Of Clones and Men:
Invasion of The Body Snatchers and Invisible Adversaries
Thanks to technology, which transforms and dissolves the body itself, "man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God," says Freud in Civilization and Its Discontents. But, asks Valie Export in "The Real and Its Double: The Body," does Freud mean man in the generic or the specific sense, or both? What of woman?
Invisible Adversaries offers partial, and contradictory, answers to these questions as it rewrites and transforms Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers through cinematic injections, implants, alterations, and amputations. Both films share the same narrative premise: aliens from outer space have invaded and are replacing human beings. They are so successful that real people are almost indistinguishable from clones, called "pods" in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and "hyksos" in Invisible Adversaries. Both movies weave love stories together with this basic invasion plot. Both indict authority figures like psychiatrists and policemen for collaborating with and even becoming the enemy, and both suggest mass communication networks distort as much as they report. A strong fear of totalitarianism thus subtends both narratives, though what constitutes totalitarianism differs. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is typically discussed with reference to communism, McCarthyism and/or fascism, whereas Invisible Adversaries targets the Austrian right and center left, naming the neo-Nazis and the SPO (Austrian Socialist Party) while, more broadly, linking Western governments to imperialist wars.
Nevertheless, unlike the 1979 Hollywood version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Invisible Adversaries cannot really be called a remake. In her descriptions of her film, Export never mentions Siegel's movie, though neither does she comment on the plethora of other visual and written citations she cuts into and adds onto the "main" hyksos story. Critics, too, often overlook the similarities between Invisible Adversaries and Invasion of the Body Snatchers , in part because Invasion of the Body Snatchers is carefully structured, whereas, as Marita Sturken says, the "'hyksos' plot . . . gets rapidly lost in the experimental vignettes" (Sturken, 1981, 18). Export alters her protagonist's gender and occupation from male small town doctor to female big city photojournalist. The relative importance accorded psychoanalysis and the mass media shifts in consequence, and the meanings assigned to voyeurism and paranoia within the film's visual and audial structures, vary as a result as well.
The misogynist gender politics of Invasion of the Body Snatchers , like its antitotalitarian stance, remain for the most part below the surface. Yet for Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) the ultimate moment of terror is linked to the absence of female passion: hiding from the pods in a cave with his fiancée (Dana Wynter), he kisses her and she does not respond. From the time and space of the film's frame story, set in a mental institution, he confesses in voice-over, "I'd been afraid a lot of times in my life, but I'd never known the real meaning of fear until I kissed Becky. A moment's sleep and the girl I loved was an inhuman enemy bent on my destruction."
Invisible Adversaries , in contrast, begins by highlighting the importance of gender and leftist politics to its narrative, while expressly calling attention to the roles played by mass media and art in modern society in general and 1970s Vienna in particular. In the first sequence, a male broadcaster warns through static of an invasion by alien hyksos: "Anyone can be a hyksos and not know it. You are contagious. You are alone." The other news items he reports are factual, yet they too revolve around violence, aggression, and contagion. The camera zooms in to a close-up of a newspaper headline with the film's title, then pans the body of a sleeping woman, and finally moves out her apartment window to scan the rooftops of Vienna. At one point, another male voice interrupts the first to quote action artist Georges Mathieu. The voice thereby provides an explanation for the hyksos's presence (radiation) while describing their mission (the destruction of the earth).
It is as if Export had amputated the first two-thirds of Siegel's narrative. She begins with the last third of his film, with much of the world already under hyksos control. She also performs a kind of cinematic sex change on Invasion of the Body Snatchers , rewriting it from Becky's point of view at the very moment when she is about to mutate. The film style is correspondingly chaotic, with jump cuts, 360-degree pans and elaborate montage sequences suggesting disturbance and alienation, perhaps even translating the trauma of the cinematic alterations. Siegel's film, in contrast, is characterized by straightforward point-of-view shots and subtle cinematographic hints of abnormality.
