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Viewer Guide: “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “Living is Easy with Eyes Closed”

October 27, 2021 | Richard Peña

REEL 13 CLASSIC | INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).

This week’s classic is Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the 1978 adaptation of the science fiction novel by Jack Finney, directed by Philip Kaufman. 

Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams co-star as Matthew Bennell and Elizabeth Driscoll, a pair of scientists working for the San Francisco Public Health Department. Accustomed to noticing odd things in inappropriate places, Elizabeth is intrigued to spot an unfamiliar flower with a pod-like body, and brings it home to her sports-obsessed boyfriend Geoffrey. The next morning, Geoffrey seems strangely detached. Sharing her observations with Matthew, Elizabeth grows further unsettled by other peculiar behavior she observes around the city; Matthew suggests she talk to his friend David Kibner, a psychiatrist and self-help author played by Leonard Nimoy. At Kibner’s book party, the couple encounter Matthew’s friend Jack Bellicec, a frustrated poet played by Jeff Goldblum, whose wife Nancy, played by Veronica Cartwright, runs a local spa. Increasingly, the uneasy atmosphere takes a turn into something much more disturbing; Nancy discovers a corpse-like body at the spa—yet what exactly the figure is remains unclear…until it opens its eyes. Why does it suddenly have the same nosebleed as Jack? 

Also featured are cameo appearances by Robert Duvall as a spooky priest, and Kevin McCarthy—star of the 1956 film version—in a memorable turn that nods to the climactic sequence of the original film. 

For the 1978 update of Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers, director Philip Kaufman and screenwriter W.D. Richter moved the location from a fictional Bay-area town to San Francisco, intrigued with the notion of an attack of conformist “pod people” originating in America’s capital of progressive thinking. Although the first film adaptation was often interpreted as a parable for the rise of McCarthyism, original director Don Siegel insisted there was never an ulterior political agenda. In the remake, Siegel appears as the cab driver taking Matthew and Elizabeth to the airport. Searching for a stronger ending for his new adaptation, Kaufman consulted with Siegel, who had been dissatisfied with the optimistic conclusion forced upon him for the original film. Kaufman kept the new surprise finish a secret from Veronica Cartwright to trigger her most authentic reaction. Although the cult-like reverence for the 1956 original caused a certain hostility to Kaufman’s re-make at first, this second Invasion of the Body Snatchers has steadily grown in stature and appreciation over the years. This story is simply so good that it keeps getting re-made—as Body Snatchers in 1993, and then as The Invasion in 2007. 

REEL 13 INDIE | LIVING IS EASY WITH EYES CLOSED 

Living is Easy with Eyes Closed (2013).

This week’s indie is Living is Easy with Eyes Closed, a 2013 Spanish comedy-drama directed by David Trueba. 

Taking its title from The Beatles’ hit “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Living is Easy with Eyes Closed begins its tale in the southwestern Spanish city of Albacete. While the “Swinging Sixties” had swept over the world, Spain was still very much in the dictatorial grip of General Franco. Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop a grade school teacher named Antonio San Román from using The Beatles’ song “Help!” as a lesson plan to teach English to his class. But the truth is that Antonio, as played by the wonderful Javier Cámara, is not just a creative teacher, but a passionate Beatles superfan; what’s more, with John Lennon on location in Spain shooting How I Won the War in the coastal town of Almería, Antonio is determined to meet Lennon and share his students’ translations of Beatles song lyrics. Setting off on a weekend, Antonio encounters Belén, a young woman played by Natalia de Molina hitchhiking to reunite with her mother after escaping a prison-like home for unwed mothers. After offering Belen a lift, it isn’t long before Antonio notices Juanjo, another hitchhiker running away from home after refusing his policeman father’s demand to cut his Beatles-like “mop top.” Sensing the troubled circumstances of his young passengers, Antonio takes the duo under his paternal wing, and together they join his quest to meet John Lennon where the Spanish “strawberry fields” have life lessons for everyone. 

Living is Easy with Eyes Closed writer-director David Trueba found initial inspiration for his script while vacationing in Almeria, and reading a newspaper account of a teacher who had sought out John Lennon while he was on location shooting How I Won the War to ask for 

Lennon’s help with translations of songs on the Beatles’ “Revolver” album. John Lennon had in fact begun writing “Strawberry Fields Forever” during production of that film, but added the “strawberry fields” lyric later on. At Spain’s national Goya Awards, Living is Easy with Eyes Closed was honored with six wins for Best Film, Director, Actor, New Actress, Original Screenplay and Original Score for American jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. The film was also submitted as Spain’s contender for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2014 Academy Awards, although ultimately was not nominated. 

Richard Peña is a Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, where he specializes in film theory and international cinema. 

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