(SPOILERS) It would be entirely understandable for any on the lookout for ongoing relevance and refection of social trends and undercurrents to pass over Oliver Hirschbiegel’s take on Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers (Warner Bros’ fourth so far). After all, it underwent some brutal reshoots and wound up in such a mangled form that it was pronounce DOA. The Invasion’s a footnote no one much cares to exhume, less still re-evaluate, and for good reason; a decade and a half’s distance has done nothing to reposition it as a neglected gem. Nevertheless, the first half of the picture does withstand renewed scrutiny. While the reshot material comprising the final act still entirely adulterates Oliver Hirschbiegel’s tone and vision, it starts out remarkably effectively, assured in its approach and intent. Furthermore, as predictive programming enterprises go, The Invasion contains some fascinating material…
How much of that is intentional and how much is happy accident is, as is often the case, up for debate. Certainly, it makes for a good narrative that alterations were made – by MKUltra’d Illuminati stooges the Wachowskis, no less – because The Invasion was too explicit/on point in identifying the broader agenda, and Warner execs were instructed to pull back. On the other hand, the changes made entirely smack of your basic “sex-it-up” (add more action) approach, one that invariably proves the death knell of more thoughtful, considered fare (the movie in question still doesn’t end up making money, so the additional cost succeeds only in deepening the money pit the studio has dug for itself).
Screenwriter David Kajanich professed to having applied overt contemporary relevance to his take on the novel, “to living inside of the Bush administration, post 9/11… Agendas were being executed behind a smoke screen of rhetoric that mischaracterised — or completely obscured — them”. Thus, with its Washington DC setting, The Invasion places the actions of government at the centre of the alien invasion plot. As such, the alien endospore – thereafter referred to as an alien virus or virus-like – infects, if not the corridors of power then those who can implement its agendas. In this case, that’s a CDC Director (Jeremy Northam’s Tucker Kaufman), who announces a vaccine programme in response to a “very potent form of influenza”.
In respect of the urban setting, then, this resembles the Philip Kaufman Invasion of the Body Snatchers, only with an accelerated pace; it’s difficult to tell how much of the early part of the movie was altered by the Wachowskis’ rewrites (their first AD-cum-director James McTeigue oversaw the reshoots). It’s probably fair to say that the census taker (Field Blauvelt) who attempts to break Dr Carol Bennell’s (Nicole Kidman) door down was an addition, as it’s very much at-odds with Hirschbiegel’s slow-burn sensibility, less still any measured efforts to institute an alien takeover.
Having Kaufman as Bennell’s ex, though, ensures the protagonists are closer to the heart of the conspiracy. Even more, so given her fancy man Dr Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig) and his biologist chum Dr Stephen Galeano (Jeffrey Wright) have the means not only to work out the pathology of the fungus/virus, but also to combat it (this leads to Galeano heading to Fort Detrick before rescuing imperilled Kidman and kid in the new third act). It’s also very fortunate that Carol should discover the means to combat the spore’s effects, since son Oliver (Jackson Bond) and patient Wendy Lenk (Veronica Cartwright, cameoing much as Kevin McCarthy did in the 1978 film) are conveniently immune.
Kajanich said “we shot the script as written” and per previous iterations “our final five minutes were rather ambiguous”. Unfortunately, “Warner Bros. and Joel Silver, who had supported that ending on the page, second-guessed it on film”. However, rather than the ending alone, the writer was “astonished to find half the script had been rewritten”. It was, he believes, a consequence of a screenplay and first cut that put character first, that “leaned too far out of action beats into character for Warner Bros. tastes... The Wachowskis' rewrite forced in more action… but in ways that weren't organically out of the characters' arcs. It's why that film feels like two movies with different priorities badly grafted to one another. It is”.
Hirschibiegel, in contrast, perhaps mindful of future studio relationships, presented a different take that rather throws his screenwriter under a bus: “We started shooting with a script that wasn't ready… Next time, I would go, "Guys, this script is not ready." No matter that. I'd go, "We cannot shoot this. This will not work." I would say that”.
Which is redolent of a pod-person response, from someone Kajanich described as “very collaborative and respectful of the script”. There have been various readings of the mixed results. I think it’s fair to suggest Kajanich didn’t envisage a movie with the invasion so decisively overcome. Then again, it’s difficult to work out whether he was responsible for what is now the picture’s abiding theme – “Civilisation is an illusion, a game of pretend… we are still animals driven by primal instincts” – offered as it is during one of the movie’s lower-key, character-driven moments (albeit the various characters are, in their own pseudo-intellectual ways, crude caricatures).
