By Pedro Schwarzenegger
The newest ongoing contributor to Movie Show Plus. Pedro Schwarzenegger is a true Northman. A savage man in a savage place and time. His taste in cinema? Savage. And yet he does all his writing on an iPhone, like some kind of candy-ass millennial. PedroSchwarzenegger@cinemabuse.com
With a new version of "The Invisible Man" hitting theaters on Friday, February 21st, Pedro takes a look back at 2000's Paul Verhoeven-directed "Hollow Man," starring Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin and Kim Dickens.
“The movies make us into voyeurs. We sit in the dark, watching other people's lives. It is the bargain the cinema strikes with us, although most films are too well-behaved to mention it." - Roger Ebert’s review of Peeping Tom (1960)
It is my, admittedly rudimentary conjecture, that almost all art exists to get women out of their clothes. My guess is that Adam, after eating the forbidden fruit and fashioning banana leaves into skivvies for his wife and he, painted the first crude strokes of Eve on a cave wall in a mad bid to remove her under-foliage for one more peek. The male artist is the consummate voyeur, pathetic and leering, ever the opportunist flying visibly under the masquerade of culture and erudite elitism. Imagine the brute he would become if he shirked off the corporeal carapace altogether?
The average man thinks about sex once every seven seconds. The invisible man? Nothing else. Which is why in the collection of Universal Monsters "The Invisible Man" is the most frightening monster of them all, for he’s simply an ordinary man, unbitten and uncursed, at the mercy of his newly unbridled libido, and loosened from all risk of consequences. (also, he’s essentially a nude dude just hanging out in your home) Indeed, a deviant demon hides inside man. Which is why God hobbled him with a material form.
Enter Paul Verhoeven - auteur and randy old Dutchman - slinking into the realm of film for the skin the medium provides him (E.g. co-ed showers in "Starship Troopers" and nearly all of "Showgirls"). I’m not saying the man doesn’t have vision - I’m saying he might have had too much. The subject of ‘the invisible man’ was just too provocative for the provocateur to ignore. The promise of celebrity skin too insistent with this subject matter. “I’m an artist.” He told the world. “Now pop that expensive bra off.” To which David Lynch chimed in: “I too am a man of art, and those panties are studio property.” Which is the creative, CG-contaminated cesspool where 2000’s "Hollow Man" found its first sparks of life in.
Make no mistake, Kevin Bacon’s swinging schlong in John McNaughton’s "Wild Things" was a watershed moment for dick in cinema. We simply weren’t prepared for its size. Much like the shark in "Jaws," we assumed it must be of some scale, but until we saw it rear its head from the greasy chum we hadn’t realized how totally unprepared we were for the haul of this leviathan. As an audience, we collectively took one look at Kevin’s bacon and eggs in "Wild Things" and thought: Denise Richards and Neve Campbell are going to need a bigger boat...
1998’s "Wild Things" was essentially Bacon’s self-tape audition for Verhoeven’s "The Invisible Man" remake, "Hollow Man." The Dutch voyeur needed a relentless protagonist, but one camouflaged behind a teenager’s cocky charisma. Definitely one packing a seal club in his boxer briefs. So that for the entire time his villain mixed company with Kim Dickens and Elisabeth Shue, they would naturally relax their en garde position, while we in the audience couldn’t help but be anxious concerning the size of the stinger this WASP kept curled against its abdomen. Kevin Bacon fit that grocery list. The actor “had the goods.”
Verhoeven opens his film illustrating the contradictory duality of the day-to-day struggles of Sebastian Caine. He’s a man with two obsessions. First, he’d love to crack the genetic riddle of re-corporeality, and create the first transparent matter that can re-materialize. Second, he’d love it if his neighbor across the street (Rhona Mitra) would leave her blinds open for just a half a minute longer while she changed clothes. This is a scientist that understands the gravitational pull of the feminine figure. This is a director who understands it as well. Sebastian doesn’t want to look, yet the alternative is simply past his innate capabilities. Paul Verhoeven orchestrates this internal war of character shrewdly, so that we never call into question just who the Peeping Tom in this scene actually is. Namely he and we, both umbilically connected by camera - if indeed we are being honest with ourselves. "Hollow Man"’s bawdy opening is openly advertising more lurid subject matter to come, and if we were quality people we’d leave the film at this junction. But we are not quality people.
Within these internal discords of science and surveillance the director is insinuating that one of Sebastian Caine’s core infatuations probably has had a direct influence on the other. That they aren’t conflicting at all. A buxom exhibitionist of Mitra’s formidable build can give even the most temperate man a flurry of wild ideas. Invisibility probably topping the list. The troubling aspect of Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man is that he’s game to explore the rest of those ideas - at criminally perverse depth.
When Dr. Caine decides to take the scientific leap, and inject himself with his own invisibility formula, he disrobes in front of his two female assistants, (Dickens and Shue) and proudly says: “Ladies, please, this is science.” The two women check out his package, look at each other, and grin like kindly idiots. It’s a small step for Kevin Bacon’s ego, even as he makes the next big scientific leap for mankind. Though the film tries to dismiss his later acts of moral regression and sexual aggression as some sort of virulent side effect of his experimental serum, don’t buy that bullshit for a second. We have the suspicion that Sebastian Caine is driven mad simply because, being invisible, he can no longer see his penis. Which means nobody else can either, and outside of his genius intellect, his big dick was the centerpiece of his presentation as a valuable human commodity. A fat, free-balling signpost that proclaimed that he is our genetic superior in all the ways that count to a man.
