We finally get a good reboot of a Universal horror monster and that should be celebrated.
Cecilia “Cee” Kass (Elisabeth “Dear God I’m Talented” Moss) is in an abusive relationship with optics engineer Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and finally manages to leave him by sneaking out of his compound with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer). She hides out afterwards with her cop friend James (Aldis “Straight Outta” Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). She soon learns that Adrian has committed suicide. Adrian’s brother Tom (Michael Dorman) informs her that Adrian has left her $5 million dollars which is hers as long as she is found to be of sound mind and commits no crimes. Soon, however, she finds a number of strange things happening around her. She starts to believe that Adrian had figured out how to make himself invisible and is now torturing her for leaving him.
Does everyone remember when Universal had planned their “Dark Universe” series and they announced that Johnny Depp was cast as the Invisible Man? Yeah, me neither, but it did happen and thanks to the colossal screw-up that was The Mummy with Tom Cruise, that idea died harder than the sequel to that one Bruce Willis movie… The Whole Ten Yards. Apparently they decided to try again using the Blumhouse method of cheap production and focusing on interesting storytelling over special effects. Surprisingly, it worked!
In some ways this is one of the more faithful adaptations of the source material. H.G. Wells’s original story of The Invisible Man depicted a greedy, ambitious, and cruel scientific student who figures out the secret of invisibility solely for money and then eventually keeps escalating his bad acts until he decides to go on a “reign of terror.” In most of the prior adaptations, including the 1933 The Invisible Man with Claude Rains and the various sequels, the character is generally depicted as benign or sympathetic until the invisibility drives them insane (usually the serum itself causes madness). In this, Adrian Griffin (the same last name as the character from the original novel) is already a monster before he supposedly becomes invisible. He was already controlling and gaslighting Cee when he was just a rich jerk, and that’s actually thematically appropriate for this film.
One of the inspirations for the original The Invisible Man was the story from Plato’s Republic called “The Ring of Gyges.” In the story, a man finds a ring that makes him invisible (yeah, Tolkien didn’t come up with that) and slowly commits more and more atrocious acts because he realizes he cannot be held accountable. In this film, it’s implied that Adrian’s cruelty is partially derived from his good looks, wealth, and privilege. It’s what allowed him to keep Cee in the abusive relationship to begin with, including having multiple people doubt Cee’s assertions just because Adrian seems so amazing. Eventually, when he gains the ability to become invisible, that just enables him to finally enact the last few acts of cruelty that he hadn’t been able to do so far. Essentially, he shows that it was only the small amount of accountability that he had as a wealthy person that had been holding him back.
The story is also updated a bit by adding a significant aspect of gaslighting and emotionally abusing a significant other. The entire premise of the film is based around Adrian trying to find a way to control Cee after she finally left him, which gives the horror elements a more sinister and grounded aspect. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I automatically give bonus points to films that use horror as a way to address real-life issues.
Elisabeth Moss’s performance carries most of the film and is even more impressive when you realize that she’s typically acting against nothing. She really conveys an abused woman who is unable to trust her reality because she’s been so manipulated by Adrian. Also, unlike most protagonists who refuse to believe what’s happening is real, she almost immediately guesses that Adrian has gone invisible, something that everyone else doubts (the way they doubted her abuse).
The cinematography is the other key to this film. The camera often drifts to empty corners and open doors where nothing appears to be happening, which sets the tone of the film so effectively. Similarly, the sound editing and soundtrack are both excellent at giving the feeling of having another presence in the room and of that presence being malicious. Also, I appreciate that they updated how he became invisible to make it more scientifically accurate.
Overall, solid movie. Sad that the Covid-19 may have hurt people seeing it, but if you can afford it, this is actually a movie worth renting on demand. If not… wait a few months for Redbox.
Jordan Peele has brought us a new masterpiece that has a lot more to say than what’s on the surface. The spoiler-free version was Monday.
In 1986, Adelaide Thomas (Madison Curry) wandered off at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. While in an abandoned house of mirrors, she finds herself seeing a little girl who looks exactly like her. 33 years later, Adelaide (Lupita “I’m gonna get more Oscars” Nyong’o) is now Adelaide Wilson, married to Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) and the mother of Zora and Jason Wilson (Shahadi Wright and Evan Alex). The family heads to Santa Cruz for vacation at their beach house, but Adelaide reveals she still has nightmares about her encounter from the past. That night, Jason sees another family of people clad in red in the driveway. Gabe tries to confront them, but they quickly attack and infiltrate the house. They are revealed to be doppelgängers of the four named Red (Nyong’o), Abraham (Duke), Umbrae (Wright), and Pluto (Alex).
