegel - Clint Eastwood's mentor and the director of The Killers and DIrty Harry & other Eastwood flicks, John Wayne's The Shootist. The directing in the 1956 version was praised and was widely emulated in suspense flicks. The writer of the 1956 version was Daniel Mainwaring, a communist and someone blacklisted...he wrote it after 2nd thoughts on Stalin but with the "Full Red Scare Paranoia".

The 1978 version, with Donald Sutherland was a post Vietnam-Watergate homage to paranoia, sinister forces, anti-authority, things aren't really what they seem. Wonderful work in that by Sutherland, Veronica Cartwright. The movie ending with Sutherland and Cartwright is a chilling shocker...

The 1978 version is a rare remake that updates and matches a classic.

Big-eyed Veronica Cartwright is in "Invasion" as well.

dave™© said...

While Siegel's version is often tagged as "anti-Communist," the original story, by Marin County resident Jack Finney, is pretty much beat anti-conformity 101.

Siegel was probably more interested in the parallels between Hollywood conformity than anti-communism. Of course, the studio fucked with the film quite a bit in editing, too.

rcocean said...

Funny how a lot Hollywood types always get upset when their work gets tagged as "anti-communist".

Does that mean they LIKE communism? Or is it just declasse to critise it?

The same is true of their attitude toward Castro. Why all the love? Isn't Cuba a dictorship, and a police state?

Very puzzling.

Howard said...

Applying political themes after the fact seems to be an affectation of the quasi-intellictual. I think it's all in the viewer and what their made of. Best example: I was in a theater camp back in the day and we were doing Death of a Salesman. Now all the righties were pissing and moaning about their precious little darlings being converted to communism and getting their little brains filled with anti-business shit and so-on. So on a break I happened to catch this teeny pair of eyes peering at us from a bush by a window. I went over there and spotted a ten or twelve year old who was thrilled that an actor in a big play might talk to her. So I asked her what she thought it was about...(filled with "bad language" and yelling and stuff) The little girl thought a second and then said something that has stuck with me for thirty years: "It means that our parents are always trying to do what's right for us." Tell me that isn't what Salesman is about. I dare you.

The Mechanical Eye said...

Funny how a lot Hollywood types always get upset when their work gets tagged as "anti-communist".

Does that mean they LIKE communism? Or is it just declasse to critise it?


Back in my Young Republican mode I'd just eat that interpretation up -- "those lousy REDS!"

But assuming no arch political leanings, what motivates the revulsion is the instinct to treat one's art like a club to beat your political opponents with.

People with strong ideologies see movies not for their entertainment or portrayal of flawed humans, but as good opportunities to re-affirm their own political standings. Siegel's own interpretation is a lot deeper than anti-Communism; it goes to the heart of the desire, and danger, of growing and predictable and complacent.

Looking for political leanings has some merit if you want to glean some more understanding, but its an ultimately incomplete read of the film. It's just a richer experience to look at it otherwise.

DU

Ann Althouse said...

Is there some kind of reverse-podding going on around here -- see dave™©.

Ann Althouse said...

I love the Donald Sutherland movie.

David53 said...

Is there some kind of reverse-podding going on around here -- see dave™©.

At first I thought Steve Simels was channeling through crazy dave but that is just too wacked. Besides Stevie is a music critic, or does he do films also?

Anyway reverse-podding would give crazy dave back his hate-filled diatribes, not restrain them.

Crazy dave is probably just on vacation and has a guest host crazy dave filling in for him who doesn't really know what being crazy dave is about.

Palladian said...

Anyone remember that moment as a kid (or teenager) when you realized that movies could be allegories for larger philosophical issues? It's a magical moment.

Oh, and shh! Don't jinx crazy-dave's transformation into a normal human! He may turn out to be an interesting commenter in the end!

rcocean said...

"I went over there and spotted a ten or twelve year old who was thrilled that an actor in a big play might talk to her. So I asked her what she thought it was about...(filled with "bad language" and yelling and stuff) The little girl thought a second and then said something that has stuck with me for thirty years: "It means that our parents are always trying to do what's right for us."

What kind of sadist takes a ten year old girl to "Death of Salesman"? Was she Hillary Clinton? And what did she think of the "Crucible"?

XWL said...

