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Invisibility Ain’t No Joke: The Hidden Seriousness of Leigh Whannell’s “THE INVISIBLE MAN”

Monday, March 16, 2020 | Opinion


Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man has successfully modernized the classic Universal Monster with themes of male privilege and the need for power and control. Whannell stated he “saw an opportunity to change people’s perceptions” because he thought “as time has gone by that character has become almost comical.” It’s hard to argue with him. The original The Invisible Man (1933) contains a lot of comedy absent from the other famous monsters’ films. However, even within these “gags” and any of the silliest interpretations, they’ve provided a much-needed groundwork for Whannell’s version to be realized. Despite any joke, the Invisible Man is the most horrifying Universal Monster because he represents real terror… the immunity of privilege.

There’s a reason the punishment for premeditation is harsher than one of passion. It’s planned, the options are weighed, the choice is made, the impulses of heightened emotion are no excuse. Primarily the Universal Monsters’ crimes are caused by uncontrollable primal urges, curses, or even love. We can empathize with them as victims of circumstance. Apart from the comedy, that sets the Invisible Man’s legacy apart from the rest. Each character gifted (or burdened) with invisibility uses it as an opportunity to attain power, wealth, or revenge, all things that require some planning. While there’s remarks that the serum used would drive the individual “mad,” at no point are we presented with someone suffering from brain deterioration. This is evident by the original character, Dr. Jack Griffin’s ability to show affection throughout and in his last moments comprehend regret of the whole ordeal. Director James Whale has been quoted in saying, “only a lunatic would want to make themselves invisible.” One can find many incredible articles dissecting the initial film and arguing that the character takes the crown for the most horrifying because of what I listed above and the exceedingly higher death count (Griffin derails a train killing hundreds). Bloody-Disgusting contributing writer, Meagan Navarro stated, “Whereas most Universal Classic Monsters find empathetic humanity within their monsters, the Invisible Man proves there’s no monster scarier than man. Or at least a corrupt, amoral man.” But how did invisibility’s descent into strictly comedic territory become a crucial component for Whannell’s version?

THE INVISIBLE MAN is the most horrifying Universal Monster because he represents real terror… the immunity of privilege.

As cinema left the grandiose for an intimacy closer to home, themes became more grounded to reflect that move. “What would you do if you were invisible?” shrank in scale, leading way to what would be deemed “juvenile” reasons: gags, pranks, peeping on others. Invisibility became a pubescent male fantasy for those who enjoyed the Porky’s famous shower scene. So, it only makes sense that when Paul Verhoeven had his chance at the material with Hollow Man (celebrating its 20th anniversary), he’d comment on that issue. Long before Dr. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) enters the drug into his body, we are made aware that he’s an egomaniac, desires what he can’t have, and he makes his team (especially the female characters) uncomfortable but he’s tolerated because of his genius. Our introduction to Caine is him irritated that the woman undressing next door closes her blinds. Then of course the first things he does with his predicament is a series of sexual assaults on those he couldn’t woo prior. He justifies his actions with “who’s gonna know?” And he’s right. If his brilliance, social status, or wealth aren’t already going to keep him safe, he has another way. Though critically panned, Hollow Man countered the frat/sex comedies of the aughts, planting seeds for key examples that would be used during the #MeToo movement in the entertainment industry.

Credit should be given fully to Whannell for creating a serious interpretation rooted in a realism unseen by any other adaptation. It truly is a product of its time, featuring well-covered topics in the media over the last couple years like, “bro-code” and disregard for female emotion.  However, by looking past the slapstick elements and acknowledging what the individuals used their invisibility for, it becomes clear the only way it could be effective in today’s society is going the route it did. The Invisible Man (2020) is proof of this Universal Monster evolving throughout the ages to show us the horrifying truth. What would certain members of our society do if they knew they could get away with it? And what about those that don’t need invisibility to feed their dark desires?

“includes perhaps the most intriguing extra of all: a limited-edition Jean Rollin board game”