Red explains that she was the “shadow” of Adelaide who has been living underground for her entire life, forced to live a perversely mirrored existence of Adelaide’s life, having been forced into marriage with Gabe’s doppelgänger Abraham and forced to bear his children, one of whom, Umbrae, is a monstrous psychopath and the other, Pluto, is obsessed with fire. Red doesn’t speak well, but the other doppelgängers only communicate with animalistic grunts. Red handcuffs Adelaide around a table. Abraham overpowers Gabe who flees to the family’s boat. Gabe manages to kill Abraham with the motor. Zora tries to outrun Umbrae, but only escapes when Umbrae attacks a bystander. Jason manages to lock Pluto in a cabinet and Red goes to free him, allowing Adelaide to free herself. The family flees to their neighbors’ house, arriving only after their neighbors Josh and Kitty Tyler (Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss) and their daughters Gwen and Maggie (Cali and Noelle Sheldon) are killed with scissors wielded by their own doppelgängers: Tex, Dahlia, Io, and Nix, respectively. Confronting the new versions of their neighbors, Gabe kills Tex on Josh’s yacht, Zora kills Io and knocks Nix over the bannister, then Jason kills Dahlia to save his mom and sister. Adelaide kills the wounded Nix with her own scissors.
The four find out that this is happening everywhere, with the red-clad duplicates, dubbed “the Tethered” killing their originals and then joining hands in a long line. Gabe, Zora, and Jason want to just hide, but Adelaide insists they flee the country. Zora kills Umbrae by hitting her with a car and, the next morning, Jason tricks Pluto into setting himself on fire, killing him. Red then abducts Jason and Adelaide follows her to the boardwalk, going through the house of mirrors and into an underground facility. Red explains that the Tethered were created by the government to control the population, but were then abandoned underground. They have acted out the actions of their above ground counterparts mostly mindlessly. Red believed that her contact with Adelaide in 1986 meant that she was destined to lead the Tethered and that this was all a display for Adelaide, who ends up killing Red. It’s revealed that, in 1986, Adelaide met her doppelgänger, who choked her unconscious, crushing her windpipe, switched clothes with her, and chained her to a bed before taking her place. Jason realizes this, but says nothing. The Tethered are revealed to have made an unbroken human chain stretching into the distance.
Okay, this movie is two nested levels of story and corresponding allegory: Personal and social.
On the personal level, this story is about Adelaide and her family facing off against their doppelgängers. Now, the doppelgänger is an old concept literally meaning “double-goer” and it refers to seeing a non-biological double of a living person (so The Parent Trap doesn’t count, but The Prince and the Pauper does). Mythology tends to be inconsistent about what a doppelgänger represents. In older Teutonic Myths, they’re just a person out there who represents another you, typically an evil version, and seeing them is a sign of misfortune. Later, this was expanded to encompass another German myth, the fetch, which is an apparition of a living person, having form and mind but no soul. This film originally describes the Tethered in these terms, saying they have the mind and body but they don’t share the soul with the people they mirror, explaining their lack of speech and animalistic behavior.
Usually, when the doppelgänger is used as a literary figure, they are intended to represent the duality of man. Where we are good, they are evil. Where we are peaceful, they are violent. Where the person fails, the doppelgänger succeeds, and vice-versa. One reason why this device has lasted so long and permeated through so many different cultures is because humans tend to naturally envision other hypothetical versions of ourselves, including the raw, feral version. Our dark reflection.
This movie really tries to drive that idea home with its portrayals. Gabe is erudite, Abraham is brutish. Zora is snarky and somewhat lackadaisical while Umbrae is a psychopath. Jason masks himself to be scarier, Pluto hides his disfigurement under a mask. Kitty is vain, Dahlia mutilates her face. Even the names of the characters somewhat mirrors their counterpart: Gabe is short for Gabriel which is the angel that destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, while Abraham is the longer form of Abram, the Biblical figure who entered into the covenant to create Israel. Zora means dawn while Umbrae means shadow. Jason means healer or life-giver while Pluto refers to the god of death. Pluto and Jason even tend to literally mirror each other, possibly due to the fact that, since they’re younger, they haven’t had as much time to diverge and therefore their connection is stronger.
