You could say that The Incredible Shrinking Man is a movie about a man losing everything, and you would be right, but you could also say it is about a man gaining everything. Even simpler, you could also say it is just about a man shrinking into essential nothingness and you would also be correct. What is great about this film, aside from being one of the greatest science-fiction movies of all time, is the fact that there are no traditional happy endings here. In fact, there are very few feel-good moments whatsoever in the film. The hero does not win in the end and he does not save the girl, and as he keeps shrinking, the world he knows is essentially disappearing until he enters a new one. Written by Richard Matheson and adapted from his very own novel, there is a real bleakness to the film, and yet by the end, there is hope. It is not a traditional kind of hope but as our hero slowly vanishes before our eyes, he reaches an epiphany about his situation and leaves the film with the viewer thinking about what the character said, rather than his situation.
Said character is Scott Carey, a devoted husband who is on vacation with his wife Louise. As they are out on the ocean, a strange cloud passes by and coats him with some strange mist. Soon, he starts to notice little things like clothes not being as fit as they once were and his weight decreasing. But it is not just his weight either as he realizes that he is also shrinking in height. Consulting his doctor, and others, he is told that there is no cure as he continues to shrink down until finally, after a set of extreme circumstances, everyone believes that he is dead.
A case can be made that when Scott reaches this enlightenment come the end of the film, that it is not his mind opening up to new ways of thinking, merely his mind snapping and Scott going mad. Most people who slowly lose everything including their life, their family and every single thing they have ever known cannot be said to be in the greatest of places mentally. People can break as easily as glass and who is to say that this did not happen to Scott? It is nicer to think that he is in a good place with his newfound lot in life, but in all reality, if the film had continued, he could have been shown to be a madman. Transcendental or insanity – a case can be made for both.
One interesting thing that is readily apparent with the film is the lack of any name actors. Despite featuring a cast made up of B players, they did a fantastic job; better than anyone could have ever hoped for. Grant Williams is exceptional as the film’s lead, Scott Carey. Watching him throughout the movie is a joy as he encounters each new hurdle in his continued evolution, including a battle with a spider. This is Williams’ film through and through and the focus is completely on him throughout the entirety of it except in those couple of moments where his wife, played by Randy Stuart is needed to further the story. She puts in a great performance as Scott’s exasperated wife, a woman who cares about her husband but feels helpless about being unable to do anything. Guided by director Jack Arnold, the performances by Stuart, but primarily by Williams would make this film the masterpiece that it is.
With some truly astounding special effects for the time that would have made Bert I. Gordon jealous at how well they would ultimately look, they would play just as big a role as the performances from our actors. Though the sets were a little plain at times, the movie never failed to thrill or delight as Scott went about exploring his new world filled with gigantic versions of the familiar. This film could potentially be the best science-fiction film of the 1950s, though that could be up for debate as other contenders like The Quartermass Xperiment, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and more would give it a run for its money. This film, often imitated by many, still stands as one of the best of the genre.