“And You Won’t Get Me”: ‘The Invisible Man’ (2020) and Bodily Autonomy 

Perhaps one day, The Invisible Man will only be an echo of the past.

The Invisible Man

“You won’t get the baby. And you won’t get me.” – Cecilia Kass, The Invisible Man (2020)

Content Warning: This piece discusses abuse, bodily autonomy, sexual assault, and abortion. 

Horror is a genre that inherently deals with themes of bodily autonomy—even if the theme of bodily autonomy is purely tangential. The fear of imposition and violation thrums through horror like blood through veins. It’s an integral part of instilling dread in the viewer. There’s nothing more terrifying than the thought of becoming a lab rat for a mad scientist, being kidnapped by a serial killer, possessed by a malevolent entity, or any other sundry unsavory obstacles one might encounter in the boundless world of horror.

However, in a world where many people’s human rights are being eroded away by politicians that don’t represent the needs of their constituents and push biased and regressive political agendas, real-life horrors are everywhere a person can turn. With the lack of separation of church and state, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the Supreme Court eyeing cutting down other legal protections including the Indian Child Welfare Act, minority groups are genuinely scared of losing their rights across the board. 

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One of the greatest powers the horror genre has is how it can relate to real life—no matter how bombastic some of the plotlines may seem. It can serve as a potent allegory so that people can understand the other better. Or it can bring comfort to those who relate to the characters. In times of real-life aberration and distress, horror is what keeps many people sane. In many ways, horror is a work of radical empathy. It’s always been a battle cry for the downtrodden and the outcast. It’s often questioned overall morality and societal ethics. There are some movies that speak to certain explicit issues better than others. The past ten years have seen a shift in the sort of movies that are produced. But they still share that common theme of autonomy.

In recent years, it’s undeniable that Leigh Whannell’s 2020 update of The Invisible Man is a film that champions the idea of bodily autonomy. It creates an important doctrine on why choice is an inalienable right. Whannell takes an old formula—the entitled destructive mad scientist—and crafts it into a pulse-pounding nightmare of a woman grappling for control. 

From the outset of the film, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) is engaged in a battle for control of herself. Her relationship with Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is abusive and all aspects of her life are micromanaged by him. The smallest details of what she eats and wears and says to others are dictated by him. She has, in all senses, lost her autonomy due to Adrian’s toxic need to possess someone. Cecilia is realistically languishing in the relationship and lives in terror of a man that society thinks is perfect. After all, Adrian is a scientific genius, rich, and handsome.

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His facade that he projects to the world is expertly crafted. As a way to gain even more control over Cecilia, he suggests that the two have a child. Naturally, this is Cecilia’s breaking point. She does not want to bring a child into an abusive relationship or be shackled to Adrian forever. Thus begins her planning her escape. But not before she secretly starts taking birth control behind Adrian’s back and bides her time until she can leave him. What Cecilia is experiencing is a textbook example of domestic abuse/intimate partner violence. The National Domestic Abuse Hotline defines domestic abuse/intimate partner violence as, “…a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.” 

When Cecilia finally does escape Adrian, she struggles to feel safe and is striving to gain a sense of self. The audience sees her go through simple motions to reassert her autonomy like buying new clothes, scheduling interviews, cooking meals, and engaging in simple tasks like fetching the mail. Her reprieve is of course short-lived. Despite clawing for her freedom from Adrian for years, the fight for her self-governance has only just begun. Soon after her escape, Adrian fakes his death and leaves Cecilia millions of dollars in the form of a trust. This act of monetary dominance is his in, and the start of his plan to recapture Cecilia. Cecilia’s new start spirals into a series of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder-ridden episodes. She begins to question her own perception of events and discern exactly what Adrian is doing. 

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The lengths that Adrian goes to in order to maintain his grasp on Cecilia are unnerving. But it’s not uncommon by any means. While Cecilia’s abuse is personal and not systemic, her anxiety and trauma don’t differ from how many people with the capacity for pregnancy feel in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision. Society has gone out of its way to try to maintain control over those who choose not to be fettered to outdated patriarchal ideals. It threatens those people’s rights as a scare tactic to attempt to curtail them and remind them who holds the power. They seek to punish people for asserting their right to bodily autonomy much like Adrian does Cecilia. 

