Wednesday, February 8, 2012

One Of Us Has To Die: The Incredible Shrinking Man & the Sexual Revolution Of the 1950s

Jack Arnold’s 1957 Sci-Fi thriller The Incredible Shrinking Man (which has been preserved in the National Film Registry) is important because it provides us insight into what was really happening in the 1950s Sci-Fi genre of film and literature: whereas film makers such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas hold that the films were about Communism, the political “other” of America in the 1950s, TISM smashes that concept and provides a different thesis that the Sci-Fi films were about Americans, not Communists, and the monsters and aliens dominating the genre in the 1950s, those who had grown so enormous, merely illustrates how, because of the guilt of launching two nuclear attacks against Japan, we had become small and lost our humanity, we had become alien to ourselves, and the Sci-Fi genre was a mass catharsis of our guilt more deadly to our psyches than radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (this posting builds upon The Second Original Sin: Art In the Atomic AgeThe Decade Of Turmoil: Film In the1950s and Love In the Sonic Age: Attack Of the 50-Foot Woman). 
The obvious rebuttal is, but Lucas and Spielberg were alive in the 1950s and you weren't, so wouldn't they have a better clue about what their movies meant to their generation? And that would be an excellent rebuttal, however, there are two important points to undermine that position: first, we can never really see something pertaining to ourselves accurately because we are a part of it, in this case the films, and the films are a part of us; secondly, the understanding about the aliens and monsters being about the Communists isn't supported by any other genre of film. For example, Westerns were the dominating television show during the 1950s, but there isn't an accurate or feasible way of introducing interpretations of Communists into the Westerns; there is the same case with film noir and even the major dramas throughout the 1950s. (I will be making other posts to demonstrate how the thesis I am proposing is supported by other genres, but I am starting with the Sci-Fi genre first). If the "Communist thesis" was viable to interpret the Sci-Fi genre, we would see traces of it being explored in other genres as well.
The central conflict for Scott Carey (Grant Williams) is with the giant spider. The death struggle with the spider is repeated with different symbols throughout the film; if we can understand this scene, we can understand the film. (Jack Arnold is a prominent director in the Sci-Fi genre of the '50s, and two years before TISM, he did Tarantula using the same spider for TISM as in Tarantula. The giant spider symbol could easily be a reference to J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy The Lord of the Rings, the third best-selling novel of all time. Within the third book, The Two Towers, Frodo Baggins is poisoned by a large spider named Shelob who may be the inspiration for both Tarantula and TISM. The Lord of the Rings was being widely published between 1954-5, so it's conceivable the writers and film makers had come across it).
I am quoting extensively from Scott's monologue after the basement floor has flooded and he's all washed up, realizing that he's probably not going to be found or rescued. By taking it out of context, (which I usually don't like to do) the phrases and depth of desperation in Scott's thought processes come through; as you read, please, if you will, imagine that the "spider" is really his wife, Lou (and I will discuss her at length below).
This exact scene doesn't happen in the film, so that's why it's interesting that it has become so famous. But even though this scene doesn't actually take place, all the elements of this shot are present at the same time in the film and aides us, the viewers, in understanding what is trying to be done: the feminine spider (like Scott's wife Lou who sews a dress, the spider weaves, linking it to the world and space of the feminine) is up against Scott who is now significantly smaller than the spider and has only the needle, also a feminine symbol, which has been appropriated as a male/phallic symbol.
(The video for this scene is immediately below, but this is the lead up monologue): I still had my weapons. With these bits of metal I was a man again. If I was to die, it would not be as a helpless insect in the jaws of the spider monster. A strange calm possessed me. I thought more clearly than I had ever thought before, as if my mind were bathed in a brilliant light. I recognized that part of my illness was rooted in hunger, and I remembered the food on the shelf. The cake threaded with the spider web. I no longer felt hatred for the spider. Like myself, it struggled blindly for the means to live. If I was to fight it, if I was to win the food, then it must be now, while strength remained, while I was still of sufficient size to scale the wall. It was not decision that drove me to the crate, but reflex, as instinctive as the spider’s. My legs trembled, not with fear, but with weakness, and yet somehow I found a giant strength, urging me to the death-struggle. My enemy seemed immortal. More than a spider. It was every unknown terror in the world, every fear fused into one hideous, night-black horror. Still, whatever else had happened, my brain was a man’s brain, my intelligence still a man’s intelligence. . . . One of us had to die.
