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"The Incredible Shrinking Man" (1957) Jack Arnold

As the mid-1950s was in full swing, filmmakers like Jack Arnold used his creativity to create this 1957 “The Incredible Shrinking Man.” During this period, the blacklisting era was in full swing. Arnold was creative in creating a character, Scott, who likely was a communist incognito and was probably injected with something that made him smaller as a punishment for being a communist spy.

Since this film was created in 1957, technology was not so advanced. Hence, viewers in 2023 realized that it was apparent that Scott was just in a studio room behind a projector or in a room (such as the dollhouse, for example) that was cheaply made to resemble the build quality of the dollhouse. Scott was so small that it was even more ridiculous and unrealistic that objects like cigarette packs, a housecat, and spiders were much more significant. This kept going on and on to the end of the film.

What makes this film unique compared to other science fiction films of this era is that the narrative dissipates more and more as time goes into the 1960s and later. Viewers also realized that this film felt like a medium to high-budget film, but it was on the lower side compared to Arnold’s previous films, “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “Tarantula.” Post-production was so lengthy and extreme that they had to close the set except for the essential crew members working the production.

As this film was made during the Cold War era, American society was afraid of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and this extreme science fiction film, along with many others, gave out propaganda to the American people that Communism was (and still is) wrong for the American society. All viewers were aware that these threats were real. Americans were living with worrisome lifestyles for many decades through the 1980s when the Soviet Union began to collapse as a nation. Even to this day, this film teaches viewers that the situation with Russia and Ukraine is repeating the history of what happened during the 1950s.

In terms of the plot and storyline, character development flipped as Scott got smaller; at first, his wife and her friend were the protagonists, then as he shrunk, everyone became antagonists, including a housecat, his wife, a basement flood, and even simple small objects such as scissors, a spider, and an empty box of cigarettes.

Going ahead 66 years, this film feels so unrealistic that viewers can quickly critique it for how dainty the special effects were between Scott and the environment he was in each given scene, with most of it being in the basement of his house. As time progressed, filmmakers got creative and made monster-type movies about animals that don’t typically antagonize humans, such as birds, to a film six years later, “The Birds” by Alfred Hitchcock.

As a result of this film, American society began to realize that “The Incredible Shrinking Man” is simply a metaphor for what possibly could happen to life if someone got exposed to a combination of toxic gases, as in this case, radiation and insecticide. Despite this film being 66 years old, the special effects used were very innovative at the time, which was impressive for viewers to see back in 1957, but that has changed with the modern technology of 2023. The overall conclusion of this story was to share the masculinity of the 1950s culture, where men were out working, and women usually stayed home to take care of the household.

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Michael Atkinson
Michael Atkinson
13 nov. 2023

Yeah, all metaphor. But for? Masculinity under siege? I like to look at it as how middle-class materialism -- the house, the car, furniture, appliances -- had come to dominate our lives in ways they hadn't before the 50s; it's almost an existential crisis, to be dwarfed and victimized by the very commercial lifestyle you're supposed to want. In the end, he has to abandon it all, and becomes a primal pioneer in a new world...

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