LISTEN – if you’ve been dismissing black and white movies because you think they’re not “sophisticated” enough for your fancy expectations, then this film is your challenge.
The Incredible Shrinking Man is a 1957 film with all the pizzaz of your precious modern-day blockbusters, but without the help of CGI, which makes it WAY more impressive.
The Incredible Shrinking Man also does something I find especially powerful: it builds visceral empathy for the main character. You literally FEEL his suffering. The basis of the film is sci-fi-of course, but the intensity makes it more of a drama.
It all starts when Scott Carey and his wife are vacationing at sea. When his wife goes inside their boat to grab beers, a strange mist passes over, leaving a residue on Scott’s skin. Weeks later, he starts noticing odd changes in his size.
Scott is getting smaller every day, and he decides it’s time to seek professional help. A team of doctors run endless tests, and finally, a breakthrough occurs. They identify two factors contributing to Scott’s ailment: his exposure to the apparent radiation cloud that passed over him on the boat, and (because his luck isn’t bad enough) his accidental exposure to a powerful insecticide sprayed near his house two weeks later. This combination of radiation and chemicals sparks a condition for which there is no precedent.
It’s not long before Scott’s story goes public and he and his wife find themselves confined to their home, hiding from reporters and gawking neighbors. Meanwhile, Scott’s team of doctors work feverishly to find an anecdote. Sadly, when they finally discover a serum they think may help, it’s not enough. Scott continues shrinking, now living in a doll house on the floor of what was once his home.
Living in a doll house may sound kind of awesome, but being that small comes with some serious dangers. Cue Scott’s inevitable run-in with the cat, which spurs the turning point of the film.
This movie is surprisingly DARK. From almost being eaten by a cat, to nearly drowning, to fending off a giant spider, the main character is in constant conflict. We watch him teeter between losing his mind and fighting for survival for most of the film.
I mean, imagine if you were shrinking. Do you really think your wacky inventor Dad would nuke you with his laser and bring you back? That some rude caterpillar would feed you a psychedelic mushroom to make you normal again? No. You’d be screwed and therefore horrified.
This film accurately captures that anxiety and imagines how a person would react mentally, physically, and emotionally to such a life event. It’s also a testament to the awe and wonder at a universe bigger than us — even us normal-sized, non-shrinking humans.