"Impaling the spider with my hook," is a definite sexual reference, and the fluids oozing from the spider's body and getting all over Scott after he has pierced the spider with his sword is symbolic of the "exchange" which takes place in the sexual act and has perhaps never been better explored than in this sequence. "One of us has to die," one of us has to be dominant and the other has to accept submission and let their "will to rule" and their "will to dominate," die. Note the clothes Scott wears in this sequence; like Nancy after she has grown 50 feet in Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, Scott's costume seems to hearken back to the caveman era, and examines the "primitive arrangement" between men and women which gave rise to society. The scissors do a good job of illustrating that "exchange."
Normally, the scissors would be a female instrument, to aid in the making of clothes for example, but scissors would not be possible without the metal used to make them and the metal is a masculine object. That's why Scott re-appropriates the needle as his sword and a bent straight pin as a hook, to reclaim them as masculine objects. (It probably would have been easier for Scott to get a wooden splinter to use as a spear to throw at the spider or adapt as a bow for arrows to shoot it with, that way, his risk would be minimized, but minimizing risk isn't the purpose of this conquest scene). The pins and the metallic scissors is Scott reminding Lou what he has given to their marriage, the exchange which has taken place from the beginning of time, and her end of the deal, what she has to give in exchange for what she is getting.
The scissors being used to drag down the spider doesn't work, and that's probably because it's the idea of "severing the umbilical cord," (the hook is the sexual act, the thread is the cord and the scissors the means of cutting the cord) the appeal to the female spider (Lou, Scott's wife) that she should be loving to Scott because a woman like her gave birth to Scott, and women want to (generally) have children; Scott and Lou do not have children although they have been married 6 years so killing Lou's will to dominate because he gave her children (think of Mrs. Doubtfire here) isn't applicable. Here's where the clever idea of "exchange" is introduced (and yes, this has Marxist reekings, but it's just too interesting to pass up).
Scott is in front of the cake, the spider on the web, crawling down, and then there is a basket there in the upper-right corner of the shot. The basket, again, re-enforces the space of the feminine not only because it is "weaved" as the spider weaves the web we see, but because women generally use baskets to carry things in (think of Little Red Riding Hood) because a woman carries a child until term, likening her womb to a basket. There is another element of the feminine here: the cake, specifically, the angel food cake. It's not only feminine because it's a cake that was probably baked by Lou and that we saw her eating earlier in the film while she was sewing, but because it is nutrition.
It's not a mere technique of thrills and chills that the food, the cake, can only be gotten by the death of the spider: the cake is nourishment. Specifically, the cake is an angel food cake, and anyone who has made angel food knows that it takes about a dozen eggs to make (so it's nearly all protein); the eggs make it a specifically feminine food because eggs are associated with life which is associated with women. But because it is protein, it will sustain man and the protein his muscles need so he can do his part in the partnership between a man and a woman. But a man needs more than just physical nourishment, he requires food for his emotions and soul, and that is up to a woman to provide as well by means of her love and her willingness to care for him. So, the image above, of the spider guarding over the angel food cake, illustrates for us the dichotomy of woman: the spider symbolizes her will to dominate her husband while the cake symbolizes her ability to care for him; in order to get the "angel" out of his wife to care for him, he has to have a means of destroying the spider within her (really the most famous spider of all is the latrodectus hesperus or black widow who kills her mate; for more on the divided nature of woman, please see The Medusa Within: Clash Of the Titans).
Publicity still for The Incredible Shrinking Man, reading: "Louise Carey takes her husband in hand." The next year, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman would make this a reality when Nancy picks up erring husband Harry and squeezes him. The hands, of course, symbolize strength, so women in the 1950s were beginning to use their strength to dominate their husbands in ways that had not previously been done, specifically, the "liberation" of women from the home during World War II when women went to work in factories and got used to making decisions that, previously, their husbands were making; but this is the catch, even for women (such as Louise Carey above) that might not have worked during the war, other women that were influencing her had. Just because it didn't effect every household, some women seeing single mothers, widowed by the war, were dis-illusioned by the seeming independence and freedom of those women and grew to resent the sacrifices inherent in a marriage. If women saw women being able to provide for themselves that which men had always provided as a part of the marriage contract, then women were increasingly willingly to forgo marriage in exchange for independence and freedom.
