How The Invisible Man Channels the Original Tale

Director Leigh Whannell reveals the connection between his version of The Invisible Man and the source material.

The Invisible Man
Photo: Universal Pictures/Blumhouse

It was in 1897 when H.G. Wells–known as the father of modern science fiction–published his novel The Invisible Man. In that book, a scientist named Griffin discovers a way to render himself invisible while experimenting with the refraction of light. Already an unstable personality, Griffin becomes even more unhinged through his work and decides he wants to use his invisibility to enact a literal “Reign of Terror” upon England.

The sociopathic, narcissistic aspects of the character, along with the name Griffin, were retained when director James Whale (Frankenstein) brought a faithful version of Wells’ novel to the screen in 1933 as one of the original Universal Monster movies. In the film, however, Griffin (played brilliantly by Claude Rains) does not just want to subjugate his homeland, but the entire world.

In writer-director Leigh Whannell’s new update of the classic tale, the Invisible Man’s (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) ultimate plans for his optic technology remain a mystery, but in the movie, he uses them for one reason: to destroy the life of Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), the woman who summons the courage to escape his clutches after three years of an abusive, domineering relationship that left her traumatized and shattered.

The name of the Invisible Man is, once again, Griffin, and in our video interview below, Whannell tells us that he did refer back to both the novel and Whale’s 1933 film for inspiration.

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“I did [go back] a little bit to the original source material,” Whannell explains. “I tried to avoid all the subsequent iterations of any invisibility, any movies. I avoided all that, but I did go back to the source material, the novel and the original film.”

Whannell says that aside from using the name Griffin as a nod to the original, he found the source material insightful in other ways: “There’s a reason why characters stick around for a long time,” he explains. “There’s something about them that resonates with the popular imagination. We want that power. We want to be invisible. It’s a superpower. It’s like the power of flight.”

He adds, “That’s what I took from the book, and the way I kind of shoehorned it into my story was to say that this individual is a malignant narcissist. He was already that way. So you give that personality this power, what’s going to happen? This is not someone who became a monster through invisibility. This is someone who was a monster.”

Making his version of Griffin already a deeply disturbed personality, with the power of invisibility only enhancing what was already there, draws a direct connection to Wells’ book and the 1933 film. And calling the character Griffin only solidified that. “Yeah, that was definitely interesting to go about that way and wanting to have that nod,” says Whannell. “With all the character names, nothing is offhand. ‘Cecilia’ means blind. So that was something that I wanted to get into the script, and all the character names have some meaning towards who they are in the movie.”

The Invisible Man is out in theaters now.