“Them!” is a 1954 science fiction low budget black and white film.
The consequences of radioactivity are its focus. The 1950s was a period of widespread nuclear anxiety in the United States, and this film was the first film to address the problem.
It does so in an amusing, almost guilty-pleasure like format. Nuclear anxiety, which seemed a worry of the past, has recently gotten closer.
The repetitive nature of human history has hit again. “Them!” has just become so much more relevant than it used to be.
With its entertaining format, it hides its frightening theme under a pleasant, distracting watch, which is very much needed whenever troubling times seem ahead.
The plot is simple. Ants are genetically modified by radioactivity; they become gigantic threatening creatures that must be destroyed.
The straightforward plot is then accompanied by very likable characters; Police Sgt. Ben Peterson (James Whitmore), FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness), and Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) and his daughter Dr. Pat Medford (Joan Weldon).
They embark on the seemingly impossible mission of defeating the great threat these terrifying creatures represent.
To the eyes of a twenty-first century person, the threat they must fight seems absolutely bogus. The audience today laughs at the rudimental special effects of the time.
The goal of the film, paradoxically, is achieved more efficiently now than it was before. The lack of a realistic imagery and a believable scientific explanation makes for a more pleasurable and distracting viewing experience.
However, if attentively observed, it is easy to perceive its alarming message. Perhaps giant ants are not a real possibility, but not knowing what radioactivity might signify for our future is a definite reality.
It was a fact in the 1950s, and keeps being one in the twenty-first century. The only terrifying certainty we have is that it inevitably will not have positive results.
The film addresses the imminent likelihood of a biblical apocalypse various times.
Many films after “Them!” have treated the same topic more profoundly and realistically. “Them!”, despite not approaching it with the same intensity, still manages to linger in the viewers’ minds.
By conveying its distressing message secretly, obscurely and subconsciously, it successfully reaches its audience, maintaining the entertaining experience that watching a film many believe must entail.
For anyone that seeks an enjoyable ride, but feels the necessity of reflecting on the condition of our time, the repetitive puzzling quality of human history, “Them!” is a perfect motion picture.
The enormous ants will make you laugh. The special effects will make you cringe.
You will happily root for the main characters to succeed.
The film will end, and you will have a smile on your face.
However, just a couple of minutes later, your mind will start processing. The ants are just an allegory for the trouble ahead.
The noble characters of the film have good chances of winning, but does flawed, egoistical humanity stand a chance of surviving the real threat?
That question will crawl under your skin.
Jacqueline Pantano can be contacted at