Russian Yorish (Roger Rees) attests to a global malaise of “war and violence” inherent to the human animal and that to imagine otherwise, “Well, this is to imagine a world where human beings cease to be human”. Obviously, this has always been the offer of the Snatchers in any version (“A world without suffering. Our world is a better world”). Which means, as it plays, The Invasion’s happy ending, with order restored but where “Pick up a newspaper, for better or worse, we’re human again” (along with Yorish’ words repeated on the soundtrack), invites the conclusion of humans as an inherently awful, pestilent bunch. Which is, germanely, one of Hollywood’s preferred programming positions (SF’s the regular ploy is to present the text that the Earth would be much better off without us, and invite us to tacitly concur).
Quite how this fits with Kajganich’s stated conception of a Bush administration critique is anyone’s guess. Tucker’s suggestion “All you have to do is nothing. That’s all we’re asking” might be seen as a recrimination of those who let governments (the Bush one, in this case) ride roughshod, but it fits more generally as an indictment of man’s essential inhumanity. Indeed, the conclusion seems a lot more of-a-piece with the Wachowskis and their previously forwarded suggestion of humans placed in pods, inherently demanding a flawed world in which to play (we were told how the first iterations of the Matrix made things that bit tooutopian). See also Cloud Atlas for this distillation of essential, baser instincts (however hopeful that one may simultaneously appear).
Kajganich would surely be unable to present his text without at least partially colouring any human failings as the machinations of those who rule us. Further, the “science is our friend” element (“Someone realised there’s a war going on, and the only way to win it’s in a lab”) rather ties in with the Wachowskis relationship with transhumanism – and transgenderism – and scientific advancement (seen most recently in The Matrix Resurrections). I’d certainly like to think that, if Kajganich wrote the line “Five hundred years ago, postmodern feminists didn't exist, yet one sits right beside you today”, he didn’t do so with a straight face.
Kathleen Loock’s essay on the various adaptations of The Body Snatchers took in War on Terror narratives, but her “allusions to the contemporary threat of terrorist sleeper agents or sleeper cells”, whereby Tucker, the sleeper agent, “undermines the human life form from within: instead of preventing an epidemic he causes it, preparing for a pandemic and the global takeover of the aliens along the way” feels like something of a stretch. Particularly since she is far more comfortable and attuned when applying the same motives to “the nation’s information policy and handling of the crisis, both of which are severely critiqued”.
Loock doesn’t go there, probably since applies herself to a unified narrative of what is rather than what was messed up during The Invasion’s production, but 9/11 Truther statements are implicit in a (Bush) government engineering a crisis. Was it this element that gave Warner pause? Was it too explicit? The movie gives us, after all, an American national initiating an attack on Americans on home soil; one might see parallels between lies about virulent strains of flu and WMDs, but The Invasion posits the government itself (the CDC) as the cause of terrorism (the epidemic and its solution: the inoculation).
As such, it seems to me Loock’s is an outright misreading of the picture, particularly if we start to trace the lines of epidemic = engineered crisis. She considers The Invasion’s critique “is extended to the management of real crises” – Yorish’s “Iraq or Darfur, or even New Orleans” – and while she grants that “government agents are involved in the alien takeover from the beginning, acting under the disguise of protecting public health and safety…” she concludes “In a post-9/11, post-SARS and avian flu context, The Invasion allegorically addresses the threat of bioterrorism, and new anxieties concerning the government’s capability to deal with these potential crises”. Loock’s unwilling to extend herself further than suggesting a government “providing false information about what is actually going on but also of taking the wrong actions” (as in Middle-East policy).
The more consistent view is that the government provides both the problems and the solutions. So, while the Wachowskis may have slapped a new ending on the movie, it could be seen as consistent with a predictive text whereby the government is responsible for the very epidemic it attests to be combatting, and also the solution, a “radical departure which both attests to the belief in scientific and technological solutions and critiques aggressive human behaviour”. Through this, “brought about by scientists and new technologies, the movie restores stability and alleviates fears”. Science and technology, applied to the problematic plandemic, provide the solution (the jab, and subsequently, the transhumanist, fourth industrial revolution future).
Loock isn’t alone in readings that don’t make a great deal of sense. Vice.com’s reappraisal of the picture suggests “It's a movie about fascism, political dogma, and what happens when you realize your friends and fellow citizens are fascist collaborators from outer space”. John Leavitt appears to be overlaying his own rebuke to the then recently elected Donald (“they just want make humanity great again”). But while one might grant something of this to his Republican predecessor, the idea that “The movie's meaning is clear: there's no working with fascists” finds Leavitt absurdly bogged down in Hegelian conflicts. He asserts the final scene from “intense leftist” Wachowskis, implies "Everyone I know, including my husband, potentially has fascist space spores inside them". But if one starts from any political position, one must surely conclude their message is actually one where, without the State (the common ground of manufactured left-right dichotomies) to protect us, the (similarly manufactured) essential animal nature of humanity – to be supplanted, one glorious day, by science and its transhumanist singularity – will be the death of us all.
