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Nick Powell was 13 when his dad died. Five years later he's about to graduate from high school and his mom's supposedly comforting words, "This doesn't change anything for you," are ringing more and more hollow all the time. Mom has become an impersonal force in his life urging him to make something of it. His teachers like him, but he feels, well, invisible around his friends and peers. Speaking of friends, his best one, Pete, isn't much of one, evidently. But Nick doesn't know that yet.
One night, falsely accused of snitching on a hoodlum girl (Annie) in his class, Nick is beaten severely and left for dead in the woods. When he shows up for class the next morning, he realizes that nobody can see him or hear him. He's a ghost. Can't you see "I'm dead!?" he yells futilely.
Determined to track down his own killer, Nick stalks Annie. And in doing so realizes that there's so much that he doesn't know, hasn't noticed and has been avoiding. Especially about her. He wants to live again, with a passion he's never before felt ... but his body's still lying in the woods.
Both Nick and Annie suffer greatly from the hole in their lives that's been punched by missing and neglectful parents. It's a stereotypical motivator, but within the context of The Invisible it's poignant, and it hints at how valuable parents are in the lives of their children—even when those children are already 18. Early on, Nick dreams of having his mother fully engage with him and with his life, showing us what could, and should, have been.
Getting to the bottom of why Annie is so troubled awakens compassion and understanding in Nick. As she gradually gains the ability to hear him and begins to help him, he also helps her. Ultimately, she risks her life and freedom for him. (Her methods are questionable, dangerous and sometimes illegal, though. More on that later.) Similarly, when Nick realizes for the first time that his mother has been struggling every bit as much as he has, he tries to reach out to her, too.
Annie longs to do "one good thing" with her life. And she warns her younger brother not to be like her.
Nick functions through most of the film as a spirit being who can roam around the world of the living but can't be seen or heard. It's implied that as Annie's heart softens, she alone is able to hear Nick. [Spoiler Warning] And it's further implied that she somehow gives up her life to save his. The rationale for all of this is never stated. Neither does the logic work. It's just the way things are. Thus, heaven, hell, God and the devil are never included in the supernatural equation.
It's obvious after the fact that Annie and her boyfriend have had sex. Nick and his girlfriend get hot and heavy on a bed at a party. Their clothes stay on, but it appears that they've been trying just about everything but intercourse. The camera catches non-explicit glimpses of Annie undressing to take a shower, then puts her bare back into an out-of-focus corner of the frame.
Models featured on huge posters displayed in a store window wear nothing but jewelry.
We watch as Nick is hit, pushed, shoved, kicked and otherwise beaten to a pulp by Annie and her buddies. To get the action started, they plow into him with their car. To end it, they toss his limp body into what looks like a sewer or water runoff access hole. We see lots of close-ups of his battered face in between.
Annie and her boys also accost Pete, hitting him and threatening him with a knife. (Annie cuts him with it, but we don't see how badly he's hurt.) Annie jumps on Nick in the school cafeteria and begins to punch him. Annie's boyfriend introduces guns to the game, so to speak, jamming one into Pete's chest, and pulling it on Annie, too. Pete responds in fear. Annie by lifting the barrel so that it points at her heart and daring him to pull the trigger. Later, Annie returns the favor, forcing her boyfriend to kneel near the edge of a cliff as she kicks at him and threatens to blow him away.
Nick's ghostly self initially reacts with a great deal of anger when he meets up with his mother and with Annie. And we see what he would have done to them if he had been able to affect the real world. Mom he grabs and shakes before trashing her home office. Annie he pushes off the roof of her apartment building.
Annie leads the police on a high-speed car chase. When cornered, she races right at the squad cars, ramming into them. While testing out his ghostly status, Nick throws himself in front of a car, is hit and tumbles over the top of it. A shootout results in fatal wounds. During several scenes Annie clutches a bloody bullet hole in her abdomen.
Annie viciously informs her father she'll kill him if he lets any harm come to her little brother.
Crude or Profane Language
Three or four s-words. Jesus' name is forcefully abused a handful of times. God's is mashed up with "d--n." Other scattered language includes "a--," "h---" and "b--ch."
Drug and Alcohol Content
In Nick's dream, wine bottles line the serving table at the party his mom throws for his graduation. She offers a toast. [Spoiler Warning] Using a glass of alcohol, Pete downs a bottle of prescription pills to try to kill himself.
Other Negative Elements
Annie is the very picture of a juvenile delinquent. She breaks a storefront window to steal jewelry. She breaks into school at night and into Nick's house. For his part, Nick is known for making money by doing other kids' homework. Before he's attacked, he has every intention of flying to London (and has already purchased a ticket) without telling his mom he's going.
Speaking of Mom and other adults, in The Invisible they're either absent, disinterested, obtuse or abusive. Even if the teens embroiled in their self-constructed mess had wanted to turn to someone, there would have been no one to turn to.
Soundtrack music is provided by the likes of Death Cab for Cutie, Kill Hannah, Suicide Sports Club, Broken Social Scene, and a band I've never heard of before called ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead.
Using atmospherics, pacing and dialogue that evoke the mood of a quintessentially melancholy rock song, The Invisible ostensibly preaches that death is the worst possible solution to your problems—whether it's you trying to kill yourself or someone else.
Like that rock song, though, not everything always makes sense. And there's enough ambiguity here to let moviegoers walk away with their own ideas about what they just saw and emotionally experienced. Examining a lyric from, say, AFI that reads, "Hey Miss Murder can I?/Make beauty stay if I/Take my life?" I might see it as pro-suicide. You might see it the other way around. The same thing happens onscreen. Nick opens the film with a dream sequence in which he picks up a gun, cocks it and puts it to his head. He spends the next hour and a half—awake, sort of—trying to keep himself from dying. It seems that once the reality of death actually hits him, he's all about avoiding it.
But as the story unfolds, there's plenty of evidence that death can go a long way toward showing everybody around you that they should've been nicer to you while you were alive—a dangerous thought process for someone thinking about the unthinkable.
"I saw the film starting out as a supernatural thriller, but then gradually evolving into a redemptive love story," director David S. Goyer says. "Playing with the whole idea of invisibility appealed to me. Being invisible, first of all, is a tremendous allegory for adolescence and growing up—because it's a time when you truly feel like nobody really sees or hears you. Nick is not only invisible but a kind of a ghost who is trapped in this privileged place where he can do something we all fantasize about—be a total voyeur, listening in on his friends' and family's most private conversations. Watching from this other space, he catches all the characters with their masks down and sees sides of them that nobody else ever sees. It happens with his mother, with his friend Pete and especially with Annie. And that builds on one of the story's biggest themes, which is that people tend to wear all these masks that keep others from seeing them for who they truly are."
We do need to figure out ways to tear off our masks and show our friends who we really are. And parts of The Invisible do point us in the right direction. Other parts, though, can be easily interpreted as romanticizing both teenage angst and the idea that death is a comforting release from the troubles life sometimes brings. Hey Miss Murder, can I make beauty stay if I soak up this film and the way it makes me feel?
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Justin Chatwin as Nick Powell; Margarita Levieva as Annie Newton; Marcia Gay Harden as Diane Powell; Chris Marquette as Pete Egan; Alex O'loughlin as Marcus Bohem