The Disquieting Guest — On Leonard Nimoy and the Anti-Spock

10 Mar

Like almost everyone else, my first encounter with Leonard Nimoy was in his Spock role. But as I watched endless reruns of Star Trek in my elementary school years, I did not have much awareness of the actor behind the character. The names in the credit sequence meant little. They were less real than the characters themselves. I knew that Spock wasn’t real, of course, but imaginatively and emotionally he was. The real person behind the character barely registered in my consciousness.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers -- 1978

I think my first real awareness of Lenoard Nimoy as an actor came with his role in Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This remains one of my favourite of his performances, and it is one that I have appreciated more and more with the passage of time. Kaufman’s film is a great horror movie, one suffused with dry, chilling wit, and a number of its sly winks come in its casting. Thus, Kevin McCarthy, the hero of the original film, turns up briefly to relive that movie’s finale, running through the traffic and screaming “You’re next!” (Only to be ignominiously run down). Don Siegel, the director of the 1956 film, has a cameo as one of the pod people. Given this, I can’t help but feel Nimoy’s role deliberately bounces off Spock. His character, Dr. David Kibner, is an author of pop psychology bestsellers, and he appears to be all about getting people to come to terms with their emotions. He is the Anti-Spock. But later, we get the revelation that he’s been one of the pod people since we first saw him, and the distinguishing characteristic of the aliens is their absolute lack of emotion. In their chilling coldness, they are the dark side of the Spock character.


In other words, David Kibner is the Anti-Spock twice over.

Nimoy seems to be having a marvellous time with the part, his unctuous, condescendingly sympathetic smile becoming incredibly sinister on subsequent viewings. His show of concern for his friends is so reassuring, and thus so chilling in the long run. Nimoy gave us one of the great heroes of science fiction in Star Trek, but in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, he also showed how malevolent a villain he could be.

RIP, sir, and thank you.


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