How can I support all this?
Fans of the film will say, and rightly so, that Lou never exhibits that kind of behavior towards, Scott, that it's the exact opposite, she is loving and refuses to leave him. However, all we really need to do is watch the opening dialogue between the two of them and we see a far darker woman, a modern woman and not a wife. (Below is the first part of the film, please, if you haven't seen it before, just take a moment to watch the first part).
The film begins with a shoreline and waves lapping upon it; there is a shot of the water and the sky, then a “drop shot” to a boat in the ocean (Jack Arnold would go onto direct Gilligan's Island, so linking the Minnow from Gilligan's Island to the boat in TISM is absolutely feasible). The two shots remind us of “the natural world” and the natural world order of humans being above the animals. Next, we see the boat in the middle of the ocean—the shoreline has disappeared—and we hear our narrator’s voice: “The strange, almost unbelievable story of Robert Scott Carey began on a very ordinary summer day. I know this story better than anyone, because I am Robert Scott Carey.”
The title card showing the radiation cloud/mist which Scott encounters and leaves that strange glitter all over his chest. Just as the cloud is in the title cards, so it is throughout the entire film. In fact, we could say that the cushion which Lou takes from between the two of them on the boat deck to put behind her back, that "thing" which comes between them, is the cloud, and the cloud of unknowing is directly what causes him to shrink.
I could write an entire post about these two lines, so detailed and intricate is the ramifications and the consequence of this being said in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and in the 1950’s. Several great films of this era were situated in the Pacific/Asia: From Here To Eternity, Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (the surrealist artist Luis Bunuel), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mister Roberts, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, Around the World in 80 Days, The King and I, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Sayonara, Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, South Pacific, On the Beach and Operation Petticoat, not to mention all the films that take place on or around the water, such as The Old Man and the Sea, Suddenly, Last Summer, An Affair to Remember and Big Country (Gregory Peck's character is always likening Texas' vastness to the vastness of the ocean with which he is familiar) so, The Incredible Shrinking Man is situating itself, just within these two opening shots, in a very definite sphere, the natural order and the “new order” created by the way World War II ended. 
Whereas Scott references the marriage between them, Lou calls Scott, "my friend," and seems to dissolve the marriage bond, especially when she says, "I'm on vacation, too," and this is the part that starts making Scott into a pest, instead of the man she married and supposedly loves.
Let us first of all consider his name: Robert Scott Carey. His last name, “Carey,” is feminine, “Carrie,” and invokes the film made just a few years earlier in 1952, Carrie, based on Theodor Dreiser’s novel Sister Carrie, about a woman who lives with numerous men and brings each of them to ruin as she advances in society to become an actress (her designation “sister” is not religious, rather, reminds the reader of her role as a sibling to another woman, or, in broader terms, a social sister to all women, something like the relationship of Eve and Lillith).
Carrie of 1952 starring Eddie Albert, Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Jones was nominated for Best Costumes (Edith Head) and Best Art Direction; additionally, Sir Laurence Olivier received a BAFTA nomination for his performance, so it was a well-known film during the early 1950's. Carrie well-illustrates the new kind of woman discussed above, and both Albert's and Olivier's character demonstrate (in varying degrees) Harry from Attack of the 50-Foot Woman.
This is important because, throughout the 1950s, we see the masculinization of women (Them! for example, has the audience see the leading actress, Pat, stuck getting out of an airplane the first time we see her; her top half is in the plane and her feet on the ground, so she’s stuck between the natural world and the man-made world and throughout the film, she struggles between them) and the feminization of men. Robert’s last name “Carey” creates the same situation for him as was being depicted for many women in the science fiction films of this decade. Similarly, Robert’s wife Louise goes by “Lou” throughout the film, bringing out the masculine in her nature. This is further developed when a woman also 36 inches tall from a carnival comes to talk to Scott at a coffee shop and she tells him that her name is Clarice Bruce.
