A Feminist Review of the Invisible Man (2020)
By Libbie Nicklin
Building upon my previous film blogs this blog offers a feminist review of the 2020 film ‘The Invisible Man’. At Say it Loud we have been highlighting the importance of portrayals of sexual violence against women in television and film. This is because they are incredibly powerful, as they can shape our society and/also can be a reflection of it. Therefore, it is vital we critique and analyse it in order to recognise such notions and work toward eradicating harmful portrayals.
In my first blog I highlighted the victimisation of women in horror films, discussing themes of the male gaze and how portrayals of violence against women can affect their experiences and fears within the real world. It also discussed the emerging scene of feminist horror, which often focuses on women’s struggles and steers away from the historic notion of women as helpless victims. It explores themes such as mental illness, sexuality, motherhood and sexual violence by cleverly crafting it through the horror genre, as well as highlighting issues with our patriarchal society. While my previous blog offered a critique of ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ and reasoned why it wasn’t an example of feminist horror, this blog uses the example of ‘The Invisible Man’ and identifies how it can be considered feminist horror.
A brief overview:
The Invisible Man (2020) is a reboot of the 1933 original version and is based on the H.G. Wells 1897 novel. It is a science-fiction horror directed by Leigh Whannell that follows the life of Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), who is shown at the beginning escaping her domestically abusive relationship with Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). After escaping the highly-secured house she finds out that Adrian has committed suicide. Not long after his ‘death’ Cecilia notices strange events occurring and suspects a presence. She begins to believe he has faked his death and used his optics expertise to become invisible so he can torment her. Despite no one believing her, Adrian was in fact tormenting her in his invisible suit, and even framed her for the murder of her sister. Taking matters into her own hands, Cecilia kills Archie by putting on his invisible suit and framing it as suicide.
Following the life of Cecilia, the main theme of the film is domestic abuse, highlighting the psychological effects she experiences as a domestic abuse victim. Adrian manipulates, isolates, gaslights and physically abuses Cecilia, and it is strongly insinuated that he repeatedly raped her. Yet, the abuse remains off camera, which was intentionally done by Whannell. By focusing on the psychological effects, Whannell steers away from the narrative that many filmmakers create. A narrative which shows the viewer dramatized violence against women. By doing this, it almost ingrains the idea that abuse must be physical and must be seen to be believed, but instead Whannell trusts the audience in believing that this abuse existed and caused lasting damage.
As domestic abuse tends to occur behind closed doors, this film gives us an insight into the unseen and often disbelieved horrors of domestic abuse. It is therefore representative of many women’s struggles, such as the 1.6 million women in the UK who reported domestic abuse in 2020. Unlike films which just show violence toward women, Whannell shows the further struggles after domestic abuse. For example, Adrian wearing an invisible suit is his way of gaining further control and power over Cecilia. This is a key factor of domestic abuse, with abusers having great control and power over their victim, which makes it incredibly difficult for victims to leave this situation. While Cecilia was able to leave her abusive partner, Adrian continues to use his power and control to prevent Cecilia from healing from the devastating trauma he inflicted. This is certainly representative of many women’s struggles after abuse, while they will likely not be followed by an invisible man, many are haunted with their trauma caused by coercive control. And for Cecilia, it is clear that the invisible man is also a metaphor for her trauma, particularly at a time where she is attempting to come to terms with it. Most importantly though, this film gives recognition to these hidden victims.
Similarly, despite Cecilia believing Adrian is tormenting her in his invisible suit early on in the film, no one believes her. Her belief and efforts to confront Adrian is what leads her to be left by James, even though she is arguably at her most vulnerable moment in the film. This is certainly representative of survivors not being believed, a key societal trend when someone disclosures domestic or sexual violence. Victims today face such a huge amount of public scepticism when they disclose their abuse, whether this be from friends or family or even from the criminal justice system and courts. Instead many women are confronted with victim blaming, where they are questioned about what they were wearing, why they were walking alone etc. This film therefore importantly displayed this struggle that so many women sadly have to face.
While the general theme of the film relates to domestic abuse, it can also be interpreted that it has wider implications for women. I interpret this film on a wider level representing women’s fears of men through the metaphor of the invisible man. The invisible man can be said to showcase the threat men pose to women. A threat which causes us to worry about walking alone, to look over our shoulders and to text our friend that we made it home safely. It therefore portrays the harassment and abuse women face on a daily basis, whether this is with or without an invisible man stalking them. After all, men are the number one threat to women globally and historically, and this film certainly shows the horrors of this threat. It is also other men who contribute to Cecilia’s ultimate downfall. Such as her friend, James, leaving her during her most vulnerable moments and Adrian’s brother who gaslights her throughout the entire film. Men have posed the biggest threats and caused the most trauma in her life. Something which many women can relate to.
I really appreciated the portrayal of themes of domestic abuse and the wider struggles women face at the hands of men in ‘The Invisible Man’ (2020). This is a huge step forward in the sub-genre of feminist horror and cleverly displays the psychological impact of abuse through horror, showing the audience just how horrifying it is! I hope to see more horror movies steering away from dramatized violence toward women. While this is a great watch, it is incredibly suspenseful and can be difficult for some viewers to watch. Viewer discretion is advised and trigger warning for themes of domestic abuse and suicide.
Antrim, T. (2020) ‘With The Invisible Man, Horror is Starting to Get #MeToo Right’. Vogue. Accessed at: https://www.vogue.com/article/the-invisible-man-2020-movie-review
IMDb. (2020) ‘The Invisible Man’ Plot. Accessed at: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1051906/plotsummary
Office for National Statistics. (2020) Domestic abuse in England and Wales overview. Accessed at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwalesoverview/november2020
Torres, L. (2020) ‘’The Invisible Man’ is a tense thriller that proves the biggest threat to women is definitely men’. The Insider. Accessed at: https://www.insider.com/invisible-man-movie-review-elisabeth-moss-2020-2#:~:text=%22The%20Invisible%20Man%22%20isn',the%20year's%20most%20important%20films.
Women’s Aid. (n.d.) What is coercive control? Accessed at: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/what-is-domestic-abuse/coercive-control/