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Botanicult Fiction: The Body Snatchers

September 23, 2020

By Alex Henderson, Curator of Living Collections, Royal Botanical Gardens.

The Body Snatchers is a 1955 science fiction novel written by Jack Finney, originally serialized in Colliers Magazine in 1954 and which depicts the invasion of Santa Mira in California by seeds that have drifted through space. As the seeds touch down residents of the town begin to act strangely, performing like robots and becoming incapable of feeling or emotions. To their loved ones the affected have become imposters. In real life this is a medical condition known as Capgras Delusion but to his horror, the town’s doctor, Miles Bennell discovers that the extra-terrestrial seeds have formed giant pods. These pods are attacking sleeping people, replicating them physically and mentally and replacing the original humans. Feelings and emotions are the only part of the human condition the pods cannot absorb leaving behind emotionless copies or ‘pod people’. One by one, the last human residents of Santa Mira succumb to sleep and erasure, until only Doctor Bennell is left to warn the rest of the world of its impending doom.

The novel has been adapted for the screen four times; the first film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956, the second in 1978, the third in 1993, and the fourth in 2007. It was also the basis of the 1998 movie The Faculty. In particular, the 1978 film directed by Donald Kaufman with an all-star cast is perhaps the most visceral of the cinematic outings.

Even though this story was written in the middle of the last century it is still remarkably relevant in 2020 especially given the underlying themes of the book. Pod people live only five years and cannot sexually reproduce. As a result, they will quickly turn Earth into a dead planet and move on to the next world. One of the duplicate invaders points out that this is exactly what humans do – use up resources, wipe out indigenous populations, and destroy ecosystems in the name of survival.

It is particularly relevant reading this book through a pandemic, where just like the space seeds, a virus has the ability to silently replicate itself, spread and infect our species at an alarming rate with catastrophic consequences. It would also be remiss not to draw analogies to the importance of Black Lives Matter, the Me Too movement, the treatment of indigenous cultures, fake news, ideologies of nationalism and with that of a culture where our humanity and individuality has been reduced to a simple product status for data harvesting by invisible and unaccountable international corporations. Our humanity is literally being abused, exploited or as the title of this book suggests snatched away from us. It just goes to show that the greatest threat to the beautiful planet we inhabit is not from beyond the stars but right here within us. In 2020 the pod people can be seen as an analogy where we live in a system that silently corrupts society from the inside. On a positive note, I would however, like to think that humanities greatest strength is in its diversity so let’s not be divisive let’s be inclusive and don’t let the pod people win.

Finally let’s take a moment to plant a space seed of thought. During the pandemic there are many friends and family we haven’t seen in a while. The next time you bump into someone you haven’t seen in ages and you think “They’ve changed” well…perhaps they literally have mua, ha, ha, ha!

Curators own copy of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Directed by Philip Kaufman. Copyright of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios Inc. 1978
Curators own copy of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Directed by Philip Kaufman. Copyright of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios Inc. 1978

Botanicult Fiction is an affectionate review of plants in pop culture viewed through the lens of plant nerds and curated for your reading or viewing pleasure during this challenging time of self isolation