Clarice Bruce and Scott Carey having coffee. Her femininity is deceiving because while she seems like the "angel food cake" of the female world, it was, for example, Clarice who made the first move to come and sit with Scott; even though Clarice tells Scott that he is taller than her, at the park (a symbol of the Garden of Eden) Scott realizes he's shrinking again when he's standing in front of her, showing Scott that even with a small woman he's small.
The second important point about these opening lines is that he wants to establish his authority as the author of the story and the one who knows most about what has happened. It’s an “almost” unbelievable story, and yet there is the element that allows us to believe it, and by the end we will believe it, every scene of it. It is his(story) not her story, and as Scott (like most men in the 1950s) increasingly looses his identity, his-story is what he will retain and his own ability to meditate upon his being, his thoughts and reflections are his, not given to him by his wife with whom he has to bargain for a drink.
Seeing the cloud, about which, he can do nothing. We can also take the cloud to be that which is "hiding his wife" from him; there's this woman beside him, but where did the woman who loved him go to? Between every man and woman there is a cloud of not knowing, a cloud of uncertainty (this is also a famous spiritual phrase which I am not invoking in this context).
As we focus in on the boat and see Scott and Lou, she makes a small but significant gesture: she takes a pillow/cushion that is between them and puts it behind her back. They are reclining against the boat’s windshield. A boat is a vehicle and, as vehicles typically symbolize the Holy Spirit (who guides us and takes us where we need to go in life to fulfill our destiny) a boat is particularly linked to the Holy Spirit because a boat travels on water (the sacrament of Baptism and symbol of Grace) but boats figure largely in the story of Jesus: sleeping on the boat during the storm, Peter and his brother were on a boat when Jesus called them, “Follow me and I will make you a fisher of men,” the disciples were on a boat when they saw Jesus walking on the water, then they were on a boat again when they saw Jesus on the shore (after the Resurrection) and Peter walked on the water to get to Jesus.
When Scott goes to the doctor's the first time to have himself checked out, the doctor asks how often he has had physicals and Scott responds for the draft board and life insurance purposes; these would (psychologically and emotionally) establish a man's height for him because being able to serve his country in war and provide for his family at his death are both ways that men prove their worth to themselves and others so both those examples was a time when Scott felt that he did "measure up" to expectations of him.
So, within the first few seconds of the film, we have the water and the cultural references to the Battle of the Pacific during World War II (a fact further emphasized by Robert mentioning sailing to the Philippines, where a large part of the War in the Pacific took place), the boat and the windshield (glass always symbolizes reflection) and the cushion that has been between them has now been put behind Lou is “supporting her” in what she does next; the meaning of the conversation about to take place is being “blocked” by both Scott and Louise, so the conversation which takes place, the vehicle of the rest of the story, is not going to be meditated upon by either of them, they are turning their backs to it and blocking it out.
Will you please pass the salt? It's right there, get it yourself. The importance of salt, specifically, will be discussed in my next post on Salt of the Earth: The Monolith Monsters, but right now, we can easily link Mr. Smith (Brad Pitt) wanting his wife to get him the salt to Scott Carey wanting his wife to get him a beer; both men face the same giant obstacles: their wives' indifference to their needs. Some conflicts just never get resolved.
What is the conversation?
It’s funny how things don’t change very much. It’s very similar to Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, when John asks Jane to pass the salt and she never does. In The Incredible Shrinking Man, we know they are on vacation and Scott says, “I’m thirsty,” which references Christ’s thirst upon the cross, but what’s really important is that Scott then says, “Louise, I think we should get married.”  Granted, every time someone mentions being thirsty in art/film/literature doesn’t reference Christ on the cross, however, Christ’s “work on the cross” is juxtaposed against them being on “vacation” and Scott asking Louise to marry him (the Crucifixion was Christ wedding Himself to the Church) all combines to make a stronger reference feasible. When Louise responds that they have been married 6 years, we know from St. Augustine that 6 is the number of imperfection (the earth was created in 6 days, but not perfectly the fullness of salvation history had not been realized) so it’s not the 7 year itch being referenced, for example, but that something—like the cushion—has come between them to make their marriage imperfect (the number 6 is significant because Scott doesn’t start shrinking until 6 months have passed and Scott is over 6 feet tall regularly).