The only real exception is Adelaide, because even though Red calls her the shadow, the two have more traits in common than any of the others because they’ve each lived part of their lives as the other one, becoming somewhat more harmonized. This was one of the many things which first hint at the ending. This includes the revelation that Red is the only doppelgänger who can talk, even if her voice was damaged by Adelaide’s attack. “Red” likely isn’t even the fake Adelaide’s name, only a name that the real Adelaide gave herself, because the red exit sign, the red apple she dropped, and the red shirt all represent freedom and the life she lost. Meanwhile, the fake Adelaide suppressed the memory of the event completely.
The majority of the film is based around Red trying to send a message to Adelaide using the Tethered, although the first thing that triggers it is the image of a small real spider emerging from beneath another fake spider. This reminds her of how she first encountered the real Adelaide while she was singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” a song about a creature who, much like the Tethered were supposed to be, keeps attempting to climb up only to be knocked back down (keep this in mind for later). The next sign was the outfits worn by the Tethered (presumably made over the last 20 years since Red became their leader). They’re red outfits with a single glove, which is the Michael Jackson outfit from Thriller, which was on the shirt that Adelaide was wearing that night. The last is the fact that the Tethered all join together in a human chain, reminiscent of Hands Across America, the last ad that Adelaide saw before her abduction. It’s all designed to remind her of the truth about the two of them: Hence, “us.”
However, it’s the fact that either one could be the “real” Adelaide that makes the personal allegory work. The fact that the fake Adelaide took the real Adelaide’s place and lived a mostly normal life means that it isn’t that the doppelgängers are inherently evil or lesser, it means that they could go either way but their circumstances force them to be the way they are. Just like regular people.
The movie’s conclusion almost wants us to conclude that the Adelaide who is alive at the end is the “evil” one, but I don’t think it’s that simple. We only get a glimpse into what Fake Adelaide’s life was like before she took Real Adelaide’s place, but it is a horrifying bastardization of an existence, with most of her actions out of her control. We hear the Real Adelaide, as Red, recount her life, where she was forced to marry Abraham and bear his children against her will, which is implied to be exactly what would have happened to Fake Adelaide. So, is Fake Adelaide really evil for wanting to avoid a tortured existence? If she’d done it without putting Real Adelaide in her place, we’d call her a hero. But instead she chose to condemn a person to a tortured existence and then ignore her… which is something that, on a social level, the film accuses everyone of doing.
As for the societal allegory, the Tethered are a fairly straightforward metaphor for The Other. They are a group that is defined by being “not us.” They could be any number of things, and the movie gives equal credibility to several interpretations.
First, they could represent the poor, as evidenced by the use of Hands Across America, which is one of the truly colossal failures among fundraisers, earning only $15 million of the desired $50 million and having many breaks in the chain of people. The Tethered are the people below the “real” people who starve and are ignored or forgotten, much like the poor and the homeless. During the initial scene of the Wilson doppelgängers confronting the Wilsons, the Wilsons are all wearing outfits representative of their prosperity, a college sweater from Howard University, a soccer mom outfit, a hoodie with an iPod, and a tuxedo t-shirt. When they later kill the doubles, it’s using a golf club, an expensive car, a decorative geode, a boat, and a yacht, things that are representative of the upper class. At the end of the movie, the Tethered actually make a continuous chain, seemingly representing a successful version of hands across America, representing America’s poor finally being noticed. The bible verse cited in the movie, Jeremiah 11:11, reads “Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.” This could be either an interpretation of the Tethered as the evil which descend upon humanity as punishment for humanity’s evil, or the verse is reflective of the fact that the Tethered have been tortured and ignored by their creators. Either way, it works.
Second, they could represent African-Americans. The Tethered are essentially former slaves that have been released without giving them any resources or help integrating into the rest of society. They’ve been stuck in the same place for generations which is represented through a red-lined corridor, which I’d even argue is probably a reference to the fact that the act of excluding African-Americans from owning property was called “red-lining.” Red even forces Adelaide to spend the movie shackled so as to feel how she felt waking up having been abducted and shackled and transported into a different society against her will. I’m not saying that’s a metaphor, but if it’s not then I don’t know what is.
