Monday, November 7, 2011

THAS: The Climax of 'Invaders from Mars'

Stills from the Climax Sequence of 'Invaders from Mars'

When it's not just spinning its eventually tiresome kid's-adventure wheels, Invaders from Mars is actually a spottily brilliant tonal creation, conceived by Hooper and Dan O'Bannon as an adolescent fever dream of alien invasion tropes, childhood paranoia, prepubescent role-play (dominant child to subservient school nurse?), and juvenile heroic fantasy. And just like in so many other Hooper films, so as to practically be his trademark, the climax is a feverish culmination of sorts of the tonal and thematic fabric, pushing the fact of Hooper's abstract proclivities in narrative, and how innate emotional and metaphorical goals, as well as structural heights and expressionistic, poetic peaks, are for him and his films.

The climax to Invaders from Mars is stupendous. Like The Mangler, it revels in its build-up and then pays off with an absolute symphony that is vividly, muscularly visualized, and joyous in their fulfillment of a climactic high. While The Mangler provides a virtuoso descent into hell, Invaders from Mars conflates with a countdown to detonation the winding down of a dream.

David and His Parents

David's fantasies come to a head - and the climax announces itself - with the reappearance (after noticeable absence) of the film's foremost boogeymen, the possessed parents.

David, isolated (or preserved) by the frame from the chaos around him, is frozen from action for reasons nebulous and vast:

So the camera literally pans into David's headspace, revealing the parents as shadow figures in the recesses of his psyche:


Another prominent part of the flurry of elements that comprise the climax is the removal from David's side of Linda, the sympathetic school nurse who befriends and acts as companion to David throughout the film (played by Karen Black), and her persistent concern for the boy as she is dragged away, presented in a series of sonorous shots:

Linda's very final shot: a, for me, rather breathtaking, almost-poignant wide (and elevated) panning shot of her literally being pulled out from David's [imaginary] life. It is also the final shot for any of the military men. Thus, this grand shot is a highly effective curtain call for these two players in David's fantasy-world, and almost suggests (as the military men drag this single female presence away and away) a psychical packing away of the toy soldiers and odd Barbie doll back into the old toy chest:

(And so the film's resolution is now left to be only between David and his parents.)

The Impersonal Army Squadron

Another component, the rainbow-colored light show that emits from the rising spacecraft, and the bevy of soldier bodies that flit across it:

The Martian Comeuppance

Amidst all this, one single, solitary, rather arch return to the interior of the Martian spacecraft, where the Martian Brain has a hapless, pathetic-looking fit over its oncoming demise. This one shot being rather gratuitously and arbitrarily cut into the flurry of the climax, one can say it speaks to the activated mind of a story-telling child, frantically, shallowly, tying up loose ends of story as his imagination comes to its inevitable shutdown:

David and His Parents, Part 2

The ensuing chase.

The film astutely realizes David's wish for his parents and the primitive sense of protection parents bring their children is the core emotional crux of the story*, even as the film posits the idea that a child's imagination is apt to find and embrace adventure away from the parents. Thus, the film aptly makes its culminating point the confrontation between David and his Mom and Dad - a wholly convincing, no-holds-barred throw-down between son and parents.

* The film ends with David running to his parents' bedroom for protection, only to open the
door and, for reasons not shown, screaming in terror - clearly it is an utter refutation of
that notion of absolute protection that strikes such a chord of devastation for David.

And as the Father finally grabs the son, this moment of long-delayed parent-child contact is treated with a switch to a descending, stunningly geometrical aerial shot that strikes one as provocatively confused as to whether this rejoining of estranged Father and Son (and soon Mother) is a positive thing or a negative thing (it almost insists that, in either case, it is always a sublime thing):

Much like the "Mother-lunging" shot in Scene from 'Invaders from Mars' #1, the below shot is also a very quick medium shot that is then followed by a cut-to-wide match-in-action, similarly instilling metaphorical potency through a clear structural editing construction. In this case, this point at which the scuffle effectively ends - with son successfully ripping himself away from the parents, both parties staggering forward in haphazard loss of balance - resonates with the essence of violent family tiffs that end resolutely in irresolute loss of contact; the irrevocable tearing away of loved ones from loved ones:

That mere second-long shot cuts to the wide as both parties fall to the ground, in such grandly visualized synchronization that the superficial depiction of the parents' mind-control devices short-circuiting (and thus making them fall on their knees) does actually, successfully, attain the shade of the metaphor (that of the utter exhaustion of participants following violent family scuffles):

The rended family.

Upon realization of his parents' release from the Martians' mind-control (a Spielbergian trick-optical shot):

And as the dream comes to a close, the final shot is of David's parents reaching immutably, eternally towards him, before they disappear in a flash of light and puff of smoke:

The End


Chip Butty said...

I saw Invaders recently for the first time and the ending was one of my favorite parts. Knowing ahead of time from the original movie that the whole thing is a dream, I really appreciated this climax having the logic of a dream ending, which you've analyzed quite nicely. That said, I can understand why you've left the twist ending out of your analysis because although the original film ends on it's own it-was-all-a-dream-OR-WAS-IT twist, the one O'Bannon came up with feels gratuitously mean spirited, especially for what's ostensibly a movie for kids. Even the final shots of Time Bandits went down easier for me as a ten year old than the final final climax of Invaders did as an adult.

JR said...

Lol, yes, there is something awful about the end. It's literally about reapplying trauma with a shovel, and that last shot is not happy.

For some weird reason I haven't thought to watch the original film! I skimmed through parts right now, though (with the intention of watching it through at some point, of course; it looks like an extremely effective picture), and Hooper's is quite the homage.