Lou isn't very supportive. She tries to sacrifice and be strong for Scott when he's getting the really bad news, but if she had been more attuned to his needs at the beginning of the film, Scott wouldn't have started shrinking to begin with. But there is another uncanny similarity between TISM and Mr. & Mrs. Smith: women's bad cooking. In TISM, Scott references the "cooking around her," in relation to him loosing weight, and John Smith tells Jane what a lousy cook she is and she replies that she never cooked a meal in her life. 
At this point, Scott realizes he has to bargain with his wife, so he makes a deal with her that if she will get him a beer, he’ll get dinner. As in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, it’s not labor, rather a labor of love that is requested. When I am at my mother’s, for instance, we can’t keep her in her chair, she’s waiting on us hand and foot, because she loves us and wants us to be comfortable and have all our needs; Lou is not concerned with her husband’s needs, she is concerned with her own comfort. It’s not that it’s the “woman’s place” to get the menfolks’ beer (Scott will call her a wench in a few seconds, specifically to emphasize that his desire for a beer is not just putting Lou "in her place," but because he wants to know that she cares for him) but because women are created from spirit, it's women’s unique characteristic and inherent sensibility to love and anticipate love’s needs. When one is quick to anticipate the needs of their loved ones, the beloved knows  they are loved and that's what Scott wants to know, that Louise loves him.
This scene is later in the film, but after Scott finds out that he is definitely shrinking, Scott and Lou go out to the car and Lou asks if he wants her to drive; no, he says. That should be taken symbolically, because Scott still hopes that he can remain "in the driver's seat" of their relationship (as Honey Parker referenced in Attack Of the 50-Foot Woman). Scott also tells Lou that she doesn't have to stay married to him and Lou denies that. While she intends to stay, she's not really telling Scott the things he needs to hear, "to make him feel big again" to make him feel like a man.
Later on, it's by Scott’s business suit not fitting him that he realizes he's shrinking, and this means he doesn’t “measure up” to his job, whether that is at work or at home (his job of being a husband; it could also be that, because the boat they borrowed was Scott's brother's boat, Lou feels like he isn't successful, or at least not as successful as his brother who owns the business that Scott only works at). Lou suggesting that he is just loosing weight isn’t the compliment for a man that it would be for a woman, so Scott retaliates with a complaint about her cooking. He then asks her to pick up a “bathroom scale,” and a “scale” is significant because it’s a unit of measurement and he wants to know objectively how he measures up.
When Scott runs out into the night and encounters a carnival on the midway, it references two important events. The first is the Battle of Midway, in the Pacific and the second important point is the great film by Tod Browning Freaks (1932).The Battle of Midway was a major US Navy victory in World War II, which takes us back to the beginning of the film with Scott's reference to the Philippines and Scott referencing his Navy draft registration with the doctor. While the Battle of Midway should be a victorious reference, it's more about suffering in this context and the the kind of battle that Scott is waging inside himself at this time. The reference to Freaks lets us know how Scott is being poisoned (as Hans is poisoned in Freaks) and feels himself being mocked and stared at everywhere he goes, that there is no place for him just as there is no place for those who are Freaks in society.
The "big woman" (Cleopatra) and the little man (Hans) from Tod Browning's great drama Freaks of 1932. Jack Arnold would have known this film (everyone in the film world has seen it) and when Scott wanders into the "freak show" this is specifically what Arnold wants his viewers to think of and the ruin brought on so many people by the conflict in size between the leading characters in Freaks. Hans' little girl friend  Freida (also a dwarf) tells Hans that even though he's in love with Cleopatra, to her, Hans is a plaything, but to Freida, he is a man. This is a great and necessary way of understanding the relationship of Scott Carey and Clarice Bruce.
Scott’s “relationship” with Clarice is what Feminists would call a perfect example of masculine relativity, that is, men only feel like men when there is a woman beneath them. In order for men to feel masculine, they have to be subjugating women. This isn't the point TISM is making: Clarice can still see Scott as a man, whereas Lou sees Scott as a pest and nuisance. This is the point that not only TISM is trying to make, but most of the dramas and and film noirs of the 1950s are trying to make as well: after World War II, men needed women to love them and help with the healing of the emotional and psychological wounds they sustained after the war, but instead, they realized that they came home and had a new war to fight with the women they loved because the women no longer loved them.