What are the implications for gendered subjectivity when faced with the cutting room floor? Repeatedly Export asks whether it is possible that women in general, and the protagonist Anna (Susanne Widl) in particular, have always been hyksos, never humans? The second sequence certainly suggests as much, showing Anna framed in a doorway, then framed and reflected in a mirror. Her reflection takes on a life of its own, applying lipstick as she watches. Fascinated and horrified by what she has seen in the mirror and heard on the radio, Anna sets out to observe and document her own, her lover Peter's (Peter Weibel), and others' transformations into aliens.
Since Anna is a photographer and video artist, her voyeurism is, quite literally, mediated. Newspapers, photography, video, film, tape recorders, and radio serve as her allies and tools, not—or not primarily, as in Invasion of the Body Snatchers —as her enemies. Miles's voyeurism is, in contrast, direct. He relies on the naked eye, peering into or from windows at his nurse as she prepares to turn a crying baby into a peaceful pod, or down on the triangular town "square" where the aliens have assembled to carry out the takeover of surrounding communities.
With her media helpers Anna finds, and fashions, doubles everywhere. In a videotape entitled "Silent Language," she examines women's body language in art and daily life, documenting a lack of change from Renaissance paintings to the present: Michelangelo's Pietà , for instance, dissolves into a woman holding a vacuum cleaner. Later she runs around cardboard cutouts of people she has placed beside a fountain in a plaza, then, back home, outlines her silhouetted reflection in pins on a wall. A larger-than-life-size photo of herself, hair slicked back rather than down, decorates her refrigerator; inside is a kind of future "double," a baby.
For all Anna's and Invisible Adversaries ' emphasis on female doubles, however, the central question Anna asks in one of her tapes, "When is a human being a woman?" is never clearly answered, either in her own videos or photographs or in the film itself. Caught in a web of representations, woman is always a body determined by others: "the natural body of the woman doesn't exist" (Export, 1988, 7). Yet woman is not just a body. As Export says in "The Real and Its Double," woman "views her own body from outside as alien. . . . The ontological experiencing of the body by woman is the simultaneous experiencing of the personal and the alien" (1988, 12–13). Woman is both split and doubled, simultaneously subject and object, eye and "I."
Throughout the film the schizophrenia of Anna's positioning as both hyksos and Anna, alien object and alienated subject, is made visible on and through the body. Overcome by angst after talking to Peter about the spread of the hyksos, she slides down the glass walls of a phone booth. In the street she rearranges herself to fit her environment, wrapping herself around a curb, or cramming herself into corners. At home she suddenly starts to shake. A bit later she unpacks her groceries and starts to cook, only to have a rat run across the table, then a live bird and fish appear. In a rapid and highly surreal montage sequence she decapitates these animals one after another, then goes to the bathroom to photograph feces floating in the toilet, develops the pictures, and finally goes to bed.
Many of these sequences recreate Export's performance pieces from 1972–76, described as "the pictorial representations of mental states, with the sensations of the body when it loses its identity" (Hofmann and Hollein, 1980, 13). An early dream sequence, for example, implants one of her 1972
explorations of the physical and emotional effects of bodily constraints into the "main" hyksos narrative. A screen with black-and-white images of Anna wearing ice skates and walking through Vienna appears over color images of her sleeping. In the black-and-white film the scene changes with each step, echoing the nonsensical temporal and spatial editing of An Andalusian Dog , as also Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon. At the end of Invisible Adversaries Anna enacts another piece from this same set of experiments, going to bed in a mountaineering outfit, woolen hat, gloves, and boots as the radio recounts still more tales of violence and horror.
By stitching this particular performance piece into the main film body, Export makes it clear that the paranoia, angst, and isolation Anna experienced at the beginning of the film have worsened: no trace remains here of the final guarded optimism of Invasion of the Body Snatchers where the psychiatrists finally believe Miles and call the FBI in to help. Instead invisible adversaries are everywhere, and they are both internal and external. Peter, Anna's leftist lover, grows increasingly hostile. "Women are parasites," he tells her at one point, to which she has a woman in her videotape respond, "Men are dwarves." The playfully perverse heterosexual sex we see so much of at the beginning of the film comes to seem threatening, especially since other couples around Peter and Anna quarrel and fight as well. Peter himself maintains love is worthless, impossible: "This disgusting longing for love is an emotional plague," he tells Anna; "love is a transparent prison." What he says echoes what the pod psychiatrist tells Miles in Invasion of the Body Snatchers: "Love, desire, ambition, faith—without them life is so simple. . . . There's no need for love. Love doesn't last."
