Elizabeth Moss in 'The Invisible Man.'

‘The Invisible Man’ and ‘You’ Show Two Different Portrayals of Abuse

Some say the Netflix show justifies an obsessive stalker, while Leigh Whannell's movie depicts the true horrors of domestic violence.
March 22, 2020
8 mins read

On March 11, Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for criminal sexual acts and rape, a huge victory for the #MeToo movement. Resonating with the ruling was the release of Leigh Whannell’s “The Invisible Man” two weeks prior. The film, a modern-day movie adaptation of an H.G. Wells novel, unveils the haunting reality of abuse victims.

The movie follows Cecilia Kass, played by Elizabeth Moss, who escaped from an abusive relationship but was haunted by her deceased ex-boyfriend. Adrian Griffin, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, was an “optic prodigy” who Kass claimed was still alive. Kass also accused Griffin of perfecting a device used to torment her with nothingness, by being completely invisible.

“The Invisible Man” is not Whannell’s first writing and directing work. Viewers might be familiar with his intense delivery from previous thrillers like “Insidious: Chapter 3” and “Upgrade.” Whannell has the ability to capture horror in a single frame of emptiness. There’s seemingly nothing to see, but it still makes us quiver, especially when accompanied by Moss’ great facial expressions. Every time she stares into the void, we are drawn into the same terror that drove Cecilia Kass insane.

The film began with a jaw-clenching scene of Kass’ elaborate scheme to flee Griffin’s tightly-secured estate. Without any explanation and barely any dialogue, the shots of her tiptoeing around the room and disabling security cameras captured enough of the terrifying grip that Griffin held over her life. Anxiety was written all over Elizabeth Moss’ face.

YouTube player

At this point, Whannell seems to want the audience to realize that his storyline has more similarities to today’s cases of domestic abuse than the 1897 novel it was derived from.

The 2020 version is not just about a science experiment gone wrong. It is a contemporary tale of a domestic abuse victim regaining freedom from an obsessed, invisible stalker, despite no one believing her. Whannel’s rendition of “The Invisible Man” is a common story of female misfortune — being stalked by a crazy ex-boyfriend — but with a sci-fi twist.

With the rise of the #MeToo movement, this unfortunate narrative has become part of pop culture, seen in social media, films, TV series and even music. One of the shows that caught most people’s attention was the Netflix series “You.”

The show gave the spotlight to a creepy serial killer who became obsessed with every woman he ever loved. What makes “You” so disturbing is the depiction of the stalker Joe Goldberg, who is romanticized as a “fighter for love.” Instead of facing justice, he gets away with everything.

What’s the Difference Between “The Invisible Man” and “You”?

Although both Goldberg and Griffin are evidently unsettling characters, their depictions on screen are noticeably different. Additionally, how the female leads react to their abusers also differ in the two shows.

Joe Goldberg from “You” is a hopeless romantic. He is portrayed as the vulnerable book geek who knows how to “handle a woman” and is desperate to find “the one.” The series implies that Goldberg is a lunatic who plans his every move to woo the ideal women of his dreams, or at least shape them into one.

However, since the focus of the show is on Goldberg, viewers are given exhaustive explanations of his actions, which hinders the message that he should not be trusted.

In one of the episodes of Season 2, Goldberg’s childhood background was described as lonely and abusive. This description somehow justified his actions. Despite Goldberg being unapologetic for his wrongdoings, his personal narratives urged viewers to understand and tolerate his perspective.

Penn Badgley, the actor who plays Goldberg, wondered how the audience could empathize with someone so disturbing. “You” has created an invisible monster. Joe Goldberg is an invisible stalker because the female characters, his victims, never seems to realize his ominous presence whenever he watches them like a hawk.

Even after he is discovered, he is always able to get away with it. He manipulates others to believe everything he says, or tricks them into his murderous traps. No one can stand against the invisible Joe Goldberg.

YouTube player

On the other hand, Adrian Griffin in “The Invisible Man” is never given the chance to speak for himself. Griffin never elaborates his motive himself; he is understood solely through his brother and Kass’ accounts of him. Griffin is portrayed as a brilliant and manipulative person who would do anything to get what he wants.

Similar to Goldberg, Griffin is also unapologetic for his crimes. However, there is no excuse given for what Griffin does to his victims. He is an obsessed stalker who manufactured a device to forever torment his ex-girlfriend, and that is it.

Despite having invisibility, Kass realized Griffin’s presence around her. One of the scenes showed Kass sleeping as she felt chills down her skin. When she woke up and saw her blanket on the floor, she sensed him standing across her bed, looking back at her, even though the camera panned into an empty side of the room.

Stephanie Zacharek from Time magazine commented, “Yet the moment is chilling, partly because the sight of—or the illusion of—someone looking at a sleeping woman is always chilling.” Indeed, compared to the Netflix show’s oblivious Beck, this is a much more realistic picture.

How could you not notice someone is following your every movement? Oblivion is certainly not bliss.

Griffin lives in the hollowness of the screen; he is invisible because he has no presence, and he clearly doesn’t deserve one. He is the invisible man, not only because he has created a technology to be invisible, but also because he went unrecognized.

It was a difficult journey for Kass to convince her sister, friends and the police that Griffin was still torturing her. Everyone blamed her for the harms that he committed. He was almost victorious, before Kass fought back and earned her freedom.

In today’s society, invisible men like them are everywhere. The Verge’s Joshua Rivera argued, “Adrian wins time after time because he is concealed, and he is concealed because he is brilliant and celebrated for it. This gives him the cover, and the power, to keep people within his grasp and to extend the reach of his abuse.”

Justice was later served for Griffin, but not yet for Goldberg, which is sadly unsurprising. Both Goldberg and Griffin are intelligent men who chose to do despicable things wrapped in beautiful romantic packaging — their wrapping has rendered them unseen.

“The Invisible Man” is yet another reminder of the haunting time that we live in. Technology makes it easier for people with bad intentions to execute their crimes. Not only that, the references to victim-blaming and domestic abuse are far too close to reality.

While both “The Invisible Man” and “You” can be interpreted as a warning for the existence of obsessed, psychotic ex-lovers, the Netflix series blurs the line between loving and disturbing far too often for the message to be clearly conveyed. One is not decisively superior over the other, but “The Invisible Man” is surely better at showing the audience that Griffin is obviously unforgivable.

Nanda Illahi, Okayama University

Writer Profile

Nanda Illahi

Okayama University
Political Science, Cultural Anthropology, and Management

Nanda Illahi is a political science student at Okayama University. Nanda has always had an interest in writing and has channeled that passion through various forms of storytelling on her website, school’s student journal and more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Don't Miss