At several points in the movie The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), the main character believes the shrinking process has stopped for good. At one key point, he becomes happily married to a midget who works in a circus and he has a good life, then he begins to notice that he’s shrinking again, and it freaks him out, and he runs away.
This is like aging.
When we’re in our 40s, we think we’re not changing, but then we notice an age-spot on our hand, obvious and hideous. Then we notice our hair isn’t so much salt and pepper as it is salt, and our hairline is receding slightly, but only we notice – as others seem to be busy aging, too – too busy to notice us, or care especially.
The Incredible Shrinking Man begins to shrink again, inexorably, at a steady rate, until, at the end of the movie, he walks, like an ancient nomad, through the tiny squares of the metal screen window in the basement, into the gigantic backyard, which now is overgrown with thousand-foot-tall blades of grass – a jungle full of enormous beasts such as spiders and ultimately amoeba.
The voice-over speech at the end is marvelous. In full:
“But even as I touched the dry, flaking crumbs of nourishment it was as if my body had ceased to exist. There was no hunger. No longer the terrible fear of shrinking. Again I had the sensation of instinct. Of each thought, each movement, tuned to some great directing force. I was continuing to shrink. To become … what? The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human? Or was I … the man of the future? If there were other bursts of radiation, other clouds drifting across seas and continents, would other beings follow me into this vast new world? So close, the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet, like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens, the universe, worlds beyond number. God’s silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of Man’s own limited dimension. I had presumed upon nature. That existence begins and ends is Man’s conception, not nature’s. And I felt my body dwindling.”
The camera pulls away, and he is seen from above, tiny, melting, becoming … nothing. The camera pulls away faster now, leaving him until he’s as blended in invisibly with the foliage.
“My fears melted away and in their place came acceptance.”
The stars of the universe appear overlaid on the backyard.
“All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something.”
Further out into the universe.
“And then I meant something too.”
The Milky Way seen from a distance.
“Yes. Smaller than the smallest, I meant something too.”
The camera approaches the Milky Way, closer and closer.
“To God, there is no zero.”
The birth of a galaxy, something celestial being born.
“I still exist.”
I am 59.7 – and will be for a short while – and for awhile I will feel and be pretty much the same. The hair is gray now. The age spots have come and planted themselves in numerous places. I cannot run because of two bad knees. I have difficulty with balance. My handwriting is a mess. No libido.
Even though I am married to a midget whom I love, I must leave her, and live in a dollhouse, and a cat must attack me, and I must fall into a basement, and my first wife must assume the cat ate me, and in the basement I must survive a flood (merely water trickling down a drain), fight off a spider for a chunk of stale cake, and shrink, shrink, shrink, until finally I must crawl through a tiny square in a screen window …
2 thoughts on “Aging and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)”
I love this post Anthony! Was awake during the night thinking on it. Please keep posting. It’s been a year since your last one. Thank you for letting me know about your book. Tremendous news.
I’m glad the essay was thought-provoking, Joy. Thanks for writing!