In contrast to the relatively major part accorded Invasion 's psychiatrist, Anna's psychoanalyst plays a relatively minor role and appears only near the end of the film. He first suggests she have her eyes checked, then diagnoses her as schizophrenic and prescribes pills. The pictures Anna takes of him reveal he is a hyksos but, unlike Miles, Anna does not particularly care. The men and boys she encounters masturbating and fighting in the streets pose more serious threats to her psychic and physical well-being. These images are often intercut with newspaper, film, and TV images of rocket launchers, burning trucks, and napalmed children, effectively linking violence in the third world to violence in the first, and distancing Export's makeover still further from Siegel's original.
Near the end of Invisible Adversaries , Anna goes to see a war movie. "Help in the search!" ("Suchen Sie mit!"), urges the male narrator over the black-and-white and color images of destruction. Anna looks anxiously at herself and the audience in a pocket mirror. Siegel's film was to have ended similarly, with a close-up on Miles's frightened gaze as he tries to convince motorists on the L.A. freeway "You're next!" Whether or not Export is intentionally parodying Invasion of the Body Snatchers , her injection of yet another
film within her main film speaks not just to Anna, but also and more broadly to the spectator of Invisible Adversaries . Export's, Anna's, and other women's reflections on the position and positionings of women open outward, to include us as well. "My visual art is for me a monologue . . . a dialogue with an invisible partner," says Anna in her videotape "When Is a Human Being a Woman?" Unlike Invasion, which encourages our identification by playing on our desire to see, or, better yet, by fueling "our urge to gain access to the meeting ground between the specular and the blind" (Telotte, 1990, 152), Invisible Adversaries proposes "an 'aesthetic of reception' . . . [wherein] [t]he signifying practices of cinema are deployed as an element of a de/re/construction not only of genre film, but also of its spectators. . . . [T]he film makes sense (narratively, technologically) only in feminist terms" (Cranny-Francis, 1990, 225).
For all the implants and injections, amputations and alterations that characterize Export's self-reflexive celluloid surgery, however, her film doubles do not guarantee a way out of the double bind in which women find themselves in patriarchal cultures. Nevertheless these "stagings of the body" do make more obvious the extent to which woman is defined as body "by an alien ideology" (Export, 1992, 33). As Export says of feminist action art in general, "[O]nly knowledge prevents contagion" (1989, 73).
In her writing, Export recognizes that tapping the tendency of technology "to transform and dissolve the body itself" is risky: (1988, 2) in a world where woman equals body, "deconstructing the body can lead to extinction." Yet, she continues, "since . . . the increased prosthesis-like quality arises from the progress of civilization, we cannot refuse disembodiment" (1988, 17–18). In Invisible Adversaries she even has Anna devise her own prosthesis, cutting her pubic hair and using it as the basis of a temporary sex change wherein she makes herself over into a mustachioed man. For a moment, the artificiality of gender is very much apparent, as it is in An Andalusian Dog where, through the miracles of editing, a woman's armpit hair is transformed into a man's beard.
At times Anna's de- and reconstructions of femininity provide the basis for solidarity among women. At times they unsettle masculinity as well. But Anna's, and Export's, critiques of gender remain tenuous, hampered and hobbled, for, as Export says, "the battle of the sexes has always already been won by men" (1989, 72). Inevitably so, I would argue, since Export never broaches the question of homosexuality in Invisible Adversaries, even though heterosexuality is obviously in crisis. As long as heterosexuality remains an uncopiable original, in trouble yet intact, what Marjorie Garber terms "the twin anxieties of technology and gender" (1992, 108) remain in place, and the dualistic or binary frame that positions women as irremediably inferior and inalterably Other survives and proliferates as well. Export's implants and additions may make us forget the amputations and subtractions
she performs on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and may thereby jeopardize the notions of cinematic or artistic original, but they stop short of demonstrating once and for all the constructedness of gender.