April 1, 1957 [The Incredible Shrinking Man]

The Incredible Shrinking Man turns its back on the urge to make the monster larger--mostly spiders and ants, but dinosaurs and other lizards have been spotted on the horizon--and simply--well, the title tells it all.

Or at least part. Richard Matheson’s novel isn’t completely forgotten, and so the shrinking man is more than a gimmick: He fears, rages and rebels against what’s happening to him--like adolescence in reverse, the body going its own way, literally tearing you up inside--and out. In the movie, Scott tries his best to adjust, to figure out how to dress and reach for things and just not look like a fool--until he’s less than a child, helpless and alone.

The movie works toward this moment of solitude, Scott in the basement, in a monster movie, the giant spider battled against with needle and thread, Scott in his tunic covered in black spider-blood, eating the stale cake. To accommodate its own ambitions, the movie adds a soliloquy--but it fits somehow: Scott’s narration gives us a little man with ambition--to survive--and it works because he feels he’s living long enough only to go out, like a candle. He is following his body’s new course--but it’s one he doesn’t understand, with a day and time for his death he can’t determine, as he shrinks into the sub-atomic, where “there is no zero”--and I once more succumbed to the melancholy triumphs of melodrama, and was relieved and even exhilarated when he tells us, the Universe wrapping itself around him--the one so big and the other so small we really can’t see either--“I still exist.”

All these science fiction movies coming at us must be making John W. Campbell and everyone who writes for and reads science fiction magazines awfully happy--or maybe nervous. They are a zealous lot, and jealous of their privacy--to work on their stories off to the side, pleasing themselves and each other, recruiting slowly but steadily. Unlike Scott, though, the drive-in theaters will only increase. When I lived in Riverton, I remember Richard Hollingshead in his driveway showing test films for his bright idea. When he opened his drive-in over in Pennsauken, he started something that came and went--but shrinking Scott and his titanic counterparts are bringing it back, all through the night.


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