Warning: Major spoilers for The Invisible Man follow.
In Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is keeping more than his super-secret tech projects under lock and key. His Bay Area fortress is the perfect prison for his girlfriend Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), who has been under his emotional, physical, and mental abuse for the past two years.
After faking his death, Adrian decides to get back at Cecilia, who has since escaped his grasp, by donning his newly-created invisibility suit and using it to stalk, torture, and gaslight her. The new take on The Invisible Man differs significantly from H.G. Wells’ original story, which is about an ambitious scientist who drinks a potion rendering himself invisible only to be unable to reverse it.
“I started with this classic, iconic character, and I was asking myself questions about him in order to write the screenplay,” explains Whannell over the phone to Refinery29. “What’s the best way to present this person in a modern context, what makes him scary?”
Adrian’s invisibility suit doesn’t exist in the real world — at least, not yet. “I feel like it’s something that’s only a few years away,” muses Whannell. “Every human technological advancement starts in the military and then advances down to the common person.” Still, rewriting the Invisible Man as an abusive partner who uses technology to torture his victim is surprisingly, and disappointingly, relevant. Reports indicate that in the age of smart tech, abusers are using web-connected devices to stalk and harass their victims (think: A man blasting music via his former girlfriend’s Amazon Alexa at 3 a.m.).
Adrian’s invisibility works on a metaphorical level, too — the real Adrian is unseen until the very end of the movie. Throughout most of the film, his presence is only felt, even beyond the moments where he’s in a room wearing an invisibility suit.
When Cecilia escapes his mansion, Adrian chases after her and punches through a car window in an attempt to get to her. But Adrian is just a blur whose face we never quite get a good look at. Most of what we know of Adrian, we know from Cecilia talking about the hell he put her through.
We finally see Adrian in the flesh in the final scene of the film, after he’s been cleared of all the crimes committed by the “Invisible Man.” A master manipulator, he’s convinced the world the real stalker is his brother Tom (Michael Dorman, whose character is a possible nod to Wells’ Thomas Marvel, Adrian’s assistant).
"In real life, villains don’t twist their mustache and cackle with glee. It’s much more diabolical than that."
Adrian has set up a feast for Cecilia with a variety of cuisines. He rambles, sweetly, as he explains he didn’t know what she “might be in the mood” for. He speaks softly. He’s apologetic for his past failings without ever admitting to anything. Adrian doesn’t need the invisibility suit to hide who he is; he’s great at that all on his own.
“For Oliver and I, it was important that Adrian didn’t appear like a villain at all,” explains Whannell. “I wanted the audience to be like, ‘This guy? He seems so nice!’ It’s scary to think of what someone who is that charming can be capable of — to see the flip side of that coin.”
Jackson-Cohen’s behaviour in this scene doesn’t prove that Adrian is less of a monster than the audience thought, says Whannell. It shows he’s even more of one.
“Real sociopaths are charming. In real life, villains don’t twist their moustache and cackle with glee. It’s much more diabolical than that,” Whannell adds. “If you do any research into narcissists or sociopaths, they’re very charming and like heat-seeking missiles for finding people’s weak points or makes them happy. They can weaponise that knowledge against the person they’re victimising.”
By the end of the film, Cecilia is well-versed in Adrian’s tricks and uses the technology that imprisoned her to her advantage. At dinner with Adrian, during which he begs for her back, Cecilia sneaks off to the bathroom and returns wearing Adrian’s invisibility suit. She forces Adrian to slice his own throat. The security cameras bear witness to this “suicide,” and Cecilia knows she got away with her revenge plan.
“Not only [was using technology] a way to ground the film in reality, in a way that the audience could relate to, but it’s something I have a lot of paranoia about,” Whannell explains. “Even the invisibility technique that the character uses in the film is all about surveillance. There are a lot of cameras in the film. It’s about the prisons we build ourselves.”
Cecilia’s journey wasn’t an easy one, but in the final moment of The Invisible Man, Whannell allowed her, and the audience watching her torture at the hands of her abuser, to breathe.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.