Publicity still for The Incredible Shrinking Man.
That lack of love is what causes Scott to shrink, just as a woman's love builds a man up and makes him feel big because he feels important. We know this is accurate because, after Scott has killed the spider (the ultimate symbol of "threatening female sexuality" in the film) he continues to shrink. If conquest was all Scott needed, then by the film's own standards he would no longer be shrinking, it would be stopped.
When we next see Scott, he’s in a doll’s house. The relationship of “dolls” to the 1950s shouldn’t be underestimated, for example, it’s identification with a doll that they hope to find a lost sister in The Searchers of just two years before and Marlon Brando starred in Guys and Dolls in 1955. In Hitchcock’s 1950 thriller Stage Fright, it’s with a blood-stained doll that a murderer is psychologically cornered. And, predictably, the little girl in Them! carries a doll with her when the policemen find her and wild Helen even has a doll in The Helen Keller Story (the next year, the deputy will call Honey Parker a "real doll" in Attack of the 50-Foot Woman).
What’s the point?
The move into the doll's house is really the last straw because a house, a home, shelter, is what a man most wants to provide for his wife and family, and now that Louise has to provide him with a doll's house is the sign that Scott knows his lack of a job and ability to earn an income has made him a woman, no longer a man because, in spite of his biological sex, by society's standards of what makes "a man a man," Scott "doesn't measure up."
We have a tendency to project human feelings onto dolls, to pretend that they are human, but they are not; for Scott, living in a doll’s house, he is the recipient of human emotions but he is no longer human (rather, thinks of himself as being human) that’s why he starts acting so tyrannical, to be a tyrant is to lose one’s humanity because you lose your grip on reality (Nero was a great tyrant who watched Rome burn because he lost the sense to realize how catastrophic it was). Scott reflects to himself that, as he becomes smaller, he becomes “more monstrous in my domination of Louise” but it's not because he's growing smaller, but because Louise is being more dominating in making decisions (such as getting an unlisted number, she never consulted Scott about it) and so there is a subtle, but very real power struggle going on between them.
The next scene tells us why.
A house can be a symbol for a soul, so that Scott is now living in a doll's house shows that his soul has become feminine and toy-like.
The famous "cat face in the door of the doll's house" lets us know that Scott believes Louise is having an affair.  “Heaven only knows how she managed to get through those weeks,” but he knows, too. A cat is always associated with female sexuality and a window means self-reflection or, because the eyes are the windows of the soul and windows are the eyes of a house, a window can refer to something that is seen and intuited. As Louise prepares to leave, she leaves the door open and that’s when the cat comes in, but that gesture symbolizes that “she’s open” to a liaison (as in When Harry Met Sally and Harry spits the grape “seed” on the closed window, meaning, that Sally is “closed” to receiving his seed, please see Fate vs Chance: When Harry Met Sally).
Scott lying on the couch suddenly “scratches” the surface of the truth as Butch the cat "scratches the door" of the doll house: Louise is cheating on him. (Cats are always associated with female sexuality, so for the cat to be named “Butch” means that female sexuality is going to “butcher” Scott, just as, in Pulp Fiction, Bruce Willis’ character Butch “butchers” a man in the boxing ring; the name "Butch" for the cat also, like Scott “Carey,” “Lou,” and Clarice Bruce, mixes the gender identity). Scott opening the door to see the giant cat symbolizes two things: the overwhelming truth that Louise is cheating on him and the loss of domination of the natural order. As the opening shot of the film suggests, there is a natural order, the ocean meeting the shoreline, and man was made to dominate that world, but now, as often been commented upon, he can’t even dominate the household cat, that is, his own wife.
When Scott is backing up and the cat reaches into the house and scratches his back, that’s indicative of how Louise has “stabbed him in the back” but, do you think Scott told Louise about meeting Clarice? When we are depressed, we tend to think wild things and this is what is happening to Scott, Louise is not having an affair, but Scott feels so helpless, he can't even say the words to himself, he can only think of them in abstract images. Scott, being hard on himself for acting "monstrous" to Lou, then imagines a way that Lou would be "monstrous " to him (to absolve himself of being tyrannical to her) and that's where the monstrous cat, literally comes in.
