Of course, that’s not actually what THE INVISIBLE MAN is about. Yes, a death is faked. Yes, someone becomes “invisible” in order to torture his ex. However, there’s a lot more to it than that. I can’t say what Whannell’s intended messaging was, as I have not spoken to him, or read any interviews for this film. However, I will tell you what it meant to me.
To me, THE INVISIBLE MAN struck two major nerves. One is the all-consuming power of mental illness. The other, I believe, is that it was an allegory for domestic violence. How can it be an allegory when actual domestic violence occurs? Well, because most of the movie you’re not actually seeing Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) and Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) as a couple. The film begins with Cecilia narrowly escaping her abusive lover, inadvertently dropping a bottle of Diazepam as she goes.
Now, I have thankfully never been in a situation as dangerous as it appears Cecilia’s was. However, when she is crashing at her friend James’s (Aldis Hodge) house, and cannot bring herself to even walk to the mailbox, I felt that. It was beautiful and triggering the way the music intensified, and the air went out of the room the moment she stepped outside.
When people question mental illness or tell you to simply “shake it off,” or whatever other ignorantly well-intentioned advice they may share, this is what they need to watch. I’ve had a rough year. I’ve had car troubles, health scares, breakups, friendship breakups, financial issues – you name it. And some days, I’ll admit – it’s hard to get out of bed. Sometimes, I need to take the small victory of merely moving from under the covers to on the couch in the living room, where I’ll at least have the chance of interacting with another human being, should my roommate walk by.
It seems like it’s all in your head. Obviously, that’s where it begins. But it really manifests physically. And I always forget that, because we never talk about it. Depression can make your bones feel like weights, and anxiety can make your heart pound in your chest like you’re going into cardiac arrest. Depression can make sleep your only source of sustenance, your body effectively acting as an abusive partner and shutting you off from the rest of the world.
I’ve never truly understood what sound mixing is, even after all these years of watching the Oscars. But I picture that scene, with Cecilia walking to the mailbox, and the sound that accompanied it, and it’s nothing short of perfection.
Thankfully that’s where my personal connection ends. But that’s not the case for far too many women in this country, hell, in this world. See, Adrian was an optics genius. He was known for it. If anyone had the potential to build a power suit that could make you invisible, it’d be him. And what better use for such a miraculous technological development than to torture your ex-girlfriend, am I right?
It seems ridiculously snarky to type that, but it’s true. As the host of an indie true-crime podcast, I can tell you with certainty, men are petty as hell. It’s funny because that’s a trait more so thrown at women, you know, the “crazy exes” who were probably not crazy at all, but rather reacting to gaslighting and minimization of their feelings.
Ted Bundy spent YEARS getting back at his ex. He changed his entire life – going to law school, and becoming a Republican who assisted on Governor Daniel J. Evans’ re-election campaign. That was all a long con, orchestrated to make his ex fall in love with him again, just so he could ghost her, revenge meant to punish her for having the nerve to break up with an aimless, college fuck boy.
He also killed over 31 women who shared her likeness. Certain men, often white, and in their late twenties to early thirties, have this crazy notion that they own us. They don’t even have to have fucked us for us to belong to them. Literally just the desire to touch us means that we have to let them. Should we have the absolute audacity to think that we should have autonomy over our own bodies, then, well, we must be punished.
Think I’m being hyperbolic and dramatic? Google Amie Harwick. You’ll probably see some articles about “Drew Carrey’s ex-fiancée” – as if she didn’t have her own successful career as a family therapist, model, and activist for rights for sex workers – who “fell to her death” the day after Valentine’s Day. Of course, “fell to her death” is kind of burying the lead when in reality, she was stalked and attacked by her ex-boyfriend, Gareth Pursehouse, who had been waiting for her to return home.
She’d had two restraining orders against the man, whom she hadn’t dated in years. She told police she was worried, and, as is usually the case, wasn’t taken seriously. And now she is gone. She was only 38 years old.
Real-life is mirrored in art, when Cecilia tells her friends, family, and the police that Adrian is alive, and stalking her. She finds a bloodied bottle of Diazepam on her bathroom sink – the one she had lost in her escape. She faints at an important job interview because she’d been drugged. Though, of course, it conveniently looks like she simply overdosed herself.
Something else I noticed in this movie was the behavior of all of the men, besides Adrian. They’re so… nice. Too nice. After Cecilia finds the pill bottle, she rushes to speak with Adrian’s brother, the arbiter of his estate, to confront him. She is sure he’s in cahoots with her “late” boyfriend, and while her mostly understanding friend James sits next to her, slack-jawed, at what he’s hearing, I prepared myself for a verbal assassination.
You can just see it in Tom’s (Michael Dorman) smug, smarmy face. He’s about to say she’s insane, and tell her she doesn’t deserve the money his brother has left her. But… he doesn’t. He commiserates with her, admitting his brother had abused him, too. He tells her not to let him “win.” It’s jarring and doesn’t feel real.
It almost felt, to me, like Whannell was worried his deranged abuser would spark hordes of (imagined) basement-dwelling men’s rights activists to shout, “Not all men!” It seemed like he was making the point that, while Adrian was awful, that didn’t mean every man is. So chill out, okay? Smile.
