Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Invisible Man (1933)

The Invisible Man (James Whale, 1933)

You can definitely predict the spectacle, that beneath the horrid bandages and the sunglasses is nothing. However, when Claude Rains starts unraveling his face, there's always that jolting effect no matter how many times you've correctly predicted the spectacle. It probably stems from James Whale's apt opening, with the heavily covered man walking past the snowstorm, arriving at a jolly little inn with jolly people. His physical predisposition and his unlikable aura counters the warmth of the inn where he intends to stay. He chooses to keep himself a mystery and when egged on by the innkeeper, he finally reveals himself and goes about on a rampage of petty and more serious crimes.

If anything, the invisible man's criminal activities are, during it's time, quite alarming, and his motivations are not really based on rationality. There's always an element of surprise in his malevolence and his concept of power is downright disturbing. Whale commits his crimes into celluloid with unassuming spontaneity. They're almost designed like comedic set pieces, as when the invisible man dons a pair of trousers and scares a woman away while singing a limerick; or when he throws a bald man's hat into the creek. However, Whale doesn't hold back when the invisible man commits his graver offenses, as when the invisible man makes two men fall down a cliff, or steals a box full of money from the bank, or derails a train, with the same alarming spontaneity of his lesser crimes. That indifference makes him more ferocious; his invisibility makes him all-powerful.

It's not that the invisible man is pure evil. You can always still sense his humanity: the way he pleads for more time from the innkeeper just so he can find a remedy for his invisibility; or when his voice softens when he learns that Flora (Gloria Stewart) is on her way. Actually, that is what makes the film so irresistibly interesting, the same way Frankenstein (1930) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) are outstanding horror pictures. Whale would always posit a lurking humanity beneath the monstrous exterior or lack of exterior, in this case.

The metaphor of invisibility is apt. It is power that shields the man from impunity but with the aftereffect of completely removing the possessor's identity and his whole place in this world. There are only traces of his former life, but the controlling facet is his invisibility. That skews his reason. His noble purposes are tainted with evil motivations. There dividing line between good and evil are dimmed.

It is for that reason that the film's ending, despite its questionably syrupy circumstance, is very appropriate. While in his deathbed, the invisible man is suddenly revealed, bit per bit, until we see his face, completely peaceful and at ease. We understand his plight as power is indeed tempting and damning. We also understand that despite the horrifying crimes he has committed, the illogical rationale still stems from his position of disadvantage, that his case conditions his mindset for such circumstances and that the help of science and the mysterious chemical he added in his invisibility serum are not the main causes for his insanity, but his human condition. He cannot get his life's love or his peers' approval because he was so poor to begin with, leading him to be jealous and destined to be continuously betrayed.

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