The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

by Afra Nariman

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

Director: Jack Arnold

Stars: Grant Williams, Randy Stuart, Paul Langton


“A strange calm possessed me. I thought more clearly than I had ever thought before…”

Existential horror at its finest — or more accurately, the horror of existentialism. The Incredible Shrinking Man offers the perspective that human essence, notions of the self, reflections on soul, etc. are all ideas conjured by human beings in our perpetual boredom with simply existing. Since we no longer need to focus on survival 24/7, our minds essentially wander and reflect upon these ideas, eventually correlating them with notions of self-worth, purpose, and meaning. 

When Scott’s shrinking process first begins, he is constantly contemplating what this means in terms of his humanity; he is lost, deliberating over abstract existential questions. Though by the third act, he is no longer concerned with deducing any sort of “meaning” from his now altered existence. Instead he is focused solely on survival. Mental fear simply becomes physical weakness; and instinct replaces decision. Moreover, not through mere abstract thought — but via lived experience — he comes to realize that what makes him human is simply how he approaches survival, his interactions with his given environment, and his place within nature’s order, during the fleeting time that he physically inhabits its world. 

“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 natures.”

Outside of its philosophical value, The Incredible Shrinking Man is also very entertaining, and particularly thrilling in its second half. The amount of creativity that Arnold shows in all areas of filmmaking — storylines, cinematography, effects, dialogue, etc. — is off the charts, and it all comes together to make for an extremely fun watch.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

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