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SYFY WIRE the invisible man

How pregnancy is wielded as a weapon in The Invisible Man and The Handmaid’s Tale

By Emma Fraser
The Invisible Man

On the surface, actress Elisabeth Moss provides the obvious link between The Handmaid's Tale and The Invisible Man. In both recent adaptations, she plays a woman who is trying to escape the clutches of a powerful man.

One is set in a dystopian landscape, in a world in which conceiving a child is now harder than ever. In Gilead (formerly the United States), fertile women have forcibly become child-bearing slaves referred to as "handmaids." Assigned to families of the powerful, each handmaid is compelled to take part in a monthly event called the Ceremony. This ritualized rape is one of the many horrors committed against women under the umbrella of duty to Gilead and God to benefit society. The handmaid has no choice in the clothes she wears, the words she speaks, and even the thoughts she thinks.

In Leigh Whannell's 2020 adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic novel of the same name, Moss as Cecilia goes through a similar ordeal — as both stories reveal the lengths abusive men will go to and how pregnancy is wielded as a weapon against women.

Spoilers ahead for The Invisible Man.

The Handmaid's Tale

The Invisible Man is a story that has been adapted multiple times for film and television, beginning in 1933 with the Claude Rains-starring interpretation. The scientist driven mad by his creation is a classic archetype, but Leigh Whannell has switched up the motive for the titular character. A chemical has not turned him into a murderer; rather, he was always abusive. The tech mogul used his scientific prowess to create a suit that would allow him to control his ex-girlfriend Cecilia even after she escaped his fortress-like home and he had faked his death.

In the original Wells novel, the scientist Griffin is already insane, having created the chemical to aid his lust for power, whereas Claude Rains as Jack Griffin cuts a slightly more sympathetic figure; before testing the drug on himself, it is revealed he was ambitious but loving. His fiance Flora (Gloria Stuart) sticks by him despite the growing body count. Furthermore, at no point does he threaten her or is there any indication he was abusive in the past. In contrast, she briefly reminds him of the person he used to be. Instead of a cautionary tale centering on power and ego, Whannell delivers a timely depiction of domestic violence and an all-too-common real-life nightmare.

The Invisible Man

A tense opening sequence reveals just how difficult it is for Cecilia to leave the home she shares with Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Completely isolated, Cecilia has drugged her boyfriend to execute her plan. In her belongings, we see the Diazepam she is later dosed with, but the shot of the hidden box of contraceptives is also significant. Later, when she details the extent of what Adrian did to her — including controlling the clothes she wore, her schedule, and even the thoughts in her head — she strongly implies Adrian also raped her to get her pregnant. By taking birth control, she was trying to maintain the last semblance of control over her body and fate. It is only when she fears she can't maintain the secret that she puts her escape plan into motion.

At no point does The Invisible Man victim blame or suggest she should've left before it became this severe — but it does portray the way an abuser manipulates using physical and emotional methods long before he takes the extreme gaslighting steps via the suit that turns him invisible. Cecilia can't bear the thought of being tied to Adrian forever via a child, so she puts herself in great danger when fleeing at the start of the movie.

However, Adrian has always been one step ahead; not only does he have an extreme contingency plan that takes his method of control to a new terrifying level, but he has already discovered the contraceptive pill. He has replaced the contents with dummy medication, which is how Cecilia ends up with her greatest fear growing inside her. The Invisible Man depicts the horror of abuse, but it also examines the all-too-real prospect of weaponized pregnancy as a trap. How can she contemplate leaving him now that she is pregnant with his baby?

The Handmaid's Tale

In the TV adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale, June's pregnancy offers her some protection after she is caught attempting to flee Gilead. The baby isn't the product of rape — Commander Waterford is likely sterile — but from a consensual relationship with Nick (Max Minghella), but she has no rights to this child or its upbringing. Failure to get pregnant is also wielded against these women: This is their main purpose as a handmaid. Their fate is to either suffer through the Ceremony until it happens or get dispatched to the purgatory-like Colonies, where death awaits them. If they are successful, the baby will be given to the wife of the Commander and they will have to watch in the wings as someone else raises their child. Afterward, the whole process starts over.

To survive on the run in Gilead while pregnant is no easy task, as June discovers in Season 2, and while it prevents execution via hanging from The Wall, she is trapped once more. The precious cargo she carries gives respite from the Ceremony, but this is only temporary.

The Handmaid's Tale

The resistance taking place within Gilead is an underground operation that is dangerous for all participants. Not only is pregnancy used against the handmaids and future rebellion members, but the children they had before the world fell apart are also weaponized against them. June has the opportunity to leave with her baby at the end of Season 2, but instead chooses to stay to save her first child Hannah.

There are countless reasons why women don't leave their abusers, whether in a dystopian society like Gilead or a relationship such as Cecilia's. The repeat violation and the long-term ramifications are an effective form of silencing someone and keeping them in check.

The Invisible Man (2020)

When Cecilia asks "Why me?" to her invisible ex, she explains there is nothing left for him to take. She is an empty shell of the person she was, but his horrifying act of violence against her and the duplicitous nature of his pill replacement ensure there is still part of her that he has laid claim to. But as with June in The Handmaid's Tale, Cecelia fights with all of her strength to gain an inch of her life and body back.

In both roles, Moss delivers an incredible performance showcasing the depths someone will go to when everything they love and all that they are is on the line. Tragedy strikes for both women, and these stories are not without heartbreak, but when facing off against men like Adrian and Commander Waterford, Cecilia and June will not let their last piece of humanity be taken without a fight.