Third, they could represent the image of foreigners. They were created by the government as a way to control the populace, much how governments tend to play up the threats of foreign attacks as a way to manipulate their populace into giving them more power. If you need an example, I’m going to ask you to look at pretty much any government. While they seem to be a violent threat, the reality is that after they get through a period where they have trouble communicating (i.e. not being able to talk), they tend to acclimate and assume the same traits as their surroundings.
One thing that works pretty much regardless of the interpretation is the presence of “the itsy bitsy spider,” which is just a song about a futile existence of attempting to advance only to be knocked back down into your place. The only way Fake Adelaide breaks the cycle is by throwing another spider down the waterspout in her place.
Whatever the interpretation, the key is that Adelaide proves that they would be indistinguishable from the “normal” people if only they were given similar circumstances. While the movie suggests that the Tethered don’t have souls, the fact that Adelaide risks her life for her child while “Red” orchestrates a genocide indicates that perhaps that’s just how the creators justified their mistreatment of the Tethered. Under any of these interpretations, the allegory is a comment on America. Rather than “US,” then, the film is actually “U.S.”
Overall, it’s trying to cram all of this into the movie that is its biggest weakness. It’s hard to make this much allegory work within a cohesive narrative. It leaves a lot of questions for the audience which, while they mostly can be answered, require way more thought and observation than most people are willing to put forth to fill plot holes. This film was meant to be broken down and chewed by the viewer, but at some points it basically shoves a ton of stuff at you in quick succession and you start choking. I still thought this was an amazing movie, but I also admit that I understand why a lot of people won’t, and those people aren’t wrong not to like it. That said, I would tell everyone to at least give it a shot, because it does have something to say that might be helpful to you.
When people remember Mad Men, the most vivid scene is probably when a secretary takes a John Deere mower for a ride inside the office and accidentally cuts off half of the foot of the new industry up-and-comer. Gonna need more than a few drinks to deal with that kind of injury. That same guy, whose name is “Guy” because f*ck subtlety, is then written off by all of the executives because they believe that he won’t be able to charm clients without his toes. The scene embodies the soulless nature of the advertising industry, a recurring theme in the series, and is absolutely not in this episode. But that was an awesome episode too.
This one was actually written down on my list as “Nixon v. Kennedy,” but that was a very different episode. I can only assume that I had been high on painkillers and mixed it up because this episode involves the Ali v. Liston fight in the background, the way that the election is on in the background in that episode.
I’ll remind you: Dilaudid is a hell of a drug.
Fortunately, I re-watched the episode before writing the review and realized that I had the wrong episode. Unfortunately, re-scoring it during the watch-through also kept it out of the top 10.
Okay, so, the premise of Mad Men is that it takes place at a Madison Avenue advertising agency, Sterling Cooper, now Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP for short). The main characters are: Don Draper (Jon “I’m tastier than my last name” Hamm), a former soldier turned advertising superstar whose backstory was literally stolen from a dead man; Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), a secretary turned copywriter who has had to fight against the clear double-standards of the 1960s to get to where she is; and a bunch of other great characters who aren’t really in this episode, sorry. Watch the show.
The opening shows that the entire office is fairly anticipating the fight between Ali and Liston, while Peggy is anticipating an intimate dinner with her boyfriend for her birthday. Don places a heavy wager on Liston to win, believing that Ali is just a gimmick.
There’s a brief discussion by the various ad men hanging around the office about who is going to win this fight, before Don calls in Peggy and the Samsonite Suitcase ad team. They pitch an ad to Don set to feature Joe Namath, which Don rejects, because Namath hadn’t even played a Pro Game yet, endorsements are lazy, and women don’t buy suitcases. Peggy responds that much of that isn’t true, but Don kicks her out of the office.
Peggy then gets a job offer from “Duck” Phillips (Mark Moses), a former Co-worker Don had removed from the firm who Peggy had once dated. Duck makes an offer to put her in charge of women’s products at a new firm. Peggy doesn’t give him an answer. On her way to her birthday dinner, Don grabs her to work on the Samsonite pitch, saying that all of the work she put in so far was essentially worthless.