Alex Good came closer to a trenchant reappraisal last year, when he noted The Invasion’s parallels to plandemic conspiracy theory. He rightly avers “the politics are a muddle”, citing Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review that references its “abhorrent” politics (although, without a subscription, I’m unsure to what she’s alluding, specifically). While these may be a consequence of several cooks and an overboiled pot, Good’s in error to assume that, because of its narrative whereby “vaccinations will of course, lead to the spread of the alien virus, in effect making people sick” that “It’s an anti-vaxxer, Big Pharma plus Deep State, One World Government takeover fantasy!” The prescribed nature of predictive programming is to lay future plans out there, for all to see and implicitly accept.
Which isn’t to say every Hollywood instance is either coordinated or specific. Only that such content pulls sharply into focus when real-world events catch up. For example, it’s always possible Kajanich, being on the case of the Bush regime, was very aware of the debilitating effects of an anthrax vaccine forced on army personnel. Regardless, the current parallels seem unmistakable, in much the same way as The X-Files and its abiding suspicion of government inoculation programmes (which go as far as saying that – at least in the first iteration – inoculations have included alien DNA, and in the second, more recent reunion, they’re a means to cull the population).
Indeed, like The X-Files, The Invasion’s alien plot appears to confirm Pasteurian virus theory by association. Even though, as noted, the “alien virus” is rather a spore that “transmits like a virus or bacterium through exchange of fluids, a kiss, injection”; it’s “viral but larger than any virus known” (cue some atrocious CGI). Thus, with very associative language, we learn this non-virus is responsible for “Escalating cases of the mysterious flu virus” and is “more communicable and lasts longer than common strains of flu”, such that “This flu season could be the deadliest in thirty years”.
Following “CDC emergency meetings to decide how to contain it and keep it from getting any worse”, Tucker is able to announce the solution: “We think an inoculation programme is our best shout at keeping this under our thumb”. What’s that? How could a vaccine possibly be developed so quickly? I mean, it might pass by unremarked upon in a fictional narrative, but no way would it wash in the real world.
Wait, I got that the wrong way round?
“I’m curious, if you just tracked this new virus, how are you ready with vaccines so quickly?” asks Mrs Cunningham (Ava Lenet). The response she receives is more convincing than any actually provided over the last two years: “I wish there was more time to go over all the science and the internal processes behind this project” replies Tucker, rebuking her with the promise of a “fact sheet” and suggesting she might like to “bow out of this round of project”. When Mrs Cunningham responds that she was only asking a question, Tucker smirks “We like those. We like questions. They got us to the Moon” (which, within the movie, points to the extra-terrestrial source, but more generally the web of government deception pertaining to the NASA lie).
The CDC-enforced protocols incubate expected peer pressure: “Carol. Are you here for your shot?” Pam (Susan Floyd) asks our protagonist outside a vaccination centre, while many others obediently line up. “I had mine last night” she replies coolly. “I’m glad to hear that” says Pam. Ultimately, this leads to individuals being picked off the street and compelled to comply (read: forced/mandatory vaccination). As per previous versions, showing no emotion (but also refraining from sweating) allows one to pass freely among the Snatchers. And as per previous versions, the caveat of why this evidently interactive species doesn’t also prevail with a gestalt or hive mind is no less pertinent: obviously, the only good answer is the same one as before: you wouldn’t have much story if they did. The parallels invite themselves, of course: one can spot the humans in a public space because they aren’t wearing a mask (but some will wear masks – and so appear emotionless and unreadable – so as not to draw attention to themselves).
Aside from simply marking its territory, it’s questionable why there’s even a need for the vaccine in this version: it seems to spread pretty speedily anyway, as we’ve seen, and one might argue, if all it takes is spitting in someone’s face (or their coffee), then rounding up an entire populace would be drastically more expedited than any previous version of an alien spore invasion. Thus, it would – barring writer ineptitude in working out logistics – rather testify to intentional predictive programming.
There are further similarities to consider. One can dismiss suggestions of the infamous black goo being a component of vaccines if one wishes, or the changes in behaviour some report in the recipients of the jab(s), even if amounting to no more than virulent pro-jab rhetoric, but the more generally recognised spike protein and its DNA- (RNA, what have you) affecting properties can be found predicted in Galeano characterising a “complete intelligent entity, the dimensions of only a few cells, that’s taking over people’s bodies, overtaking their DNA and reprogramming their genetic expression overnight”. There’s also a reference to the process’s – sleep’s – interruption, that it “must have caused cardiac arrest”. Now, where do heart problems enter the mix lately, again?