Exterior to the phallic preoccupation of the piece there’s a sincere affection for H.G. Wells 19th century science fiction schlock in Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation of The Invisible Man. Invisible apes. Thermal vision goggles. God complexes. Science run amok - mainly through escalating acts of carnal depravity. Within mere hours of waking up from the treatment the good doctor has greedily goosed two of the women on his medical team and has exposed and molested one of Kim Dickens’ breasts while she lay sleeping. Soon the women in the lab are wearing heat-vision goggles to use the restroom. As Janice Walton (Mary Randle) says, “The whole thing gives me the creeps. I can’t even take a piss without wearing my thermals.” If only she knew that it wasn’t just Dr. Caine she needed to be worried about following her into the bathroom, but Verhoeven’s insatiable camera and us right along with it.
Elisabeth Shue’s Dr. McKay earlier admits that, “the concept of Sebastian is much more appealing than Sebastian himself.” Meaning the pursuit of invisibility is a concept more substantial than the character cloaked under it. In fact, it may be the intention behind entitling this remake "Hollow Man." This man is secondary to the state of himself, and invisibility bears a foreign form of free will all its own. Sebastian’s a vehicle that Paul Verhoeven means to give us a ride around in, unseen. Very much like Sebastian’s turbo-charged Porsche, "Hollow Man" is an expensive, flashy (in more ways than one) film that’s compensating for a general lack of manhood. As I stated earlier, artists can be a pathetic and leering breed of men, yet they do their work in the full light of day under total authority of their commissioners. Think of this version (or perversion if you will) of "The Invisible Man" as a sixty-year old man behind the wheel of an overpriced sports car, with a vanity license plate that reads: NOPECKR. Which is the salient reason Paul cast Kevin Bacon as his penile surrogate.
We watch as Dr. Caine grows increasingly more plastered on his own power, raping and killing at will, until, like a rabid dog, he has to be put down. We need Sebastian Caine to degenerate into a depraved ghoul and face his mortal comeuppance if, for no other reason, than to convince ourselves that we harbor no formal responsibility for his heinous behavior. We were simply gazing across the street through an unimpeded window. Ogling from afar if you will. And yet it just might be Paul Verhoeven who has found himself corrupted by his subject this time out. He’s gone beyond the pale of sexually complacent filmmaking, though I doubt he’s openly advocating rape, he seems enchanted by modern sexual politics (as they were in the carefree, pre-#Metoo days of the early Oughts) reset by the scientific miracle of invisibility.
Forgive the shameless pun, but "Hollow Man" may be the filmmaker’s most transparent work. We get the feeling that these are the extremes he believes most men are capable of if given the opportunity (Greg Grunberg’s medical assistant, Carter Abbey openly reads skin mags in the laboratory). He believes it because he’s pseudo indulging in it himself, purely as a serial exhibitionist with a stable of willing, and well-paid starlets in his purview. In that respect "Hollow Man"’s integrity might be called into question. It certainly feels exploitative, though I doubt anyone would accuse the picture of being dishonest.
Inside Paul Verhoeven’s inflated superego, the power of the cock is an interior thermonuclear reactor, running mostly in the red both day and night, capable of compromising even the most ethical among us men - including Paul himself. Combined with our intrinsic promiscuity, and a radical departure of consequence, the results can be terrifying. In that respect "Hollow Man" is a horror film, for we grow increasingly mortified by how willing we are to engage in what feels like an exercise in gross consent. That Verhoeven is even conscientious enough to publicly concede this catastrophic defect in his species - in himself - gives "Hollow Man" a tangible gravity I doubt its many emotionally-compromised detractors (28% RottenTomato-meter) had enough bearing to engage with. To engage with themselves honestly with.
Is it a good film? I believe it has aged well even though the culture around it hasn’t (CG effects are a dismal cheat, and will never age well). It’s themes are as surrealistic as they are indulgent and superficial, and yet wickedly compelling if we explore them strictly from the perspective of a voyeur. Voyeurism feeling like the misdemeanor criminal charge here.
To say the film’s sexual politics are outdated now is a lie. That’s just wishful thinking, and it’s the reason why the new adaptation of "The Invisible Man," directed by indie wunderkind, Lee Whannell, is taking a more diffident approach altogether. The protagonist in "The Invisible Man" (2020) seems preternaturally driven to gaslight females. The new “terror” in our terminally flaccid social paradigm. Which honestly seems like a distortion when compared to the rough pulp of Verhoeven’s picture.
At the bare minimum "Hollow Man" has the gall to be the nietzsch-ean looking-glass, reflecting man back into himself. The film asks difficult questions even while it probes for difficult answers. Free will without ramifications is too alien a concept to try to wrap your head around with any sense of clarity and truth, for it is the path to true damnation. We men don’t know ourselves without the risk of consequences dictating the terms of our decisions, and we don’t want to know. For he is not us, and he is also us on the road to hell.
If art exists to get women naked, then "Hollow Man" aims to chastise the artist, the subjects, and the audience for willingly cooperating with its ceremonial disrobing. "Hollow Man" induces the viewer to feel both kinds of dirty. The kind of dirty that makes you want to take a shower. And the kind of dirty where you want to surreptitiously watch someone else take one.
Check back on Friday, February 20th, 2020 for Pedro Schwarzenegger's review on the new "The Invisible Man" starring Elisabeth Moss and Aldis Hodge.
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