Alien Invasions and Identity Crisis: Steven Spielberg’s The War of the Worlds (2005)
The idea of national identity as threatened by foreign invasions has been at the centre of many popular Science Fiction (SF) films in the United States of America. In alien invasion films, aggressive colonisers stand for collective anxieties and can be read “as metaphors for a range of perceived threats to humanity, or particular groups, ranging from 1950s communism to the AIDS virus and contemporary ‘illegal aliens’ of human origin” (King and Krzywinska, 2000: 31-2). Such films can effectively tell historical and cultural specificities, including gender concerns. In them, the characters’ sense of belonging to a nation is destabilised in a number of ways, resulting in identity crisis in most cases. A fervent need to defend the nation from the malevolent strangers is combined with an alienation of the self in the search of individual salvation or survival. The present analysis will attempt to illustrate how threats to configurations of power are employed in a contemporary alien invasion film: The War of the Worlds (Steven Spielberg, 2005). Specifically, the film takes the narrative of destruction to suggest the destabilisation of US national power within the context of post September 11, together with a subtle disruption of the gender and sexual status quo. Indeed, new ways of understanding masculinity and fatherhood assault both the public and the private spaces of its white male heterosexual protagonist, Ray, performed by popular actor Tom Cruise. Ambiguous patriotism, identity crises and selfishness are at the core of this contemporary version of H.G. Wells’s landmark novel.
Science fiction; Masculinity; Identity crisis; 9/11; Patriotism