The allegorical nature of bodily autonomy and choice does not stop at the idea of an oppressive systemic controlling nature of the government being like an abusive ex who seeks to possess and harm one. However, the notion of bodily autonomy in The Invisible Man goes further than simply Cecilia being able to make her own decisions and live for herself. One of the climactic points in the film is when Cecilia learns that she has been a victim of birth control tampering and is pregnant. Adrian actively sabotaged her birth control after he discovered she was taking it.

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 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists writes:

“Reproductive and sexual coercion involves behavior intended to maintain power and control in a relationship related to reproductive health by someone who is, was, or wishes to be involved in an intimate or dating relationship with an adult or adolescent. This behavior includes explicit attempts to impregnate a partner against her will, control outcomes of pregnancy, coerce a partner to have unprotected sex, and interfere with contraceptive methods.”

This form of sexual assault has only recently been criminalized in the United States and is finally being widely recognized as an abuse tactic. From there on out, the film explicitly explores the ideas of reproductive violence and coerced conception. 

This insidious type of intimate partner violence isn’t some dramatic plot twist. It in fact speaks to a daunting and horrific real-life example of a reason a person might need an abortion. Cecilia is facing another violation of her personhood and is being pressured by Adrian’s spineless brother Tom (Michael Dorfman) to keep the baby and go back to him. In other words, Cecilia is expected to submit to Adrian and consent to having a child she never wanted with a man who is, for all intents and purposes, a monster.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes a study published by Dominique Bourassa and Jocelyn Berube finds that “the prevalence of IPV was nearly three times greater for women seeking an abortion compared with women who were continuing their pregnancies.” Many people do not wish to bring a child into a dangerous situation. This is the opposite of the heartless caricature that anti-abortion advocates have used for decades to portray people who have abortions. 

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Viewers of The Invisible Man are well aware that Adrian is in the running for the world’s worst romantic partner. But he’s also a contestant for the world’s worst father. The fetus in question is only a pawn to Adrian, a means to continue his control of Cecilia. Pregnancy is truly an act of violence in this sense. Cecilia knows the baby is only a bargaining chip and in an effort to draw him out, she self-harms, telling him that he won’t get the baby, and he definitely won’t get her. This savvy moment works, and it betrays Adrian’s lack of care for the baby. He tosses Cecilia around and physically assaults her. That’s not something loving fathers and partners are prone to do. But his need to exert his control is much greater than the well-being of the child or Cecilia. 

Perhaps the boldest pro-choice statement is the ending of The Invisible Man because it leaves Cecilia’s fate as a mother unknown, up to Cecilia herself. Whannell himself doesn’t impose his will on the character. After Cecilia has finally bested Adrian she is able to make choices for herself and herself alone. She no longer has Adrian as an external influence. The ending of the film is satisfying as well as open-ended, handing the power over to Cecilia. Cecilia is importantly able to save herself and the ones she loves most. Killing Adrian was never a matter of revenge; it was a matter of survival, of freedom.

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She is now able to decide whether to have her baby or not. Subsequently, we the viewer can bring our own lived experiences, and make our own theories regarding Cecilia’s choices. But the decision still remains hers and hers alone. After all, that’s the entire point of the pro-choice debate: that the pregnant person gets the right to choose parenthood or not. It’s far from the insidious Satanic Panic theories and fear-mongering. It’s a deeply personal and multi-layered choice that is never as simple as it seems. And it is a choice that should only be made by the pregnant person. 

It’s natural when the world is on fire to turn to horror. Catharsis, as well as escapism, are crucial in turmoil. Empathy is built within the gristly sinew of horror. It’s about understanding one another better, about knowing our fears inside and out and watching them laid bare for our own mental feasting. The Invisible Man is no different. It is a well-made and beautifully wrought film, yes, but it is also a rallying cry—no—a scream. It is a scream that is primal, something that can be felt in the marrow of bones. The film demands respect for every person’s being, for their right to exist and make their own decisions.

In a reality where the lack of reproductive justice threatens the self-governance of us all, the film becomes bitterly pertinent. It encompasses the fear, the dread, the terror, and all the other raw emotions that come with the fight for true bodily autonomy. Perhaps one day, The Invisible Man will only be an echo of the past. But for now, it’s a reminder of a real and important fight. 

Author’s Note:

 If you enjoyed this piece please consider donating to the Kentucky Health Justice Network. I would greatly appreciate it! KHJN helps provide abortion access and gender-affirming care in the state of Kentucky, a state that has been greatly disenfranchised and gerrymandered by self-serving politicians. 

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