There are distinctions of course. Rather than the global malaise Yorish references, or indeed the evidentiary quality of the plandemic, the reactions to the threat here are nation-specific, such that “They began considering epidemic protocols in Europe last night, also in Japan, but here, they’re only talking about flu”. This is also a condition from which the victims can recover – thanks again to a vaccine, courtesy of Dr Science – rather different from the real-world prognosis, unless fabled medbeds are introduced en masse (or another treatment bypassing Pasteurian methods is called upon). Purely in terms of the narrative, this is also very different to previous iterations in that there are no pods or replicas. Which means Carol has shot dead quite a number of people who cannot now recover.
Carol: You’ve got people lining up like this is small pox or something. What are you really inoculating them for, Tucker?
Other elements of note, with regard to virus theory, include the references to small pox, surely done with a straight face, but given that was another instance of illness introduced by the professed cure, it’s not a little ironic. Then there’s Oliver and his immunity: “Three years ago, Oliver had the chicken pox. He’d had his shots, but they told me it was a new strain”. There then, we can pick up on several points. One being that it’s a statement regarding vaccine efficacy (it didn’t do what it was supposed to do). The second being that Oliver’s immunity is down to ADEM. A bit rich, since ADEM has been associated as a side effect of the administration of vaccines.
Carol: How ridiculous. Her husband’s infected with an alien virus and I prescribe an antipsychotic.
Of course, The Invasion trades in such dualities. Carol is our protagonist, yet she’s in the very profession previously dismissed by the series – going back to the original – as offering nothing to massage the essential problem. As Loock suggests “Her professional attitude seems rational, cold and emotionless—as if she were a pod already—and Wendy’s problem ‘normal’ for our times”. Indeed, one might argue Kidman’s essential pod-like persona is grist to the picture’s mill, offering an inversion. I rather regard it as a causative in the overall failure.
She carries with her no emotional weight, and we have no investment in her or her chemistry-free relationship with Ben (Craig won his Bond stint while making this; his subsequent image change explains why The Invasion, although released the year after Casino Royale and entirely failing to capitalise on his cachet, makes him out as someone’s husband you might see strolling the ski slopes in For Your Eyes Only, sporting a blond rinse and onesie). Further dislocation can be found in Kidman playing a mom who wears see-through trousers round the house, as if she fails to realise how actual humans function.
The most reliable performers are Northam, in patented evil mode, and Wright, rising admirably above some terrible rewrites and the role of glorified exposition machine. Bond is one of those junior performers who’s off-putting for being too polished, a different pod-like quality. Cartwright is great in her one or two scenes, and her recounting how husband Richard (Adam LeFevre) snapped pet pooch Bobo’s neck might be the most arresting scene in the movie (a later shot shows other dead dogs in garbage, testifying to their knowing the difference between human and pod).
Cartwright told how she represented actual continuity from the Kaufman movie: “He discussed how [my character] could’ve survived and taken on a whole new identity and here it was happening all over again”. But now utilising a spore variant, then? It’s a bit of a stretch. Even that scene was reshot, it seems, as originally “I was more paranoid about things that were happening and it made it seem more like I’d been through this before and knew something really wasn’t good”.
Also, as noted, The Invasion doubles down on various official narratives; this is the world of NASA space, as we begin with a shot of globe Earth, and the threat is borne back on the space shuttle. Although, it would surely now be Space X. That the shuttle is called Patriot is rather on the nose too, suggesting the very quality, or professed thereof, that is the most destructive force America faces. I also thought I saw trick-or-treaters dressed as Village of the Damned progeny, another hive-like, emotion-free alien takeover.
Like the (even more) disappointing X-Files’ return’s concluding arc, The Invasion provides a wealth of juicy morsels on the predictive programming front. Unfortunately, it just isn’t a good movie. Joel Silver still had some clout as a producer back then, and the Wachowskis were still on his team (Speed Racer would be released the following year). But anyone expecting a remotely subtle movie from him would have been having a laugh. It’s notable though, how the Wachowskis, of whom, at least then, one might have expected staunch support of the artist’s creative freedom – rather than stamping all over it – got in line to mess with Hirschbiegel’s. Their previous offering V for Vendetta, though, with its Orwellian-Hegelian counterpoints and artificially engineered virus, suggests it too was all part of their ongoing agenda. Or the one they were told to outline, at any rate.