The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week on what could overturn Roe vs. Wade, the monumental court case that guaranteed women access to safe and legal abortions across the country. Opponents of Roe have been plotting a course for decades. It is no wonder this existential threat to a women’s right to choose has manifested itself in the horror movies of our day. Last weekend The Invisible Man opened with a massive 40 million dollar opening weekend. It’s success has guaranteed a litany of other universal movie monster remakes from Blumhouse and spawned a number of terrific and intelligent discussions regarding gaslighting, domestic violence, and how we listen to survivors. One particular detail of the movie seems to have gone a bit below the radar and bears some discussion. If you haven’t seen it yet, be warned there are spoilers below.
Spoilers for The Invisible Man
Leigh Whannell knows what the hell he is doing when it comes to torture. Its apparent this film is less about the physical torture of our protagonist and more about the emotional and psychological torture that comes along with abuse. Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) makes the brave choice to escape that abuse and in the first fifteen minutes we see all the planning it took for her to successfully escape. She hid money, and clothes. She drugged her abuser to buy herself a little more time, and finally she packed a go bag. On the top of her go bag is her birth control. It features prominently in the scene and as her ultimate reason for escape. She knew Adrian wanted her to have a baby. She also knew their was no escaping him if that happened. That she would be tied to him through the baby both emotionally but also legally if she stuck around. So she gets out. Whannell already tells us/shows us the most useful and important weapon against abuse is birth control. Its power in a pill and Whannell knows it.
The rest of the movie unfolds pretty much as the trailer portrays. He “kills himself”. She gets some of his money. He isn’t really dead and makes her life miserable. Its only after going to the hospital after fainting at a job interview that she learns she is indeed pregnant. The important development is two-fold here. First, it’s not that Cecilia doesn’t want a child. Hell, we never know her general opinion towards kids. Her interaction with the one adolescent in her life is certainly an affectionate one. Second, she doesn’t want a child with Adrian. She tells everyone that. She took great measures to achieve that. Adrian in one of his most diabolical acts replaced her birth control with a placebo. While he has a suit that makes him invisible he makes her in theory invisible by reducing her to her basic biological function. She made a choice only to have it removed by people with money and power. Starting to sound familiar?
Its not the only horror movie of late that has used the grotesque imagery of forced pregnancy to play up the fear factor. In a horrifying reveal at the end of Don’t Breathe we learn Stephen Lang’s (Go see VFW RIGHT NOW) character is keeping a young woman in his basement and is trying to inseminate her using a turkey baster. Obviously the crudeness of the device is what captures the audience’s attention buts its the dread of carrying a child to term (of our rapist or our abuser) that captures why these moments are so visceral. The Blind Man stops seeing the victim as a person and views her only through the lens of someone who can procreate. Removing the agency of a victim is a good way to justify abuse but its also an effective tool in keeping power.
As others have pointed out Rosemary’s Baby shares space with Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man as well. Remember it is only through the rape of Rosemary and the subsequent impregnation that she finds herself trapped. While pulpy and frankly not great the 1977 film Demon Seed takes forced impregnation to its logical extreme. The paradox of a mother who is both forced to bare her rapists child is readily apparent as the film has difficulty trying to convince the audience that Susan can be both a good mother to her child but also still be an effective protagonist against our monster, Proteus. Demon Seed doesn’t resolve this paradox and in many ways cops out of the discussion altogether with a trite ending that is in search of a sequel.
There are a litany of other movies that all use the same forced impregnation plot device not the least of which is the Alien Franchise which extends the privilege out to both sexes. However there is a certain level of forethought that goes into the act that is missing from the Alien franchise. If Kane knew that he was being impregnated and also that he existed in a world that would make him carry the chestburster to term it would only add to his panic and dread. The Weyland Corporation doesn’t have that kind of power yet in our world so forced pregnancy still exists as a fear unique to women. Rape and the stigma and the pregnancy that can stem from it has long been used as method of biological and psychological warfare. It is no wonder our horror movies have caught up to our horrific realities.
The difference in The Invisible Man and other movies that use this trope is who plays our villain. Its not a robot, or a alien, or the devil. Our villain here is a man of wealth and power. He uses his wealth to influence behavior and his power to clear the path. Adrian’s desire is to strip Cecilia of all her power and he starts with her privacy. It is not an accident Roe uses the right to privacy as one of the basis for the right to a legal abortion. Privacy is at the core of power. Adrian’s house is full of windows that help him see into the outside world and into Cecilia’s world. Camera’s in the house track her movement and record her choices so that he can replace them with choices he feel are better for her and him, and the baby he is forcing her to have. Its one more example of wealthy powerful men assuming control of female bodies. This time it was one man wearing an invisible suit. Next time it may be five of them wearing robes.
Tyler has been the editor in chief of Signal Horizon since its conception. He is also the Director of Monsters 101 at Truman State University a class that pairs horror movie criticism with survival skills to help middle and high school students learn critical thinking. When he is not watching, teaching or thinking about horror he is the Director of Debate and Forensics at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri.