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'The Invisible Man' (2020): The Hiddenness of Domestic Abuse

The 2020 remake of 'The Invisible Man' explores the hidden nature of domestic violence with a classic sci-fi character.

The Invisible Man (2020)

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The Invisible Man (2020) perfectly encapsulates the horrors specific to women and femmes in domestic violence situations. It also speaks more generally to the challenges all domestic abuse survivors face, including men and non-binary individuals. This musing will focus specifically on cishet women because the film focuses on a traditional cishet relationship, but this is not to exclude domestic abuse survivors of all identities whose stories are equally valid.

The Classic Film, The Invisible Man (1933)

The 1933 classic film, The Invisible Man, features a straightforward treatise on science run amok, with a central conflict surrounding the deterioration of Jack Griffin’s state of mind after ingesting an experimental drug that turns him invisible. Though there is some conflict with the Invisible Man as an unseen spectre physically assaulting people in his self-induced madness, the primary exploration is about the inner conflict of your mind betraying you and the isolation symbolized in an invisibility condition.

The 2020 rendition focuses on domestic violence and the associated challenges. Cecelia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) finds herself in an abusive relationship with Tom Griffin (Michael Dorman). Tom Griffin is a tech genius specializing in optical technology. The name change to Tom and the substitution of optical technology for the classical scientific aspect of the original signal a shift toward the illusory nature of domestic abuse.

The 2020 reinterpretation, The Invisible Man

Cecelia is immediately suspicious when her abusive ex suddenly dies, leaving her with his entire fortune. She recognizes this as an abusive tactic, forcing its way back into her life under the guise of a seemingly kind gesture. It’s another illusion through which an abuser attempts to ‘atone’ for their past abuse and lure their victim back with promises of good times that will not last. In a sad case of art imitating life, no one believes Cecelia when she suspects that her ex is alive and stalking her. Experts believe that the fear of not being believed is a major deterrent for abuse victims reporting their abusers. As Cecelia becomes increasingly isolated, an invisible Griffin slowly escalates from a series of coincidental incidents into something lethal. This parallels the way domestic abuse survivors are often deceived by the slow escalation of abuse, which only becomes obvious when they are fully immersed in it.

The Invisible Man builds on its theme of invisible stalking and assault in a similar fashion. No one believes Cecelia until it’s too late. The Invisible Man has to literally assault other men before he’s seen as the serious threat he has always been. Invisibility becomes a metaphor for how abusive individuals, whether men or partners in general, often seem like regular, ordinary people. They often have jobs, social standing, and other socioeconomic indicators that society values. No one perceives the abuse, and they struggle to believe that someone successful, like Tom Griffin, could engage in such ‘barbaric’ behavior. This ironically highlights a classist perception of violence. Originally, The term ‘barbarian’ xenophobically referred to people who didn’t belong to Judeo-Christian, Greek, or Roman empires. Despite our idealization of these empires, they were violent. The point is that anyone is capable of domestic violence, regardless of their class, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. This perceptual blindness aids the invisibility portrayed in The Invisible Man (2020).

The saddest aspect of the film is its length. The entire film would have ended after Act 1 if the police and others in positions of authority had listened and believed Cecelia. Griffin is only human after all, and invisibility is not invincibility. The system could contain the Griffins of the world if only it concerned itself with the safety of those less powerful in society. Instead, Invisible abusers walk among us with far more freedom than a civilized society would allow.