But that’s not actually the point, is it? Because as the movie progresses, after perhaps the most shocking scene, wherein Cecilia watches her beloved sister’s (Harriet Dyer) neck slit and the knife tossed into her hand, that we find out the truth. Tom was in on it all along. Adrian had replaced the birth control pills Cecilia had been taking with placebos, and – according to the timing – perhaps even raped her, in order to trap her with him, forever. If only she could accept her role as his partner, and mother to his child, all of her legal woes would disappear and she could live a happy * life with him. (In this scenario, happy = subservient.)
It’s shocking and upsetting, and yet, somehow, not surprising at all. That’s not to say it’s a trope or lazy writing. I’ve just seen it before. As an empathetic, emotional Cancer sign, I’m liable to look for the best in people, to believe what they tell me, because, why would they lie? But people do lie. Men lie. They lie for a myriad of reasons, be it trying to get what they want or to hide what they’ve done to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. It honestly doesn’t matter. The point is, you can’t tell just by looking at someone that they are going to be unsafe or untrustworthy. There isn’t an app for that, nothing at Sharper Image you can rack up a credit card bill for.
We have intuition, sure, but manipulative men are really good at disarming that. It happens all the time in online dating. You can be talking to a man who wants to forego dating etiquette and skip right to coming to your place to smoke a bowl (AKA jump your bones the second he walks in the door). If you reasonably suggest you’d rather meet in a public place, he’ll hit you back with, “What, do you think I’m a serial killer or something?” He’ll laugh. You’ll feel stupid. You’ll question yourself. Maybe I am being paranoid?
You might be shaking your head at this scenario, but it’s merely an example. It happens every day. I was just watching an episode of Netflix’s latest hit reality show, Love Is Blind, and I became infuriated at the way Damian Powers was manipulating Giannina Milady Gibelli. At a party, Gibelli had walked off after she called Powers out for making another female contestant uncomfortable. Gibelli tried to explain why that kind of thing made her so uncomfortable, and instead of listening to her issue, Powers focused on the one mention of Lauren Speed, the other contestant from the moment before.
“How do you know how Lauren feels? Stop talking for other people, G!” Powers shouted, before yelling that she was “bringing him down.” It’s not overt aggression or anything else obviously abusive. But it’s manipulative. He doesn’t want to talk about what just happened, so he is purposely redirecting the conversation to make her feel bad, so she will drop her complaint, and apologize to him. And it’s not the only time on the show that he does it.
It brings to mind the real issue I have with the #NotAllMen complaint, which is, excuse the juvenile language, but – DUH. We realize not every man in the world is a rapist and abuser. Literally no educated woman thinks this. The problem is, we have no method of deciphering who the abusive men are. The only way to find out is to spend time with them, and in many, truly devastating cases – such as Harwick’s – once we’ve done that, it’s already too late.
We have no tool to suss out the troublemakers from the genuine nice guys. Although, let me assure you, once and for all, that if you tell us “I’m a nice guy,” we will immediately assume the opposite. “Nice” is not an attribute you have to assign to yourself. “Nice” is something the other person deduces after seeing how you behave in regards to other people. To make things even more difficult, most men don’t like to talk about this. They don’t realize how scared women legitimately spend most of their lives.
There’s a great scene in The Fall where Gillian Anderson’s character says something along the lines of, “Men’s greatest fear is that women will laugh at them. Women’s greatest fear is that men will kill them.” How many men, do you think, walk to their cars at night with a canister of mace attached to their keychain, and holding their keys in their hands in a way meant to look menacing?
How many men pretend they’re on the phone with someone and hold fake conversations announcing locations and times, just so any passersby would know that someone was expecting them? Or, for that matter, how many insist on actually calling someone, whenever they’re walking alone so that they would have a sort of witness, should anything happen to them? How many men have gone back and changed their clothes, knowing they would be riding public transportation, or walking through a certain area, simply because they didn’t want to take on unwanted attention? My guess is very few if any.
THE INVISIBLE MAN is terrifying and triggering and satisfying, all at once. It is suspenseful and agonizing, and nerve-wracking. The visuals are stunning. The music is on point, and the acting is superb. Honestly, no one cries as Elisabeth Moss cries. But to me, THE INVISIBLE MAN is so much more than a horror movie. It’s a sign that Blumhouse Productions sees that women watch horror movies, and are sick of simply being fodder for the male characters and audience members.
It’s a step in the right direction in a genre so often marred by gratuitous rape scenes and flat female characters. It’s validation that we are not crazy. Bad things happen to women, and a lot of times, no one believes us. The situation is bad, yes, but also, we are not alone.
I left THE INVISIBLE MAN feeling invigorated. I felt powerful, and vindicated, and important. Ironically, as I left the theater, I checked my phone to find a series of text messages from a toxic man I had cut off dozens of times before. I thought of Elisabeth Moss, strutting out of Adrian’s home, secure in the confidence that her past would never haunt her again. And I told him to fuck off.
It’s a baby step, sure. It’s not an earth-shattering decision, but it was a big deal for me. Because if Cecilia could take control of her life, with everything that she was up against, the least I could do was end a situation-ship that was no longer serving me. I realize not everyone is going to have a feminist epiphany when they see THE INVISIBLE MAN. But that doesn’t matter.
It’s a powerful piece of cinema, whether you see it as a stepping stone in changing the narrative of rape culture and how society views women in abusive relationships, or simply a two-hour escape from reality, wherein you can stuff copious amounts of popcorn into your face. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
THE INVISIBLE MAN is in theaters now and you can read our review here.
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