Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Invasion / *** (PG-13)

Dr. Carol Bennell: Nicole Kidman
Dr. Ben Driscoll: Daniel Craig
Tucker Kaufman: Jeremy Northam
Oliver: Jackson Bond
Dr. Stephen Galeano: Jeffrey Wright
Wendy Lenk: Veronica Cartwright

Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel. Written by Dave Kajganich, based on the novel “The Body Snatchers” by Jack Finney. Running time: 93 min. Rated PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images and terror).

“For better or worse, we are human….” – Dr. Stephen Galeano

The individual nature of the human spirit is a subject that has been mined countless times by the film industry, especially within the science fiction genre, and in particular with the four film adaptations of Jack Finney’s novel “The Body Snatchers”. The latest version, titled simply “The Invasion”, arrives during a period when it seems like Hollywood releases a film every couple of weeks that reflects the state of fear dominating our political climate and countless aspects of our media-driven culture. “The Invasion” uses this volatile atmosphere to re-submit questions about the importance of individualism to our values and pose one question that hasn’t been asked before.

The storydetailing an invasion from outer space where the aliens take human bodies as hosts and turn the human race into a mass entity that acts as one―first found its way onto the screen in 1956 as anti-communist propaganda in the classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. It was remade in 1978 under the same title and again in 1993 under the novel’s original title. Each incarnation of the story has been a metaphorical celebration of our independent spirit as both Americans and as humans. “The Invasion” follows in these footsteps but adds an element of confusion that the previous installments lacked.

Nicole Kidman (“The Interpreter”) takes the lead role this time around as psychiatrist Carol Bennell. After the crash of a space shuttle mission under strange circumstances, Carol begins to notice that some people are beginning to act differently. One of her patients, Wendy Lenk (played by Veronica Cartwright, who starred in the ’78 version), tells her, “My husband is not my husband.” At first, Carol thinks Wendy is delusional, but when her own ex-husband suddenly takes an interest in their son Oliver (Jackson Bond), she starts to see signs of these personality changes everywhere around her.

Carol’s ex, Tucker Kaufman (Jeremy Northam, “Gosford Park”), heads the CDC, which starts a vaccination campaign against a mysterious virus that was brought to Earth on the downed shuttle. Suspecting something is strange with her former husband’s actions, she enlists the aid of her boyfriend, Dr. Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig), and his colleague, Dr. Stephen Galeano (Jeffrey Wright). Craig and Wright are dressed down a bit here from their “Casino Royale” tuxes.

As this personality-shifting plague spreads, the global news coverage shifts to a more positive note as conflicts end (including those in Darfur and Iraq) and treaties are reached. The world seems to be growing more placid and peaceful. Meanwhile, the hero doctors discover that this alien virus seems to be triggered when its victims sleep. The key to a vaccine appears to lie in finding people who are immune to the virus; but with Oliver missing, Carol’s priorities lie with finding her son.

Now, this synopsis may not make this version seem much different or even necessary. But the key to its success lies with Carol’s pursuit of her son. Her motivation to protect her son at all costs gives a new direction as the story’s hero. She abandons her duty to the human race as a whole to her duty as a mother, and this conflict serves to clarify the struggle inherent in the story’s question of individual importance. Do you serve the whole or the one? Is serving the whole the individual choice? Our individuality makes us human, but is that not also what makes us inhumane? Would a world devoid of conflict really be a bad thing?

The movie does not answer these questions, but I was happy to see it pose them. As the statement I quoted above suggests, it is always assumed that we are human “for better,” despite the “worse.” But perhaps that is just selfishness. Carol’s selfish act in this film changes the course of the world (I will not reveal how), but her decisions are not the clear cut choices of the heroes in previous versions of the story. She isn’t sure she’s doing the right thing. And the fact that she cannot fall asleep for fear of activating the virus that may be within her only adds to her confusion. But isn’t confusion a large part of our individual natures? Or at least a result of it?

The editing of the film also reflects this confusion. We are shown some sequences of action out of order, some long before the story has arrived at them. And another source of confusion is that I can’t say for sure who to credit for this effective vision. German director Oliver Hirschbiegel (“The Experiment”, “Downfall”) is credited as the film’s director, but the Wachoski Brothers and James McTeague (all responsible for “The Matrix” trilogy and “V for Vendetta”) were brought in by the studio to re-write and re-shoot much of the film. And while it is easy to tell this latter team ratcheted up some new action sequences for the end of the film, it is unclear what overall changes they may have made to the themes. Whatever changes were made, it worked as a whole for me despite the fact that the beginning and end seemed rushed, and the stunning car chase seemed to belong to another film.

By saying it worked for me, I am departing from most of the critics in the country. But I stand by the nature of this story. I believe most of my peers have missed the boat by confusing any studio tinkering that may have occurred with the success of what is on the screen. The film’s confusion is by design, yet it clearly states its message about our current state of world affairs. And it’s an effective thriller to boot. But then this is coming from a man who still believes that “Superman Returns” is a great movie. Just remember that during an alien invasion, the crazies are usually right.

Buy it: classic alien invasion movies

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