It’s mentioned in the List that The Incredible Shrinking Man ends on a beautifully metaphysical note, with our ever-shrinking hero looking up at the cosmos and accepting his fate to grow forever smaller, and saying that “for God there is no zero.” Beautiful stuff indeed, and not at all what you’d expect from the ending of such a movie.
But also weird as shit. If you’d lined up all of the last fifty movies ont eh List and asked me which one of them was likeliest to end with the spiritual resolution of an existential crisis, The Incredible Shrinking Man would probably not have been the one. That whole soliloquy is delivered literally two minutes after he slays a giant tarantula with an oversized knitting needle.
But it’s good shit too. The movie’s a simple story about a guy who’s exposed to some free-floating radioactive mist while he’s out at seat with his wife. Something about that mist pairs up with his earlier exposure to insecticide and ends up creating an “anti-cancer” condition: the virulent regression of cells.
Maybe that makes sense, maybe not. Ahdunno. Don’t rightly care, either. What follows are several scenes of domestic drama as X shrinks and shrinks and his wife (a 1950s caricature of the hoopskirted domestic goddess, with impeccably curled hair and an endless passion for service) tolerates his anxiety and anger and grief. His outbursts.
It takes a while for X to get so small that he’s stealing stale bits of food from mous traps and doing battle with insects, and while this whole movie belongs with the likes of Forbidden Planet and Kiss Me Deadly and Invasion of the Body Snatchers in that it mirrors the 1950s nuclear panic, the Red Scare, the idea of invisible lethal shit in our modern suburban postwar utopia, the movie’s also as psychologically-inclined as something from the start of the decade. The Snake Pit or The Secret Beyond the Door. The metaphor we’re looking at is that of a man confronting the modern day nuclear reality and, on the basis of that reality, enduring such an intense existential crisis that it’s forcing him down, down, down into his subconscious mind where primordial enemies reside. And he has to confront and defeat those enemies in order to survive.
And then what does he experience when he does finally confront and defeat them? He enjoys a moment of spiritual closure and clarity.
A little more Jungian and mystical than Freudian, but still. Heavy stuff that manages to be fun and exciting on the path to profundity. Hands down my favorite piece of panic-laden sci-fi from the 1950s.