Working in Dr. Cranley's laboratory, scientist Jack Griffin was always given the latitude to conduct some of his own experiments. His sudden departure, however, has Cranley's daughter Flora worried about him. Griffin has taken a room at the nearby Lion's Head Inn, hoping to reverse an experiment he conducted on himself that made him invisible. Unfortunately, the drug he used has also warped his mind, making him aggressive and dangerous. He's prepared to do whatever it takes to restore his appearance, and several will die in the process.
Directed by: James Whale
. Starring: Claude Rains
, Gloria Stuart
, William Harrigan
, Henry Travers
, Una O'Connor
, Forrester Harvey
, Holmes Herbert
, E.E. Clive
, Dudley Digges
, Harry Stubbs
, Donald Stuart
, Merle Tottenham
, Robert Adair
. Music by: Heinz Roemheld
This is a review of James Whale's "The Invisible Man" and Paul Verhoeven's "Hollow Man". Loosely based on a 1897 H.G. Wells novel, both films are black comedies revolving around maverick scientists who develop a means of eliminating the absorption and reflection of light.
In Whale's film our scientist is Jack Griffin, a "poor, struggling chemist" who already feels invisible, marginalised and ignored by both the scientific and wider social community. As a means of acquiring fame and visibility Griffin invents, somewhat ironically, an "invisibility formula", but these wants elude him because he's accidentally rendered invisible by his very own chemical cocktail. Griffin then spends much of the film resentful of his wealthy and aristocratic employers - characters presented sympathetically by Wells' but villainously by Whale - a state of mind the film's economically disadvantaged depression era audiences themselves shared. Griffin's impotency is their impotency, Griffin's invisibility is their invisibility, and by the time a pushed-too-far Griffin makes good on his threats to kill his employers, nobody bats an eyelid. Back in 1933, audience's loved it.
Whale directed a number of horror films for Universal Studios which, along with some of his subsequent films ("The Man In The Iron Mask"), later became regarded by scholars as veiled allegories for the director's own covert homosexuality. Early horror monsters are often read as being representative of certain anxieties toward (homo or hetero) sexuality - predatory, amoral, perverse, possessive of secret powers, and threatening to "normal life" - but your typical Whale "hero" is a social outcast who is depicted in a sympathetic light, tormented because his "true self" must remain invisible beneath a fictional public persona. Where Verhoeven's films delight in exhibitionism, excess and sweet release, Whale's hinge on repression; the return of the repressed. Incidentally, both directors were prisoners of war, Verhoven's country occupied during WW2, Whale captured by the Germans during WW1. Whale would commit suicide in 1957 (no fish jokes), drowning himself in a swimming pool.
As with most of Whale's films during the 1930s, "Man" makes impeccable use of early special effects and oozes a sense of dank, Gothic creepiness. Ever creepier is Whale's handling of Griffin, who is initially shot at low angles to highlight his poignant aspirations, but suffers a complete mental breakdown by the film's end, becoming a looming, embittered monster.
While Whale's scientist was smug and covetous, he was nevertheless courtly and well behaved around his love interest. Verhoeven's scientist, however, demonstrates no positive attributes whatsoever. And where both Whale and Wells ignore the erotic fantasies and more primal impulses of their hero, Verhoeven has his invisible scientist, Doctor Sebastian Caine, do nothing but indulge in depravities. Depravities Verhoeven extends to the US military, which itself craves total freedom of action and total freedom from accountability. Indeed, no sooner has Caine been freed from the shackles of "civilization" does he use his invisibility to murder, rape and torture. Note that each of Caine's devilish deeds springs from his desires being thwarted or his romantic advances being shut down. But the acts he commits aren't only about sex and satiation, but power, control and violence. By the film's end he's become a figure of unbounded power; egoic fascism writ large.
Verhoeven's films try to work as genre critiques. "Robocop" and "Recall" gave us Western media, movie-going and entertainment as barbaric, mindless tourism. "Showgirls" gave us America as an all encompassing whorehouse in which aspirations are commensurate with exploitation, and "Troopers" gave us the United States as a blood-thirsty fascist frat party. "Man" does a similar thing, beginning with an invisible cat mauling a mouse and then a media commentator speaking of cats and birds, a game of predator and prey which Verhoeven contemptuously extends to his audience, whom he views as a band of mongrels bred to leer and chortle over torn meat.
But Verhoeven's films often trade in exactly that which they purport to satirise. "Here's the sex, titillation and barbarity you crave," they say, "now look how idiotic you are for liking such an obviously idiotic film." The pleasure of Verhoeven, then, is in audience and film sharing a moment of gleeful, shameless idiocy. It's a kind of meta-arousal, where you're allowed to indulge because the work objects to itself. In this way "Man" plays like a less pretentious version of Haneke's "Funny Games", or a less successful version of Hitchcock's "Rear Window" and De Palma's "Body Double", other "trashy thrillers" about voyeurism, invisible, disembodied viewers, decontextualized sex and violence, and the urges, wants, roles, fantasies and responsibilities of audiences.
Of course today virtually all films are meta-aware of their own stupidity. Post ideological, postmodern irony is the aesthetic of our time, audience's and film's shielding themselves in a passive irony (as opposed to critical irony, the role of satire) whose only function is a kind of disassociation. Zizek calls this the "commodification of a strategy that once provided a legitimate means of challenge", Peter Sloterdijk calls this "the negation of the negation", Toby Young calls it "a critique that no longer has an object, that exists solely and absurdly as an assertion of superiority over all conditions of representation", Timothy Bewes an aesthetic that now "mistakes its own absence for universalised vigour". In another, more immediate way, modern irony, satire and cynicism (every "artist" from Zack Synder to Lady Gaga is now a "satirist") provide modern audiences with the freedom to reconcile consumption with consciousness. This contemporary sort of satire remains silent when it comes to social or ethical goals; it no longer stands for values but has become a mode of thought which defines itself in purely materialistic terms.
Review by tieman64 from the Internet Movie Database.