Scott Carey (Grant Williams) and his wife Louise (Randy Stuart) are holidaying on a boat when he is momentarily exposed to a mysterious, probably radioactive, mist.
Soon afterwards, Scott finds himself gradually shrinking.
Director Jack Arnold’s visual flatness is perfectly suited to the absurdity and ambiguity of the premise of Richard Matheson’s story.
The first half of The Incredible Shrinking Man – portraying the hero’s predicament as alternately a medical, a domestic and a socioeconomic problem – is a worthy companion piece to Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life (1956) and Douglas Sirk’s Written On The Wind (1956), in its ironic and terrifying depiction of American middle-class life turned inside out.
But it’s in the second half of the film – with Scott, now smaller than the heel of a shoe, marooned in his basement and having to cope with various natural threats – that the movie really takes off, becoming a gripping and poetic science-fiction adventure.
Much of the force of the film comes from its psychological incisiveness and from its vivid and precise use of objects – its architecture of stairs, crates, matchboxes and paint cans.
Carey’s ultimate humiliation arrives when he is forced to live in a dolls house.
For Matheson and Arnold, Scott Carey is an atomic-age Everyman. His adventure is an object lesson in the hostility of the built-up environment and in the indestructible propensity of humankind to make itself the measure of all things.
Williams gives a sensitive portrayal of a man hounded by the media and consigned to a freak’s world, whose descent into being and nothingness provides a memorable climax.
The inspirational conclusion – “to God there is no zero” – is a rare example of popular cinema explicitly dealing with metaphysics.
Dr Thomas Silver
Dr Arthur Bramson