Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)



Manden der blev mindre
I am a sucker for old science fiction. I think I have mentioned that before, but this felt like a good time to say it again. It is really too bad so few examples of it makes it to the List, but when they do they are outstanding and “The Incredible Shrinking Man“ is exactly that. A movie that is both incredible to watch and does what sci-fi does when it is best, use the fantastic element to give a new angle to a story that is relevant for us.

At the face of it this is an amazing movie to watch. A guy, Scott Carey (Grant Williams), gets in contact with some mysterious cloud stuff while sailing that makes him shrink. At first it is a struggle to convince his surroundings that he is getting smaller. These things just do not happen. When the evidence is irrefutable comes the question what to do about it. The doctors, ever optimistic, are “working on it”, meaning they haven’t got a clue. Scott’s wife Louise (Randy Stuart) have already decided that Scott’s size means nothing to her, but their relationship does become that of a nurse-patient one or mother-child, which is infuriating to Scott. To him his shrinking is impotence and he tries to counter it by being increasingly assertive. It does not help that they lost their source of income and had to sell the story to the press, who now lurks like vultures around their home.

When he is the size of a midget Scott meet a fellow midget with whom he does not feel impotent. That does not last long as he keeps shrinking.

Then comes two epic segments of the movie. At the size of two inches he lives in a doll house and has a battle with their house cat, which from that perspective is a fearsome monster and shortly after (as a result of the battle) he gets stuck in the basement. This is a new world and Scott is like stone age man fighting for survival. His enemies are hunger and the terrible monster of a spider. This is existence reduced to the most basic and although he survives his resolution is not physical but rather metaphysical.

I love what they did making him small like this. Frankly I had no idea they were capable of doing this in 57 and doing it so seamlessly. I had thought this would look terrible by today’s standard, but no, it is really impressive. And not only impressive from a technical point of view, but also in how they change our perspective with it so we see how the world looks like when you are a tiny creature. The cat and the spider are just ordinary creatures, not something that would concern us, but if you are less than two inches tall, whoa!!

When you then add the more philosophical aspects this movie shows its true worth. Scott’s impotence as he grows smaller is spot on. We may think it silly, but truly our sense of ability comes from our mastery, especially from a male point of view and losing that mastery is degrading. In a 1950’ies setting where the man in generating the income and is “the master” of his home this is particularly poignant. What mastery do you have left when you are two inches tall?

Life in the basement rewrites this. When he accepts this is an alien world he is ready to master his surroundings. His perspective or measure of things is simply different now. This give him new confidence and his attitude changes until the realization that you are who you are no matter what and that is what finally sets him free.

I raced through this movie and I felt almost cheated by its short running time. Interesting, exciting, fascinating, it is not often I use all these adjectives about these old movies, but they are all deserved. Yes, there is still an element of B to this movie, the actors are no A-listers and the characters could easily have been drawn more detailed, but that would likely have been at the expense of the message of this movie. In its condensed form it stands out clearly and at the end of the day I probably would not change a thing.

So, “The Incredible Shrinking Man” gets my warmest recommendation and I gladly add it to my growing list of pleasant surprises.

6 comments:

  1. This is a surprising film for being a short little sci-fi b-movie. There's a lot of really good existential stuff going on here. I remember this freaked me out as a kid--the spider was scary as hell.

    This is really how you do good science fiction. It's a simple concept played for all its worth and taken seriously by everyone involved.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is exactly how you do good science fiction. I wish the makers of modern day science fiction would watch this and learn. Effects for the sake of the plot and not the other way round.

      Delete
  2. Good point about the main characters emasculation. Interesting that when similar plot lines to this film have been made since, it usually is done for laughs (The Incredible Shrinking Woman, Honey, I shrunk the Kids).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, there are different purposes to using this plot line. I enjoy a good laugh, but it works best for me when it is taken serious, as it is here.

      Delete
  3. For whatever reason I have not seen this one yet! Amazing ... I can hardly wait it sounds wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is a little gem waiting for you, Bea. It totally works.

      Delete