dir: Leigh Whannell
The Invisible Man is a pretty great film about something terrible, being intimate partner violence, or domestic violence, as it used to be more commonly known. Domestic violence, a horror of a concept and a reality for those who live through it (even worse from those who die from it), almost sounds so quaint: the “domestic” part of it binds it to the house, but the sadism, the control, the unwillingness to allow someone to leave a relationship means this form of terrorism extends to anywhere.
Cecilia (the almost always great in absolutely everything she does Elizabeth Moss) wakes up in the middle of the night, someone slumbers next to her. She looks afraid but determined to do something. Since she’s got things packed, and she’s being extra careful, we know she can’t afford to wake up the sleeping jerk. With how afraid she appears we sense that this isn’t someone reluctantly leaving someone she cares about for…reasons and such: We sense that she is terrified of him, to the point where she had to drug him to make sure he doesn’t wake up, with the terrible repercussions that could follow.
The best laid plans of mice, men and women trying to flee abusive, controlling relationships always have to confront the random events that cause everything to fall over, but Cecilia barely gets away regardless. There is no long, drawn out sigh of relief. She pretty much holds her breath for the rest of the film, and only breaths out in the way that I mean at the very end.
Because, you see, some people cannot tolerate being left by someone. Their narcissistic egos won’t allow it, their absolute need for control won’t allow it, and the jerk here, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) will spend his every waking moment trying to force Cecilia to change her mind and come back to him.
The method, you would think, considering the title, would involve some kind of magic, technology or, I dunno, malicious prayers answered by a vengeful patriarchal god. But the tack that this film takes is to apply something out of the ordinary (invisibility) to an all too common purpose; that of tormenting and isolating Cecilia while making everyone else think she’s nuts. And also, the classic, making her doubt her own sanity.
We know what’s going on, I mean, we’re not in any doubt because we’ve seen the title of the flick, and we understand what Cecilia is going through, but the other characters don’t see what Cecilia doesn’t see either, and routinely give her the look that is a mixture of pity and discomfort quite often.
Cecilia enlists the help of her sister (Harriet Dyer) and a friend(?) called James (Aldis Hodge) who also happens to be a cop. It seems like she has a safe place to stay, and that maybe she can start picking up the pieces of her life. But the thing is, subjected to months and years of control and abuse, she doesn’t feel safe even when she’s told that Adrian has killed himself. She still feels like she’s being observed, and weird stuff starts to happen, so what if…?
After Adrian’s death, the further extent of his shittiness is revealed when he continues his control of Cecilia by compelling her into a legal arrangement that for some bizarre reason allows his lawyer brother Tom (Michael Dorman) to read out abusive letters to her and to keep his hooks in her with the promise of money slowly doled out over time because, hey, he’s an arsehole, so why wouldn’t he? See, Adrian was a techbro, an entrepreneur of some kind, but we are only told that he was a genius in the field of optics. Like, how people are meant to make an association between optics, and invisibility? Even Cecilia doesn’t, until it’s almost way too late for all concerned. And yet, as a testament to how carefully Whannell has constructed the whole endeavour, in that during her initial escape, Cecilia spies something which she doesn’t really understand: a vacant space where something should be, whose significance is only revealed a long while after.
There’s a lot of work put into figuring out just how to make an absence a presence visually during the paranoid, slow burn phase. How do you make an invisible guy scary when he’s not doing anything? From the perspective of post-traumatic stress, Cecilia always dreads that Adrian is somehow still around when nothing is happening, and that’s conveyed with a great deal of tension, and the use of sound, and the absence of music at least in the first part of the flick. The latter half, where, to use the technical term, shit goes bonkers, is far more conventional in terms of thriller type action, and has a booming sound track to match.
For some people watching the cold and thorough destruction of Cecilia’s life, credibility and sanity might be a bit much, because, despite the high tech means used to do so, it’s pretty clear to me that Leigh Whannell, who wrote the script and also directs, very clearly based it on what women face in this here present shitty world. The way that *someone* isolates her from her sister, or forces James and his daughter (Storm Reid) to think she’s bonkers and violent might be novel, but the result is the same result that has been pursued by countless men and endured by countless women for a very long time.
It’s the same techniques for the same purpose: keeping someone broken, helpless, dependent, self-doubting and beyond fragile. And, sure, it’s confronting to watch, and it’s frustrating to watch these kinds of storylines play out, but it should be. The reality is far worse for so many, and they don’t have the luxury of a convenient and well thought out and cathartic climax which wraps everything up with a neat bow at the end. Quite often the cycles of violence and torment don’t end, or if they do, it’s more along the lines of about two women and their kids per a week in Australia being murdered by current or former partners. Because of course it’s their fault. Look what you made them do.
For her part, Elizabeth Moss gets across two things simultaneously which are completely contradictory: how utterly psychologically dominated she is by Adrian’s manipulations, and how absolutely determined she is to not let him win. I rarely want to scream my support for someone in a movie, even if I’m totally on their side, but for this I was with her every step of the way, desperately wanting her to survive By Any and All Means Necessary. One could argue that, since much of the film follows the template of abuse and control that Hollywood films depicting intimate partner violence follow, the ending is something of a cathartic instance of wish fulfilment in a film that doesn’t deserve it, nor does it speak to the truth that a multitude of women face in that their torment can’t be ended with a high tech solution and an iron resolve like the one Elizabeth Moss displays here, or in the awful patriarchal nightmare of Gilead in Handmaid’s Tale.
To that I say: You’re right, it’s not fair that they all can’t be saved, or aren’t believed, or find safety in real life like in fiction. But I don’t think giving us a highly satisfying ending here diminishes what happens outside of the film. Everyone should be trying to change the way society treats these women and these men, in different ways and for different reasons. We should be fighting for the vulnerable in our lives, and trying to compel society in general and our governments specifically to do more than shrug every time some toxic fuckwit murders his partner, his ex-partner and his children.
The Invisible Man is a perfect example of the sad are horrifying path that toxic masculinity takes us all down, but The Invisible Woman would surely give us some measure of justice.
8 times I don’t wonder how it is that Pauline Hanson and Bettina Arndt would probably watch this flick and side with the villain out of 10
“ Surprise!” – rarely does such a simple word convey as much dread, and, eventually, satisfaction as that one does in this film – The Invisible Man.