Before the cat comes in through Scott’s doll house door, he thinks, “Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps tomorrow the doctors will save me,” and this would be a good time to discuss his doctors. Anyone who has read my post on The Bright Autumn Moon: The Wolf Man knows what I am going to say about Scott's primary doctor, Dr. Silver: the word “silver" sounds like the Hebrew word for “word” so silver is the Word in Christianity, hence, the Physician Scott is in need of, just like the Wolf Man, is the Word of God.  As Scott lies upon the couch in the doll house scene, we must think of another doctor, Sigmund Freud, who used a couch in psychoanalysis; so, Scott lying upon the couch in this scene means that we are to assume the guise of Freud and understand the cat chasing and striking Scott as Freud would understand it, sexually.
Now that the cat is trying to get in through the back of the house, we can see how it’s “taking over” his thoughts, the way an idea seizes upon us and then we are overwhelmed by it. Scott running out through the front door indicates that he has “made a run for it” in their marriage and that, even as he needs Lou most now, he has also disconnected himself from her emotionally because he’s “made a break for it.”  When the cat faces him and Scott decides to pull down the lamp on the cat, the cat scratches Scott, ripping his shirt apart. This bearing of Scott’s chest takes us back to the beginning of the film when Scott’s chest was also bear then, correlating to the cloud of radiation which caused this whole mess: not knowing whether or not he can trust Lou has again come between them and caused him to grow so small, that everyone will now assume he's dead.  Now we can piece together why it was the “insecticide” that triggered the diminution of Scott Carey: insecticides kill “pests,” and Scott is realizing, as he runs the grocery errand for Louise, that he is a pest, and this makes Scott start to “feel small” so he becomes small.
Before Scott makes it to the lamp, he’s running, and the cat’s paw reaches around from behind him and scratches him in the face; this symbolizes how Scott has “lost face” as a result of Lou’s affair, just one more thing to make Scott feel small. Pulling the lamp down on the cat means a confrontation with Lou that he’s “illuminated” about what’s going on. When Scott makes a run to the top of the basement, the basement symbolizes our most primal instincts, our most base and animalistic self (he’s looking down at the staircase, indicating a “digression”); his fight with the cat is actually symbolic of a conversion, because when Lou returns home just as she said she would, carrying a package, Scott realizes he was wrong about the affair, and trying to keep the cat out is trying to keep the thought of Lou’s infidelity out of his mind (please feel free to insert your own experience here, if you have had doubts about a friend’s loyalty or your spouse’s, if you have had doubts about someone that were founded but proved false, trying to “close out” those aggressive thoughts is extremely difficult). Scott being pushed into the dirty crate indicates for us both the fall he has taken (because he believed Lou had “fallen” sexually by cheating on him, he now takes the fall he accused her of) and he’s in with the dirty rags indicates Scott’s willingness to demote Lou to a “dirty woman” so he has to take on the filth he threw onto her in his accusation of her adultery.
The floor of the cellar indicates that he's "fallen" as low as he can.
As Scott surveys the cellar floor, he says, “ No desert-island castaway ever faced so bleak a prospect.” comparing it to Robinson Crusoe which had been made just three years before (lead actor Dan O'Herlihy was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor, so it was a well-known film and available through Netflix).  As Scott begins looking for food, he says, "I was driven by hunger and also the horrible thought that without nourishment the shrinking process was quickening.” The nourishment a man needs, of course, is the love of his wife, and without that nourishment, he feels small and insignificant, he shrinks to nothing. This is the part of the story that is almost unbelievable, the vulnerability of a man and his need for his wife’s love. Of course men take it for granted, but this graphic story also relays to us the striking necessity of what happens when he’s denied that love.
When Scott begins his trial of survival in the cellar, we should take it as the drastic turning back of the clock on mankind, the 50,000 years B.C., when man was a tiny creature in the world of giant creatures bent on his destruction. The encounter with the mousetrap illustrates this for us. When we see a scene in any film where it’s like, “Come on, you have to be kidding me, spring the trap first, then go for the cheese, even the mice in my house know to do that! Don’t throw your hook away, use it to span the distance of the box, that stick isn’t going to hold!”  we should not be concerned with inserting common sense, rather, quizzing ourselves as to why the scene has been written as it has, and then we realize it's because Scott, and all men, are starting all over from the beginning (the leap he has to take over the box, for instance, is the leap of faith).
