There Will Be No More Tears

I would have been eleven or twelve when I saw Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the first time on television, too young really to understand the political or cultural subtexts, but that’s the great thing about any kind of art: we take it in and it becomes a reference point, a node that other elements of our lives collect around. One day, we remember a scene, we smile, nod, then think: That’s what was going on there. Maybe we’ll love the movie or the song more or love it less, but some open question will have been answered, across time, in the library of our bodies. Art is a time bomb we carry that detonates when we need it.

It’s the 1956 version I would have seen, directed by Don Siegel, starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter. You know the story, an adaptation of a 1954 Jack Finney novel: something is off in your town, something has changed. The people you pass everyday—they’re not necessarily friends—seem detached, unemotional. It’s a nagging feeling at first, something you can’t quite put your finger on, but as the days go by this feeling takes shape, becomes clear: something is happening. You talk to your friends; they humor you, but they haven’t noticed. You’re at a dinner party and everyone there is simply going through the motions, pretending to be human. Now, even your friends are detached, emotionless as well. Just you and your girlfriend remain. 

“Join us,” they say, kindly explaining they’ve been replicated by plants from outer space. “We’ve never felt such peace. They’ve given us a world without conflict,” they say. All you have to do is go to sleep. You and your girlfriend run. And try not to sleep. They get you in your sleep.

At eleven, I was in 6th grade, and our North Carolina junior high school still held dances, after hours once a semester. This tradition would disappear in a couple of years as the population became more urban and the traditional agrarian markers began to fade.

Then, it was a great production: not quite awe-inspiring, but nonetheless exciting. The gym was strung with streamers and tin foil stars. There were colored lights, salty snacks, and a disco ball. (Existing long before the age of disco, they were a main attraction at roller skating rinks.) The music was bright and loud. 

No one taught us how to dance—we duplicated moves we’d seen on TV, flinging our awkward limbs this way and that. The most-hip teacher took charge of the turntable, rocking the Top 40 hits of the day. It would have been The Beach Boys and Dusty Springfield. It would have been BJ Thomas and Three Dog Night.

The music derived from a world I was sure existed outside my line of sight much like the lives of The Brady Bunch, whose family inhabited a large and perpetually clean house. They were a family who, even when they grew angry or sad always returned to equilibrium before bedtime. The music, like the TV shows, emerged from world I couldn’t recognize, but took on faith.

Jenny came to the dances. We’d been friends since 3rd grade, sometimes we were reading or project buddies. Sometimes we sat together at lunch and talked about Star Trek. Our parents allowed us to stay up past our bedtime to watch it.

In 4th grade, we traded marbles. Marbles were everywhere then; in glass jars and bowls on coffee tables and in doctor’s offices. They were the objets d’arte of the late sixties South. We didn’t know how to play marbles; we didn’t know there was a game, but they were always around and they were pretty and we’d each occasionally steal one from a bowl or jar. I’d find a green cat’s eye, she’d find a flaming red one; we’d trade.

Also in 4th grade, I asked my mom if Jenny could sleep over; she explained to me that girls didn’t sleep over with boys. Jenny and I convened at school the next morning and commiserated in the lunchroom. She’d asked her mom as well and was given the same answer. We puzzled over the strange injunctions rendered by parents, and adults in general. 

It was hot in the gym; they’d opened the doors and set large fans by them, but it was still hot. The boys smelled like sweaty boys—wet macaroni and old socks—and the girls smelled like flowers. There was a pleasure in the movement, in the music, in jostling with others—our hands and limbs sometimes colliding, stopping to catch our breath. In 6th grade, I felt no nervousness about dancing at these events. It was a fun thing my friends and I did together and some of those friends were girls. We danced together in the same way we played tag or dodge ball.

Three more versions of The Body Snatchers have been made since the first. Abel Ferrara’s 1993 adaptation, Body Snatchers, takes place on an US Army base in Alabama, which makes the metaphor of the film too on the nose from the jump. Still, it’s a taut little B movie that gets the job done in 87 minutes. The less said about the 2007 remake, The Invasion, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, the better. Let’s pretend it doesn’t exist.

In the Siegel film, McCarthy plays Miles Bennell, a genial small-town doctor, and Wynter is an old flame who’s just returned from Europe. King Donovan is Jack Belicec, Bennell’s friend, and Carolyn Jones is Belicec’s wife. The four uncover the plot to transform the entire town into Pods. At one point the couples split up, Belicec and wife attempting to escape to the big city and get help.

