Adaptational Analysis: Episode 3 – An Invisible Perspective

Of the original monsters adapted to the screen by Universal Pictures, The Invisible Man has proven one of the most enduring. H.G. Wells’ original science fiction novel in 1897 depicted a scientist named Griffin who went mad after turning himself permanently invisible.

Leigh Whannell’s 2020 thriller of the same name this time depicts an Invisible Man who is violent and obsessive from the beginning, adding to the villain’s terror while retaining the sense of mystery. The perspective shifts to his victims rather than himself, far less tragic but also more haunting. The Invisible Man of 1897 is a classic novel worth remembering.

Its 2020 adaptation portrays a frightening example of an abusive, stalking relationship being taken to its most extreme conclusion. Its exaggerated premise underlines a realistically haunting depiction of a narcissist gaslighting and isolating someone he wants to control at any cost.

Both versions of The Invisible Man frame the perspective from others reacting to the titular scientist, but the book gives more time with Griffin to learn his origins and motivation. His accomplices and enemies get to know him firsthand, as Thomas Marvel initially works for him out of fear, while Dr. Kemp receives his origin through conversation. The film, however, keeps Griffin in the shadows for most of the runtime, establishing him as a haunting presence who we know only through his actions.

As Cecilia, his former girlfriend and the protagonist of the movie, explains, “He said that wherever I went, he would find me, walk right up to me, and I wouldn’t be able to see him,” giving cause to her paranoia (Cecilia Kass, The Invisible Man, 2020). Cecilia’s emotional vulnerability highlights the very real danger she faces fighting an enemy she cannot see. The audience never knows where exactly Griffin is or what he is planning until Cecilia herself learns of it, increasing the viewer’s anxiety while waiting to see what the Invisible Man does next.

While both versions of the story emphasize the protagonist’s descent into madness, the book’s central focal point is the perpetrator of the story’s crimes, while the film presents a victim who slowly becomes more capable with each attack on her life and mental stability. Although both Griffin and Cecilia become paranoid and murderous as society turns against them, one goes mad out of desperation, as well as how his power amplified his natural human ego, “To [become invisible] would be to transcend magic. And I beheld, unclouded by doubt, a magnificent vision of all that invisibility might mean to a man—the mystery, the power, the freedom. Drawbacks I saw none.” (Wells, The Invisible Man, 1897).

Cecilia, meanwhile, turns to violence because of the conspiracy against her, but rather than the instigator of paranoia and mystery, she is their victim, facing doubt from friends and authorities before being forced to turn the tables on Griffin just to survive. The novel presents a man who succumbed to his own hubris, while the film depicts a woman who used her tormentor’s methods to reclaim her freedom.

Finally, the film takes the established narcissism of Griffin from the book and paints it in a realistic brush, that of a manipulative, abusive stalker. Cecilia admits at the beginning of the movie that “He was in complete control of everything, you know? He controlled how I looked, and what I wore, and what I eat… And eventually, what I thought” (Cecilia Kass, The Invisible Man). The book’s Invisible Man was more akin to a supervillain, a mad scientist entertaining delusions of grandeur out of spite, pride, and desperation.

The movie’s Invisible Man operates on a smaller scale, but the personal damage he deals to Cecilia, and the way it mirrors toxic, abusive relationships in real life, gives his horror an unparalleled level of intimacy. 2020’s The Invisible Man adapts the story from a pulp science-fiction mystery to a psychological thriller, keeping the key plot of one man’s hubris leading to madness and violence, but shifting the perspective onto his victims and showing the effect it has on their psyche.


Wells, H. G. (2021, October 16). The Invisible Man. The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Invisible Man, by H. G. Wells.

Whannell, Leigh (Director). (2020). The Invisible Man [Film]. Universal Pictures.

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