Keep it chill
What luck that this movie should come up for review in SN&R’s pot issue, the cultural portion of which I feared might too easily become redundant, under-funny, self-congratulating, charmlessly juvenile, ultimately irrelevant—but at least roundly diverting and maybe even mildly entertaining.
So too is The Invasion. Plus, because this is the fourth time Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers has been made into a movie, and the message of the thing is so muddled by now, we might as well say that actually it’s totally all about marijuana.
Consider the evidence, man. Notwithstanding its short attention span (editing doesn’t come any hastier than in narrative-jarring flash-forwards), the movie has two basic moods: trance-like complacency and dithering paranoia. And how earnestly, if vapidly, it contemplates them. It has something to say, sure, but can’t quite get it out. It manages the stale, limply indignant point that Washington has become a nest of soulless automatons, bent on self-propagation. Hey, maybe what our foreign policy really needs, it finally blurts, is forcible extra-terrestrial intervention! Then it gets bashful and recedes into a mild giggle fit. Look, it can see the virtues and the perils of both communism and rugged individualism, OK, but sheesh, does it have to choose right now? Can’t it just flirt and have a good time and keep things mellow?
Oh yeah, you asked about the plot. The wreckage of a space-shuttle crash spreads an alien virus across America, stealthily recoding human DNA so as to make creepy even-keeled drones of us all. All a proper subordination requires is a few hours of deep sleep; while sufficiently unconscious, victims glaze over, literally, then wake, wipe their sleep-encrusted eyes and, uh, bodies, and calmly go about their business, never sweating but occasionally barfing on others to infect them, too. With their flat affects and vacant stares, the drones seem to live in relative harmony. They’re not at all warlike, except toward anyone unlike them.
One such person is a D.C. psychiatrist played by Nicole Kidman. She describes herself as a postmodern feminist, which means here that she’s immune to the charms of Daniel Craig as her hunky medical researcher friend, and that she answers one patient’s frantic report of a spouse’s brutality by dashing off a new prescription and ending the session early. There’s room for good satire here, but it would require focus, such a buzzkill.
Thus, a quick database search of her patient’s main complaint—“my husband is not my husband”—yields not a tedious procedural of ruling out dementias and brain aphasias and dissociative disorders, but instead the dawning awareness of just what sort of movie she’s in.
Conversely, the movie knows that when the cool, alabaster-skinned Kidman, famously something of a pod person herself, comes off as the most human presence on the screen, weirdness surely is afoot. Hiding out in the conformist herd actually requires her to feign blankness, to keep her trembling emotions at bay. Add the similarly steely Craig, plus a nonchalantly exposition-spouting scientist gamely played by Jeffrey Wright, and The Invasion reveals its top priority: keeping things chill.
Hell, there’s even a veiled if confused defense of milder mind-enhancers against the harder stuff. “You give people pills to make their lives better,” the shrink’s zombified ex-husband (Jeremy Northam) admonishes. “How is that so different from what we’re doing?” While it’s entirely possible that he’s supposed to sound like Kidman’s own zombified ex, Tom Cruise, let’s give the Scientologists a break and just label the character a standard stoner apologist.
Written by first-time screenwriter David Kajganich, The Invasion was directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, of the Hitler’s-last-days drama Downfall, with uncredited but conspicuous help from the Wachowski bothers of Matrix fame and their protégé James McTeigue of V for Vendetta. That explains the dorm-room worthy, theme-telegraphing philosophical dialogue. To sum up: As the alien lifestyle takes hold, the biggest of the big human problems—Iraq, Darfur, North Korea—just go away. Yeah, but so do individual personalities, and, you know, reasons for living in the first place. It’s, like, a trade-off. Whoa. Dude.
Until now, each Body Snatchers movie has dealt with issues of alienation and conformity, and striven for a context of topical relevance—be it the Red Scary ’50s, the Post-Nixon, me-decade ’70s, or the insouciantly militaristic Gulf War ’90s. At the moment, we’re not exactly hurting for factious ideologies that could benefit from allegorical elaboration, but The Invasion, though good with catchy genre riffs, seems aware that it might not be the right movie for the bigger allegorical job. The most telling comment this film makes about today’s world might be its own muddled disconnection. Right: blaze away.