Reel Talk

The Invisible Man and the Power of Anonymity

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Happy Halloween everyone! That’s right, all those articles yesterday weren’t enough. I have more Halloween nonsense to talk about today. Because Halloween is a whole lot of fun. I love the holiday, although I will say that I do run into a bit of a snag with the holiday when it comes to celebrating with movies. Because I’m not really a horror guy. Sometimes it’s a matter of me being a big wuss with certain topics, but mostly I think it’s that I’m just not that interested in the genre. I definitely don’t find slasher movies interesting, or gore for the sake of gore, so that removes a whole lot of horror that I’m going to check out. Honestly the type of horror that I like most are films that rely more on suspense and dread than scares. Jump scares feel cheap to me, and they become more startling than scary. But there’s another type of horror movie that I do enjoy that barely qualify as “scary.” And that’s monster movies! Monster movies are the best you guys. It probably stems from a long standing obsession with Mystery Science Theater and their showcasing of terrible old monster movies, but I’ve always been pretty enthralled with people in ridiculous makeup running around and scaring people. When I was a kid I loved the classic Universal monsters, as they frequently showed up in cartoons and whatnot, and I found them along the same line as superheroes as fun modern mythological beings. However, I will say, there have been a lot of blindspots for me when it comes to the classic Universal movies. I’d seen most of them throughout my life, but there were a couple biggies that I had never seen before, and took the chance to check them out this year since I’m still trying to watch 366 movies I haven’t seen this year. Which led me to filling in those gaps with the classic horror movies, and finding some great stuff. And I watched a real great movie recently that I just had to talk about.

When you think about the Universal Monsters, there are some big ones that pop up in your mind. Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, the Wolfman, and I guess the Gillman. But there are other movies that get lumped in with the Universal Monster label, that you maybe wouldn’t have guessed counted. And one of those was the Invisible Man. He’s not quite a monster, but apparently if it was a horror-ish film made by Universal in the thirties, it counts. And I’m not going to complain, because despite the fact that this movie didn’t feel all that much like the other Monster movies, this movie was fascinating.

I’ve kind of always been obsessed with the idea of the Invisible Man, probably ever since I saw that horrible League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie that featured an Invisible Man. I just thought that the idea of being invisible was really cool, and quickly read the HG Wells novel, not really sure what to expect. And what I got was not what I had assumed it would be. It wasn’t a rollicking adventure about a borderline superhero, it was a dark and twisted tale about a crazy man wrecking havoc on the world that he thought wronged him. Which is still pretty fascinating. It maybe was a little over my head as a kid, but I reread the novel during an odd summer that I spent reading a bunch of Victorian sci-fi like Dracula, Frankenstein, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and the Island of Dr. Moreau, because I was the coolest kid in the world. So of course I was going to be interested in seeing a cheesy old adaptation of the film from the 30’s.

And I wasn’t disappointed. The movie is actually a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel that at least got the tone down perfectly. It tells the tale of a scientist named Griffin who shows up at a small Inn one night, covered from head to toe in clothes and bandages. Everyone is sketched out by him, but they kind of deal with him despite he’s such a jerk. But things escalate when they go to evict Griffin for being such a slob, and they find out that the reason that he’s covered in bandages is because he’s invisible. Girffin freaks out that the people have found him like this, and he attacks people, fleeing into the night while cackling like a madman. We find out that Griffin has developed a serum that turns himself invisible, and that causes him to go insane, and that he has a plot to take over the world somehow with these abilities. He blackmails a colleague into becoming his assistant, and begins a reign of terror on the land, taking advantage of the fact that he’s so hard to catch. Unfortunately it turns out being invisible doesn’t also make you bullet-proof, so when a cop catches him and shoots him, his glorious reign is brought to a sad end as he dies visible and naked.

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So yeah, it’s the Invisible Man. The story isn’t an exact adaptation, but it’s still pretty close and definitely gets the feeling across. And I know that not everyone loves old films that are in black and white, but I have to tell you all, if you have any interest in visual effects you have to check this film out. I am utterly baffled at how they pulled so much of this movie off in 1933. This movie is a technical marvel that uses every advancement that they had at the time to create this wonderful little gem. There are some pretty basic effects that are clearly stings pulling things, but there are other shots that really blew me away. The practical effects on display in this movie are tremendous and really made this movie work, even in the modern age.

But the thing that I really wanted to talk about after watching this film was that there was an interesting bit of modern commentary in this episode, that obviously wasn’t intended. I feel like the real moral of both the film and the novel is kind of a combination of the general “science is scary” moral that stories from this timer period had, and the question of morality when invisible. That’s obviously not something that was coming up that frequently in the 1890’s or the 1930’s, so I suppose at the time it was more of a thought-experiment. The question of if people would remain moral and civil if people couldn’t see them. Which surely sounded ridiculous in the days before the internet. But now? This story is shockingly prescient. We live in a world where people regularly communicate to each other in anonymity, and guess what? More often than not people are like Griffin. Apparently humanity can’t hold up to the seduction of anonymity, and we quickly become monsters. Looking at the world today and the rampant abuse and hate that the internet seems to foster really does show that when given the chance to be invisible, we’re going to ditch all of our senses of morality and become monsters. Obviously not everyone falls into this trap, but I’m legitimately shocked at how many people use anonymity to become monsters. Hiding behind screen-names is the new invisibility formula, and unlike Griffin we don’t even have the benefit of blaming one of the chemicals on driving us mad. This is apparently just what humanity is. The real monster is us.

 

The Invisible Man was written by R.C. Sherriff, directed by James Whale, and released by Universal Pictures, 1933.

 

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