Reading The Midwich Cuckoos last month was to have the story fresh in mind when I watched the various film adaptations, which I have now done. I’ve also caught a couple of other movies dealing with Alien Pregnancy, which will be one of the chapters of my book, so this post is kind of a rough draft for some of my thoughts.
What’s striking is how little agency women have in any of them, though that was true of the Wyndham novel too. In the 1960 Village of the Damned, we see very little of the women, focusing on the men sitting in the Midwich pub and sulking about their women’s inexplicable condition. The scene where the women are all told the news as a group to preclude any slut-shaming or gossip is absent; MGM’s big concern was to avoid the topic of pregnancy (the film never uses the word) given concerns the script parodies the Immaculate Conception. All the action falls to the men; the women suffer and we see Anthea try to reach out to her son, but that’s about it.
Things are marginally better in the 1995 John Carpenter remake. There is a group announcement but it’s part of federal scientist Kirstie Alley’s scheme to prevent abortions by paying the mothers to give birth. We see more of the women’s plight, though they’re still as passive as they are troubled; Jill (Linda Kozlowski) has some agency but only to protect her son, the one cuckoo capable of emotion. And by 1995 the movie could have followed Wyndham and included a lesbian couple among the ill-fated parents (Wyndham doesn’t spell it out, but it’s obvious).
Women’s agency is also lacking in I Married a Monster From Outer Space (1958) and it’s 1998 remake, I Married a Monster. The films involve aliens who need to reproduce with human females — all their females dead in the first, a badly shallow gene pool in the second — by impersonating our menfolk, and also seizing positions of responsibility so the female protagonist (Gloria Talbot in the first film) can’t call outside town for help, nor find any men she can trust. Eventually she and her doctor find a clue: expectant fathers in the first (the aliens can’t interbreed yet) and men drinking in the second (the aliens can’t tolerate alcohol).
As Keep Watching the Skies (the definitive book on 1950s SF films) points out, they could have found humans much more easily — all the women in both towns are human, so why not recruit them? I know that goes against the grain for a 1950s film, but certainly by 1998 it wouldn’t be so outlandish. Of course even though the 1998 aliens apparently have their own females, they don’t think of using them to interbreed with human men, either (I can think of easy explanations but the film just takes it as a given).
Then of course there’s the rape overtones of these alien impregnation plotlines; in I Married A Monster From Outer Space the aliens intend to conquer the planet and then use our women as breeding stock; the Midwich Cuckoos plot isn’t exactly rape but it’s creepily close. The movies rarely acknowledge this or how much trauma might be caused, as opposed to shame and guilt; the 1995 Village shows some of the mothers in torment, but mostly because their offspring are so creepy. Kirstie Alley’s scientist quips about the impregnation that “first they knocked them out, then they knocked them up” but that’s as far as it goes. The dismal 1999 film The Astronaut’s Wife comes closest: pod-person Johnny Depp forces himself on Charlize Theron, who’s increasingly horrified to realize what’s happening; at the climax Depp sneers that not only did he kill her husband “I fucked his wife!” then proceeds to gaslight her, telling her he’s the source of everything good in her life (“I’m the one who gave her a reason to breathe.”). Though the ending is the alien body-jumping into her so she delivers her twins anyway.
I do find myself wondering if with modern I/V technology we couldn’t work out an entente with the aliens: some donated eggs, use their tech and ours to create artificial wombs and presto, no need for rape. Or if it would be possible to do this plot effectively with alien women seducing our men. Could it be made scary even though the men obviously won’t have to go through what the women do?
#SFWApro. Cover by Dean Ellis, all rights to image remain with current holder.