In this version, the false humans, the Pods, are less zombie-like than in the following films. There’s nothing that immediately gives them away, no glassy stares or stiff limbs—they can feign interest and a veneer of emotion. When Belicec meets up again with Bennell, he’s become one of them and he’s smiling, explaining to Miles that there’s nothing to worry about. When a mother places a seed-pod in her child’s crib and says to herself, “Soon, there’ll be no more tears,” she sounds both cold and a little wistful.

In 6th grade, many of the boys around me had entered the hot spiky edge of puberty. They were bending toward the older kids, attempting to stake their place in adolescence. It was an uneasy transition in part because they were learning a new language. I struggled even to identify it as a language.

On the bus, in the playground, in the cafeteria, the older boys would talk in low tones, imparting esoterica not meant to be shared outside the group. To even be a part of this conversation was to enter a rarefied realm. Now and then, on a whim, a boy might be excluded from the spontaneous group, the expulsion reminding us all of our precarious place within the circle. Sent away presumably because he wasn’t ready or might divulge our momentary enclave to a teacher, he might never return. This exile kept those included enthralled, reinforced our position of privilege.

Older boys spoke of their wild times with unknown women; single women in their neighborhood, high school students, passersby who stopped in cars, ticket takers at movie theatres, all women breathless and overwhelmed by desire who grabbed them and lured them into a dark closet, or the back seat, or their bedroom, because they could no longer resist their urges.

No one really believed these stories—the facts were muddled and, when they approached the act itself, the details became non-existent. Still, the tales began to form an incidental mythology—a counter-mythology—around girls and women. Like any mythology, they served as both practical and metaphorical lessons.

There was no internet. Television, and the movies we saw, were chaste. Now and then one of us might find a dirty magazine and share it with the others, but the magazines never revealed the acts themselves, only the staged seduction preceding. We were left to our own imaginations and the murky fantasies of those older than us.

I’d started school a year younger than my classmates and there were times when that year was a chasm, times when my interests had not at all caught up with theirs. Everyone at school became the older brother I didn’t have, initiating me in the mysteries to come.

Slowly girls became unknowable, even though I’d known them all my life. Somehow, we’d been chosen for different teams.

The 1978 version, directed by Philip Kaufman, locates the action in San Francisco where the hippie movement is beginning to succumb to the new age movement. Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams are now Matthew and Elizabeth, the lovers who never consummate. Jeff Goldblum is Bellicec,1Editor’s note: This is not a misspelling; the character’s name is spelled differently between Siegel’s film and Kaufman’s. who runs a seedy mudbath spa with his wife, Nancy (Veronica Cartwright), and Leonard Nimoy is a self-help guru whose tone and aphorisms change very little, pre-pod to post-pod.

Cinematographer Michael Chapman has a great time with weird lighting and canted angles, each shadow replicating in color what film noir did in black and white. The location of the film in a thriving city elevates the paranoia at the heart of the story and underscores the sheer numbers involved in the transformation.

Aside from the obvious technical improvements in film and special effects between Siegel and Kaufman’s versions, the 1978 film makes two major changes. It adds a shriek the Pods emit when they see the Normals, an alert to the other Pods. It’s a truly unnerving noise, devised by sound designer Ben Burtt, only tangentially human. The second change is the return to a darker ending; the kind of ending Siegel wanted for the first film but the studio overruled. In the first film, Bennell succeeds in alerting the authorities and the government whips into action.

Jenny and I dance in the 6th grade, we tilt side to side in a box step to “Hooked on a Feeling,” my hands on her hips, hers on my shoulders. Jenny has a kitten she’s named Samantha and she lies in bed watching her tear around the room, leaping dresser to stool, climbing the curtains then dropping to the floor. As we dance, she describes the manic leaps and spastic runs. She can’t help but laugh. I dance with other girls; she dances with other boys. We sit together, our backs to the folded bleachers. I want to be a scientist; she wants to be a veterinarian.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know, at eleven or twelve, what was being referred to in the songs or movies of the day when sex was alluded to, it’s just that I didn’t know. It happened in a world far from me.

