Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)

Directed by John Carpenter

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John Carpenter and Chevy Chase make for an unlikely duo in Memoirs of an Invisible Man.  Chase plays Nick Halloway, a narcissist broker living in San Francisco who’s not unlike Fletch or any other number of Chase personas, and just like in that 1985 film he finds himself embroiled in a plot far bigger than himself.

A freak accident, involving spilt coffee and a keyboard, will turn Halloway invisible.  He is then forced to go on the run from villain David Jenkins (Sam Neill), who seeks to sell him on the black market.  I guess invisible men will fetch a lot, I suppose in order to be used as spies.

As he makes his great escape, Halloway will struggle with the details of having turned invisible.  He can’t eat without throwing up from the grotesque sight of the dissolved food sloshing around his stomach, and he quickly becomes tired due to an understandable difficulty sleeping, what with transparent eyelids and whatnot.

These troubles, however, serve mostly as little inconveniences as he otherwise just tries to evade his pursuer.  Such a simple plot makes this virtually indistinguishable in nature from other such stories with a man on the run, and in the end it feels like there’s a lot left unexplored in Halloway’s story.

The movie will end with him vanquishing the bad guy, thus a happy ending, but it never offers any reason to think he will ever turn visible again.  It’s an amusing final note, subversive in a way since it gives us the familiar sense of closure (kill the bad guy, get the girl) but refuses to tie up all the loose ends.  It’s also an ending that because of its casual horror stands out more than most happy endings, or even sad endings.  It’s its own kind of ending, more of a slapstick Chevy Chase joke than the final resolution of a true crime thriller.

Daryl Hannah plays Alice, Holloway’s love interest with whom he strikes up a conversation early in the film.  It’s a fairly rote romance, at least in terms of how it plays into the story, but I found it surprisingly effective.  Her character doesn’t have much to do beyond help out Halloway once or twice and then to be claimed by the villain so that Halloway may save her in the end.  Still, there’s a certain chemistry between them that I found surprising, if only because their character roles were established long before they were.  They populate the roles as expected, but there’s something else there, something like the wild side of the Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith characters in Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild.  It’s at least a wildness that gives weight to the unorthodox final ending and suggests these characters have what it takes to adapt to those new circumstances.

The other invisible man that first jumps into my mind is Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man (2000).  In that film a scientist turns himself invisible and quickly becomes a monster, literally raping and murdering people.  Though he does go mad, we’re led to believe that his new condition enables his worst impulses.  In Memoirs of an Invisible Man Halloway’s condition is nothing but a curse.  There’s a discussion of some of the positives, but for the most part we just watch him become a ghost, hungry and haunted.  When he finally reaches out to Alice, he tells her how much he yearns just to be seen.  For a narcissist in particular to be seen is akin to breathing.

Up Next: Meet Joe Black (1998), Ponyo (2008), Das Boot (1981)

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