What’s so incredible about The Incredible Shrinking Man?

shrink4The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) is really good at showing a man’s paranoia about his self-image.  Scott’s shirt and pants don’t seem to fit like before and at first, he thinks he’s just losing weight.  He becomes more and more paranoid and even his doctor can’t explain why he is getting smaller.  Scott realizes something is really wrong: he’s shrinking.  I watched this movie and saw that there is more to it than your usual B-Movie fare. 

shrink1The doctor in this movie actually does the smart thing and sends him to an expert.  Actually, a research institute.  They diagnose him with Shrink-itis.  All his molecules are slowly being rearranged and restructured.  Amazing as it sounds, this is the explanation they give.  The cause is a radioactive cloud that Scott was caught in at the beginning of the movie.  The scientists explain that if Scott was exposed to insecticide and then radiation like that in the cloud, the results could be very bad.  I smell an allegory.  

shrink2The 1950s were the Golden Age of pesticides.  People didn’t know the long-term effects of insecticides like DDT and used them more often than they do today.  Before 1950, only about 100 million pounds of pesticides were produced annually.  By 1960, over 600 million pounds were produced every year.  These dangerous chemicals are the catalyst for this movie.

Scott realizes that eventually, every newspaper in America is going to learn of his condition, so he pays someone to publish his story ahead of time.  While the institute works on a cure, Scott shrinks and shrinks.  They use rear projection to make Scott appear much smaller than everyone else.  This effect is dated, but works fine.

shrink3Scott is played by actor Grant Williams.  Williams was a singer and piano player, as well as an actor on TV.  He made seven B-Movies before landing the part of Scott in The Incredible Shrinking Man.  His career in acting continued through the 1970s.    He’s in every scene of this movie, so he had to be spot on with his delivery.  I think he does a great job in this film.  It’s not an easy thing for people to relate to, but the movie makes Scott’s problem more about self-confidence.

shrink5The Incredible Shrinking Man has great drama, but all the usual shrinking gags too.  Oversized objects.  Large cats.  Big spiders.  A man living a dollhouse.  It’s actually pretty amusing.  Scott keeps shrinking and soon, he can’t even escape his own basement.  

The premise of this movie is basically what makes 1950s movies great: they were brave enough to ask highly imaginative questions.  What if a TARANTULA was 100 feet tall?  What if a man shrunk to 2 inches tall?  What if man went to the bottom of the ocean?  Those questions serve as the basis for some classic films, except The Tarantula.  That’s just a bad movie. Jack Arnold directed some of those classics and not-so-classics, including this movie.  You’ll have to decide for yourself if this one is a classic, but it does have interesting themes.

This movie is brave enough to question masculinity and the existence of man.  This subtext comes from the novel, written by Richard Matheson, and the best scenes are the discussions Scott has with others.  To answer my own question, this movie is only “incredible” by association, as many other 1950s movies used sensational titles too, but this movie is much more than your standard B-Movie.

shrink7The end of this movie is not very satisfying.  There is no resolution.  Scott doesn’t find a solution to his problem and he’s only able to escape the basement in order to face the fact he’ll never stop shrinking.  Honestly, I’m not sure what I was expecting.  Maybe Peter Cushing should have rushed in and shouted “Yes, I have the solution!!! Take him to my lab!!!”.  That would have been hilarious. 

Scott’s final soliloquy makes us question existence and life in the universe.  Why does Scott continue to exist?  Why does life exist? Why are we alive? Why are we here? Scott chalks up his survival to God, but we can determine for ourselves our place in the world.  Though we may never understand the why, life is one mystery we shouldn’t take for granted.  

The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet – like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens. The universe, worlds beyond number, God’s silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment, I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of man’s own limited dimension. I had presumed upon nature. That existence begins and ends in man’s conception, not nature’s. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away. And in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero. I still exist!