The scattershot council of my friends only added to my confusion. On the bus, in the cafeteria, boys divided the girls by appearance, then divided them again into parts, some more pleasing than others. Many were beginning to take on a shape, and they became breasts, asses, orifices—the subject of endless conversations and asides. As if their features were free-floating and existed independently. As if features could be intermingled by choice—I’ll take this top and that bottom with this face. The dismemberment was jarring.

Suddenly, the girls I had played with—or at least talked to easily—were becoming something else. I couldn’t quite see this. I could only imagine it from the gaze of the older boys, the way I might imagine a ghost story or dream told to me. 

The girls had transformed invisibly in the minds of those around me. No one talked about the change—that days before, or weeks before, they were the Marianne or Tessa we knew and now they were someone else—someone unfathomable, even threatening. We lost their faces—some became an assemblage of parts, some vanished from sight altogether.

The girls themselves felt this, of course, sooner or later, and they rose into or shrank from the new wavelength of attention. After all, it was impossible to remain neutral on this battlefield. To be seen talking for too long to a boy, any boy, opened them to teasing, made both vulnerable to questions about when they would kiss.

I neither relied on, nor trusted, the words of the older boys around me, but they were who I had. I didn’t talk as much as listen. Sometimes their stories overlapped just enough with what I’d seen on TV or in movies to make the tales plausible but, of course they’d seen the same shows I had. Their words—and the promise of being older, worldly—pulled me into their gaze. The trade-off was supposed to be that I would join the fraternity of men.

Movies train us to believe we might be the sole holdout that saves humanity, the final girl who defeats the monster, the nerd who hacks the computer—“I’m in!”—a member of the elite force dropped behind enemy lines. They place us in identification with each hero. Movies train us to believe it wouldn’t be us—you or me—who betrays the rebellion, who sacrifices others to save our own skin. No, we would be different. We wouldn’t succumb to torture, we would escape. We would stand up for our fellow man against all odds.

In the 1978 film, the two remaining Normals (Matthew and Bellicec’s wife, Nancy) learn to suppress their emotions, to appear featureless, thought-free. They learn to never reveal themselves, so they can hide in plain sight within Pod society. They lose touch with each other.

Maybe you see where I’m going here. I’m not trying to exhume some deep long forgotten personal trauma, but I am trying to understand how the men of my generation became so fucked up.

We’re fucked up partly because we could be—no one stopped us. We became who we thought we were supposed to be; geniuses were fucked up, artists were fucked up. Brilliant men were supposed to rage and demand. They did violence to the world in service to their vision; it was their job.

In the last scene of the 1978 version, after a slow fade, we see Matthew, expressionless, walking in the city past trucks being loaded with seed-pods. He goes to his office and sits behind his desk. He leaves to go home when all the others fill the hallway. Outside, it’s winter. The trees are leafless, the sky is gray, no one is around. Matthew walks in the park where he finds Nancy. She smiles, rushing toward him. He raises his arm, points, and shrieks. He is one of them.

Somewhere between the 6th grade and 7th grade dances, I stumble into Jenny in the local drugstore while idling, waiting for my mom. Her face brightens; she’s happy to see me. She asks me something—something about school, something about myself.

Jenny doesn’t yet have a shape at all but I’m aware of where my eyes go and I jerk them away to stare at a shelf, a stack of notebooks, anything. I shift one leg to the other, I stammer, mumble. My face flushes and my hands are prickling. I am so damned awkward. I can’t look at her.

I might as well have pointed my finger and shrieked.

I leave the store, a rage of emotions. I wait in the car until my mother finishes her shopping, hunching in the backseat, hoping Jenny won’t come out to find me. And, of course, hoping she will. I don’t know what I feel. Sadness, confusion. A weird exhilaration. A deep loss. I want to cry, from the pain and frustration but, suddenly, I’m a guy and guys don’t cry.

Jenny becomes a design engineer who builds the first modern dam in Afghanistan. Jenny fronts a rock and roll band called The Jet Girls. Jenny develops an early software startup and retires in her thirties. Jenny is elected governor of North Dakota. I don’t know what happens to Jenny. I don’t remember ever seeing her again.


Steve Mitchell, a writer and journalist, has published in CRAFT Literary, entropy, december magazine, Southeast Review, among others. His novel, Cloud Diary, is published by C&R Press. His book of short stories is The Naming of Ghosts, from Press 53. He has a deep belief in the primacy of doubt and an abiding conviction that great wisdom informs very bad movies. Find him at: