The Plants That Ate Earth (Day)


For this Earth Day, thinking about films with plants seemed a natural. When you think about plants who have starred in films your mind pulls up images of all those Disney, gorgeously photographed fantasies. They are fantasies because the shots they took rarely occur, well, naturally.

But that’s not what pops into our slightly twisted cinematic mind when plant movies are mentioned. Nope,  pods are, and not just any pods, but Kevin McCarthy’s pods. Yes, it is ‘The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.’ That’s where we begin a discussion on sentient plant movies.
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‘Invasion’ came out in 1956 and was directed by Don Siegel. Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter starred in a tale of pods from outer space taking over humans and rendering them emotionless. Most analysts insist that it was an allegory on Communism or at least McCarthyism. However Siegel has said that you can read anything you want into the film, but the reality is that some people are ‘just pods’. By that he meant some folks succumb to a ‘group think’ and divorce themselves from the emotions that makes one a human. I suspect that if Siegel were making films they would center on a post-apocalyptic zombie invasions.

Going deeper into movies about sentient plants, ‘Day of the Triffids’ also stands out. Based on a 1951 book by John Wyndham, the movie was made in 1962 with musical movie standout Howard Keel as a  sighted man in a world where nearly everyone else has been blinded by strange meteors. The meteors brought spores that turned in large, walking blood sucking plants – Triffids. The film has Keel fighting to stay alive in this post-apocalyptic world, moving from one secure location to another. It is the story of walls protecting what’s left of humanity, not unlike one of the earliest pieces of Western literature, ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’.
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‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’ is a very early Mesopotamian story where a fabled, perhaps real king, named Gilgamesh does many wonderful things to advance civilization. One wonder he did was build the walls of Uruk. These walls protected the people. More importantly the walls kept bad things out, not only invading hordes, but nature. The Western concept of civilization versus the forest is first codified. The duality of the two has remained a central tension in Western civilization. Humanity needed to be protected by that which lurked in the forest whether it be the big bad wolf, witches, giants, trolls, monsters and even plants.

The Western world’s underlying philosophy has been that nature is something to be conquered, controlled. As civilization advanced, this polarity has grown wider, and to many, created an imbalance. The imbalance has now created enough tension that Hollywood can use it to make films. Humanity’s hubris and arrogance has resulted in ‘nature’ rebelling to put the balance back in its rightful place.  Films like ‘Ferngully: The Last Rainforest” or Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke” are prime examples of how this tension or imbalance can play out on the screen.

The next time plants are ready for their close-up, we’ll look at how the ancient story of the Green Man motif plays out in such films as ‘Swamp Thing’ and even ‘Robin Hood’.

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