I've developed the Dargis unit of measuring the pretentiousness and uselessness of a film review.

Needless to say, Ms. Dargis rarely disappoints. Her review of Inland Empire remains the gold standard at a full 1000 millidargis (and was actually exceeded by 50% by her unbelievably pretentious and useless review of Snakes on a Plane).

I'd rate this rather short review of Invasion a mere 450 millidargis, she's slipping. Maybe she's just feeling the August crappy movie season blahs. I'm sure she'll return to full form when all the Oscar bait 'Amerikkka is Eeevil' movies start rolling out this fall (In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, Lions to Lambs, and more)

Chris said...

As long as we have the fear of losing the passions and frailties that define our humanity, Hollywood will be able to recycle the pod people. It's a metaphor that's so suited to so many fears: creepy utopianism, totalitarianism, conformity, the (supposed) dulling influence of consumerism. Tomorrow, it'll be a fear of evangelical transhumanits with vacant expressions. The Pod People are forever.

Revenant said...

But assuming no arch political leanings, what motivates the revulsion is the instinct to treat one's art like a club to beat your political opponents with.

I've never seen any Hollywood type get pissy if you called their film "anti-fascist" or "anti-Nazi".

Or even "anti-Republican", come to think of it...

blake said...

The '70s remake was greeted rather coolly as I recall, though it has aged rather well. And the screaming air-raid siren tone of the aliens when they recognized a human was memorably chilling and seems to be fairly woven into our culture.

My father groused about the nihilistic ending of the '70s version versus the '50s version. I pointed out to him that the '50s ending was tacked on by the studio. (Though in the '70s version, in the first scene, there's ol' Kevin McCarthy banging on the car windows trying to warn everyone.)

Fun fact: The book has a happy ending not reflected in the '50s version or the '70s version, nor even the largely forgotten '90s version in which (if memory serves) the absorption of the entire planet is shown as being pretty much complete.

Finney may have been--wait, is he dead?--ah, yes, sadly--he may have been an anti-communist or something like that, but the ending of Snatchers suggests first and foremost that he was a humanist.

John Stodder said...

Is it common knowledge that Kevin McCarthy is the brother of writer Mary McCarthy?

With "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" in mind, I have to say one of my biggest celeb-sighting thrills was seeing Kevin McCarthy in Venice. To make it doubly synchronistic, I was reading Mary McCarthy's book on Venice at the exact moment I saw him.

I also love the Donald Sutherland/Leonard Nimoy version. I was living in Berkeley then, and that was such a Bay Area-centric film, all about the emergence of the creepy New Age, "be your own best friend" types that local authors like Cynthia McFadden and Armistad Maupin like to make fun of.

Bissage said...

1. Cedarford used the word already but it needs to be typed out (and read) again: PARANOIA. The fear of a vast, alien conspiracy (VAC) with the means, motive and opportunity to strip us of our inner-selves without alarming our protectors is so scary because it’s already happened to us all. The process is called maturation.

2. Great art teaches us many valuable lessons. The seventies remake taught me at least two: (a) always double-check that caper to be sure it’s not really a rat turd and (b) never, never, never have sex with Brooke Adams.

3. Consider that done and done!

Michael said...

That's the "creepy ideology that seeps into the movie ['The Invasion'] and informs its denouement," according to Manohla Dargis. I wonder exactly what got to her there.

Stephen Hunter's WaPo review explains what offended Dargis. If you don't mind a semi-spoiler, skip down to "'The Invasion' is based on that philosophical chestnut ..."

rcocean said...

I've tried - but can't reconcile the phrase "creepy Idealolgy" with Hunter WaPo description of it.

But Hunter's review makes me want to see the film.

steve simels said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
George said...

To add to what Blake said above about the novel....

The love story between the Dr. and Becky is more pronounced and subtle than in the movie. In plain English, it's clear that the Dr. has a serious case of the hots for Becky and that he loves her as well. So when the happy ending does come, as it should, you feel as though you've read a fairy tale whose moral is that love conquers all. Our hero (a healer) and heroine do grow old together.

As for the book's political content, a main villains are a college professor and the psychiatrist. Not to mention the novelist. They're 'people' who spend their lives interpreting reality, instead of living it to its irrational fullest as the protagonists do.