Sunday, February 26, 2012


During the 50’s, the studios discovered a gold mine in combining insects with nuclear fallout, which resulted in the mutation of gigantism and lead to them terrorizing the human population. While this scenario doesn’t stand up to scientific logic, it definitely makes one contemplate the observation made by H.L. Mencken that “nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public”.                                                                                        

Tarantulas, ants, scorpions, grasshoppers, the list goes on and on. One film, however, made during this period stands apart from the rest. “THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN”, turns this paradigm on its head. In this film the human gets contaminated by nuclear fallout and gradually shrinks to the size of the insects. This film could have turned out as a run of the mill monster movie but it possesses an intelligent screenplay by Richard Matheson. The special effects aren’t bad either.
Robert Scott Carey (Grant Williams) is on vacation off the California coast with his wife. While on a boat out at sea, he is exposed to a strange fog-like cloud that sweeps over the surface of the water.  No outward effects are noticed and they return home and carry on with their lives. Until Carey notices his clothes getting loose.  He is at even height with his wife. He consults a doctor who after numerous tests diagnoses his malady as - you guessed it - radiation sickness.
This, of course, is not good news. Carey does not adjust to his new condition cheerfully and it causes strains in his marriage. The doctors come up with an antidote that seems to arrest the shrinking process for the time being.
In the meantime Carey visits a carnival where he meets a female midget. They become friends because he can converse with somebody who understands his condition. Not long after they meet he notices he is no longer at even height with the woman and flees in despair. The antidote is failing and he is continuing to shrink. The film fast forwards somewhat to where he is at the size where he has to live in a dollhouse. The couple had a pet house cat before the incident but now that Scott is the size of rodent, the cat has to be kept outside.                      
One day when departing the house, his wife leaves the door open long enough for the cat to get in. Carey is now in mortal danger. He manages to escape to the cellar while the cat is concentrated on getting into the dollhouse. His wife returns to find the cat inside, the dollhouse moved, and no sign of her miniature husband. She believes the worst possible scenario has occurred.

In the cellar Carey has just entered another world where insignificant creatures he once stepped on or laid down poison for are now the dominant species. The tables have turned.  This will be his ultimate fight for survival. His new home is a matchbox. His clothes are burlap scraps. His sword is a straight pin. It doesn’t take long for him to realize his chief protagonist in this realm is a large spider. His time is spent trying to avoid the spider and searching for food. As luck would have it, he discovers a food source but it is located under the spider’s web. His efforts to create a diversion to get at the food go awry and the spider is upon him. He is pinned under the monster with mandibled fangs descending for the kill. Yet even in this impossible situation he manages to draw his weapon and drive it through the spider.
The monster is vanquished and Carey is the master of his world.  His shrinking has accelerated; the scraps of cloth hang loosely on his frame. He wanders to the window screen which he now can climb through.  He wanders into the grass which is like a rain forest and slowly recedes into the tangle of flora and fauna slowly dissolving into the earth.
Now this might sound like just another monster movie, and it could have wound up as one, but Matheson’s script makes all the difference. Narration in films can be a useful tool as to provide a running monologue or as a device to shore up the story. In the case of this film, the narration starts when Carey is consigned to the dollhouse and continues for the remainder of the film because it is the only form of communication with the audience.  In the hands of a less gifted scenarist the narration could sound like an explanation of the obvious, but as Carey crawls through the wire screen and wanders into the jungle he expounds on his place in nature or in his words “between the infinite and the infinitesimal”, to proselytize on how in glaring clarity he “has found the riddle of the infinite, that it is man’s presumption that existence begins and ends – not natures”. As the narration ends and Carey dissolves into nothingness, one final statement to put everything in reference to the cosmological and the theological – “to God there is no zero, I still exist! This isn’t the typical ending for a monster flick. As Carey shrinks his spirit soars.

It has always choked me up!