For those who have read my post The Exorcist: Absent Fathers, you may--like me--be thinking about St. Joseph and the mousetrap, its relationship to this scene here and, if you scroll down the page at A Better Mousetrap, if provides some wonderful theological discussion on the spiritual nature of a mousetrap, specifically how it relates to St. Joseph. That Scott is using a nail to try and spring the trap may relate to the nails of the carpenter, Christ and His Crucifixion. We can't be sure, however, it is important that, for the first time in the film (at the end) Scott specifically mentions God and the mystical workings of the universe, so Scott's being and his relationship to God are on his mind, so it's obviously on the film makers' minds as well. Why is the cheese lost? The cheese is food for a pest, a mouse, not a man, who needs the love and care of his wife, symbolized by the cake as spiritual nourishment.
The flooding of the cellar by the hot water heater is quite interesting because, again, the heater was a masculine object, a sign of man's inventiveness and his ability to overcome the elements to make himself comfortable and assure his survival. Now, it's an instrument of his destruction (it destroyed his shelter, the match box). But what is it that Scott uses to float himself? A pencil. It not only references the writing of the book that Scott was working on earlier in the film when he was big enough to hold a pencil, but the presence of the pencil as a life-saving device makes us question its relationship to the flood and we could deduce that this is supposed to invoke Noah's Flood (the flood) and its recording in the Bible (the pencil as an instrument of a scribe); another likely reference is to the story (the pencil) of Robinson Crusoe (who was shipwrecked but whose story is recorded in writing).
Scott hanging onto a pencil amidst the water flooded from the water heater. The foot you see is Scott's brother's who is helping Louise get packed to leave the house. Scott floating on the pencil reminds us of watching him write earlier in the film a "book" and how, we can suppose, he wasn't able to finish because he got so small he couldn't hold the pencil any longer. Another way of looking at it, however, is that he was still too big to write what really needed to be written, what the world really needed to hear, and it isn't until he becomes "the smallest of the small" that he understands enough to tell the world what it needs to hear.
At the end of the film, when Scott has shrunk as far as we will see him go, he mentions "God's silver tapestry," and that phrase, "silver tapestry," doesn't make sense unless we understand the reference to "silver" and Scott's doctor, Dr. Silver, discussed above.
Looking out the screen at a bird to whom Scott offers a morsel of the cake before the big battle with the spider. Why doesn't the bird take the cake? Because that's not the food the bird wants. Birds symbolize the Holy Spirit, and we can be assured that this is an accurate deduction because the other side of the screen, in the grass, is where Scott will mention, for the first time in the film, his relationship to God. So the bird there is God's presence, waiting for him to "be small enough," in spiritual terms, to come over to His Side because God doesn't want to take food from Scott, God wants to give Scott the Food that eternally satisfies.
When Scott crawls through the screening to step onto the grass, he has "passed through" the screen just as, in the beginning, he passed through the cloud of radiation (and he is talking about the radiation bursts in this scene), but he has also passed through the screening as he has passed through that "great unknown" that was coming in-between Lou and Scott when they were on the boat (a screen as a partition that separates or hides something). In this sense, we can say that Scott Carey is a hero because he has experienced that conversion necessary for a hero to complete their journey.
The flooding of the basement floor and Scott hangs by a nail at the foot of the stairs (lower left corner) desperately calling out to Louise whose feet we see on the bottom step, but she doesn't hear Scott. This is a great set-up because Scott is "beneath Louise" at this point in their relationship. What Scott really needs is to be flooded with the "warmth of her love" not flooded by the hot water heater.
When Scott realizes "there is no zero with God," he's realizing that, in terms of worldliness he is zero, but he has finally arrived at that blessed state of "emptiness" that, in spiritual terms, means fullness: he is empty of himself but full of God. This provides us with the important role that spirituality plays in a man's self-identity and relationship to God. When man knows God, man knows himself, and when he knows himself, he will be the man he needs to be to his wife, children and society; when a man has failed to know God, he has failed in all his roles and relationships. Until a man acknowledges that God is bigger than himself, he is a small man, indeed.
"Not suitable for children."