Peggy tells her boyfriend she needs to stay a bit later, but eventually he reveals that he brought her family, whom she hates because they oppose her working, leading them to break up over the phone. She reveals this to Don, who didn’t remember it was her birthday. The two argue briefly over Don’s treatment of her, before Peggy points out that Don just won an advertising award for an Ad that she had proposed. What follows is one of the best exchanges in the show:
Don: “It’s your job! I give you money, you give me ideas!”
Peggy: “And you never say thank you!”
After this, the pair make up over listening to one of the other partners’ dictation about the Senior Partner losing his testicles due to an unnecessary medical procedure. They then spend the evening at a bar confessing secrets to each other. Peggy says that everyone in the office assumes that she slept with Don to get her job, though Don declined her advances when they first met. Peggy’s family even assumes Don was the father of Peggy’s bastard child, though he wasn’t, just because Don was the only person who visited her in the hospital after she gave birth.
Don gets drunk and has to be carried back to the office by Peggy, where they encounter Duck Phillips, who is there to take a crap on Don’s chair for firing him. Don and Duck fight over Peggy, with Duck winning, standing over a beaten and humiliated Don. Peggy kicks Duck out and she and Don pass out in the office together.
Later, Don makes a phone call to the niece of the real Don Draper to confirm what he already suspected, that the real Don’s wife, Anna, is dead. Anna was pretty much the only one who knew Don as both his original self, Dick Whitman, and his current persona of Don Draper. Don breaks down crying because the person who knew him best is dead, but Peggy reminds him that someone else still knows him. Don shows her his new Samsonite ad idea, based on the famous photo of Ali standing over Liston.
This episode, as I said before, takes place during the 1965 Ali v. Liston fight. Boxing fans will remember that the first fight, Clay v. Liston, was controversial, to say the least. Liston gave up in the 7th Round, claiming a busted shoulder, but apparently didn’t believe that Clay was actually the better boxer. Rumors abounded: Claims that Liston threw the fight because he had a guaranteed re-match in the contract that would be worth more, accusations that Liston’s cornermen had blinded Clay in the fifth round, allegations that Clay had the Nation of Islam pre-injure Liston’s shoulder, etc. All the crazy stuff that follows an unusual public event. So, much of the public disregarded the first fight, placing all the pressure on the one in this episode.
This was the real fight. This was going to be the big money match between the scrappy newcomer with unbelievable talent, and the experienced veteran champion who had never been knocked out. It’s a not-so-subtle metaphor for the rest of the episode’s exchanges between Peggy and Don, even if the fight itself is represented by Duck vs. Don in the Fight of the Office Drunks.
This episode starts to shift between Don being the up-and-comer he seemed to be at the beginning of the series and his new role as part of the old guard, now being challenged by the new world that Peggy represents. During the episode, Don picks Liston to win the fight believing that Ali is all hype, and shoots down Peggy’s idea to have Joe Namath endorse a product. Both of those were mistakes, in retrospect, and, since the show is set in the 60s, the audience already has the benefit of that very hindsight. Don’s dismissal of both Ali and Namath is based on the idea that they’re too young, too new, and trying to have it all too fast, the same things that he sees in Peggy.
Don and Peggy are both right about the award-winning ad. Peggy came up with the image of a child being kept in the closet while his mom waxes the floor, Don wrote a commercial story about it to promote Glo-Coat floor wax. Peggy thinks that, since it was so amazing, she deserves a thank you, whereas Don points out that she was just doing her job. It’s an impressive sequence that really shows how the two view each other at that time. However, by the end of the episode, some of that has shifted. Don has fought for Peggy (though he lost), and Peggy has opened up more to Don as a person, not a subordinate.
The thing is, as much as the two may represent different generations and the classic struggle of succession, the episode also points out that Don and Peggy are extremely similar. Both watched their fathers die. Don faked his death to get away from his family, and Peggy essentially dumps her boyfriend to get away from hers. Don had to overcome being born a poor farmer, Peggy had to overcome being a Catholic woman in the 1960s. Much like Ali and Liston only could fight all out because they were both world-class boxers, Don and Peggy can only really bring out each other’s best and worst because they’re so similar. And they’re both the people that each one trusts the most, even if they argue.
This episode is about one of the most unique relationships in any television show, and it really managed to explore it, deepen it, and reframe it all at once. Plus, it has some of the best random humor moments in the show to break up the tension.