During the postwar era, anxiety roamed the minds of the regular American citizen. The fear of the Communist invasion was on everyone’s mind and the defence of home and country was on everyone’s priority list. Because of its insignificance, many political critics found a voice in the science fiction-genre.
These critics went on to criticize many of topics, among which is the idea of invasion paranoia. They employed a variety of methods, but one quite popular was the use of a zombie-motif to examine the idea of physical invasion versus mental invasion.
One characteristic that is inherent to zombies is the loss of life and with it, agency. The loss of humanity comes before the resurrection into the unhuman. As Aristotle defines the psukhe, so is the change of human to unhuman defined as a loss of “soul”; something just does not feel right. From a posthumanist perspective, the liberal humanist subject is challenged and is lost.
In Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the viewer is constantly reminded that the loved ones of the citizens of Santa Mira are not truly their loved ones. Something has changed. In other words, they have lost their soul. With their loss of soul, they have become part of a greater cause. The only purpose the unhuman beings have is to change those that are still human into one of them. To change the world from soulful to soulless. Conclusively, they have completely lost their agency.
In The Manchurian Candidate, there is loss of agency as well. The moment Raymond Shaw is brought into the trance-like state of suggestion, he loses all sense of self-containment. However, Shaw reverts back to his self plus agency after the order has been carried out. Rather than remaining a zombie, he reverts back to human again. In his case, the human and the unhuman are one and the same person.
The same goes for the loss of emotions. There is no zombie that shows emotions, except for the one in the movie Warm Bodies (2013) but even here the recovery of emotions is parallel to the recovery of humanity.
In Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the moment Becky Driscoll falls asleep, her emotions disappear. She is taken over by the unhuman alien Other and instinctively tries to talk Miles into changing too. The aliens in Invasion argue that emotions only get in the way. It is the goal that counts, the greater cause, rather than the emotion of the individual.
In The Manchurian Candidate, however, the critical scene in which Shaw kills his father-in-law and his wife shows that even though Shaw was in his zombielike state, he still shed tears of sorrow for committing this crime. Once again, the human is inseparable from the unhuman. The zombie is not the man.
Finally, both movies display a feature of the zombie as defined by Thacker. Thacker posited that zombies either came in the form of a contagion or as a legion. When applying this to the movies that were analyzed in this paper one can come to the following conclusion.
In Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the aliens, or the zombies, are part of a legion. They are intelligent and are able to communicate, not only with each other but also with those that are still human. Rather than a virus that infects an individual, the change is part of a greater mechanism, a greater plan. Once changed, you are immediately part of the system and wish to extend the unhumanity to humans.
In The Manchurian Candidate, the idea that the unhumanity is caused by contagion is out of the question. Postwar era citizens of the US might think that being brainwashed is contagious, Candidate shows that this is definitely not the case. Yet, rather than joining a true legion, the brainwashed remain individual zombies. They have no desire to extend the brainwashed state to others by brainwashing them as well. Rather, they are under control by a different agent, much like necromancy.
Conclusively, 1950s hysteria may be translated into terms of posthumanism. 1950s anxiety may be paralleled to the ideas the posthumanist perspective advocates.