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I want to shed a little light on a rare gem my wife found at the dollar store the other day, and if you’ve not heard of it, don’t worry, because by its very name, it doesn’t get a lot of notice. I am talking about the 2010 film Griff the Invisible.
Set in Australia and starring Ryan Kwanten as Griff, this film is set up as kind of a “pseudo-superhero story” that is played as a low-key comedy about a guy who works in an office by day and performs acts of super heroics at night. At least that’s how the movie starts, but as you peel back the layers of Griff’s life, you realize that calling him “socially awkward” is being very generous. Griff is, by all standards, socially malfunctioned. He can’t communicate really with his co-workers, is the victim of constant harassment at his job by Tony, played very punchably by Toby Schmitz, and really only has social interactions with his brother Tim (Patrick Brammall). It’s through his interactions with Tim, however, that we see layers peel away at Griff’s superhero persona. When Griff is alone, he can access this incredible crime-fighting setup including a bank of computers to monitor crime and even has a direct line via a red phone to the police commissioner. Through his early interactions with Tim, however, it’s made clear that Griff has gotten into trouble with his super heroics before. Tim cautions him that he needs to keep grounded in “reality,” but then goes on about this young woman he’s been seeing. Tim is very caught up in himself and when you see him with who he calls his “new girlfriend” Melody, it’s clear that the attraction is very one-sided and Melody is basically keeping Tim around to keep her mother off her back.
Melody (played wonderfully by Maeve Dermody) is another awkward individual, though slightly more socially adept than Griff, who is working on a theory that she can pass through walls. The first time we meet her, she bangs her head into a wall trying to walk through it. As we get to know her she comes across as incredibly clumsy, falling out of a chair while at dinner with her parents and Tim.
Tim takes Melody to meet Griff, much to Griff’s initial dismay, as he doesn’t like unannounced visitors. Melody is almost instantly smitten with Griff as they share many similar personality quirks, and this immediate connection is completely lost on Tim.
As the story moves forward, and spoilers ahead, we see a shift in perspective on Griff’s superhero antics as it’s taken less from his perspective and moves towards how others see it and we realize that Griff’s superhero persona is a dangerous fantasy he has playing in his own head. Griff’s attempt to up the ante on his arsenal has him create an “invisibility” suit which he thinks works perfectly and is presented as working as such, until the lights are flicked on and he is spotted immediately by a janitor. The viewer is left to assume at first that the chemicals he used to make the suit just wore off…but then we get CCTV footage showing he was always visible.
Again, this is the first crack in the armor of Griff’s fantasy and it soon shatters around him. He’s fired from his job because of pretty severe pranks he plays on Tony, and those pranks result in Tony having a random goon beat Griff mercilessly. Griff’s mind begins to break and what his brain interprets as mass chaos in the city is actually just a panic attack he’s having. His costumed antics have been noticed by the local police which results in a sting to capture him. What he saw as being a hero was actually him being a prowler. He’s taken into custody but let go on the authority of the chief of police because he hadn’t broken any actual laws.
Melody aids Griff by giving him an “invisibility” suit and a mission to “rescue the police commissioner.” Tim chastises her for this because while he’s been trying to break the fantasy, she is playing into it by giving him something to do as a hero without actually getting himself into trouble. She explains that she and Griff see the world differently and while it may not be real to normal people, to her and Griff it is, and that there is merit to what they do, even if that merit is only seen by them. Unfortunately as you do with romantic comedies, Griff only hears part of her speech and assumes that she’s making fun of him, resulting in him spiraling into depression and destroying all his props that he used to represent his superhero equipment.
Griff returns to Melody, having dinner with her family much like Tim did in the start of the film, and she is made miserable at the sight of “normal” Griff. She rejects the notion of normality and the two argue at his apartment, with him left crying inside and her crying on the outside. Suddenly she phases through the wall, falling back into the apartment and this sparks a revival not only of their shared fantasy, but of their love for each other.
We cut to sometime in the near future as Griff and Melody are living together and a package is dropped off. Inside are special goggles that “allow” Melody to see Griff while he’s invisible (so they don’t have to put a hat on him). We cut to outside and see that it was Tim that dropped off the package, now in a relationship with a character he was connected to in the start of the movie.
So obviously Griff’s superhero stuff is all fantasy from our perspective but what about Melody’s phasing ability? We’re never told how that worked, if she was able to actually pass through solid matter or if she really is just clumsy. The only two times we see this ability in all its fantastic glory is once when she’s at home by herself, and at Griff’s door. Honestly when watching the film I thought it was just a matter of the door came open and she fell in, that the ability was all in her head, but we’re never given a clear answer by the film…and maybe that’s for the best.
I mean I still believe it’s all in her head, that this is an elaborate fantasy constructed by two people who need it to handle living in reality, and it’s not actually that weird. A 2010 Harvard study showed that at least half the population day dreams. Factor into that escapist entertainment like books, television, movies, internet access on smart phones (ones you might be using right now) and the idea of going to an outside source to deal with the harshness of reality isn’t that weird. Most anthropologists and scholars would agree that people have been having fantasies to deal with reality since the dawn of mankind. Melody and Griff just happen to go that next step and use physical objects and play through adventures to flesh out their fantasies. Especially with the superhero movie boom that hit cinemas starting all the way back with Blade in 1998, it’s not hard to imagine people stuck in a mundane life imagining themselves as heroes. We are all, after all, the heroes of our own stories.
Going even further into the film itself, its all about people and their fantasies. Tim exists in the fantasy realm that he and Melody are in a relationship. Melody's parents exist in this fantasy that their daughter has a healthy social life, Tony exists in the fantasy that he's the stud of the office, even the police inspector who capture's Griff has this fantasy that he's completely in charge when one phone call from the chief undermines all the work he did no his case. Some of the people who call Griff out on his fantasy can't break from their own personal fictions.
To have that ambiguity leaves something strictly between Griff and Melody, just as every couple has something that is just between them. Tim is kind of in on the secret, but ultimately even he is denied knowledge of her “phasing abilities”, which means that Tim isn’t allowed to know their intimate details, and he shouldn’t be. Griff’s relationship with Melody is a healthy one, even if by most standards it’s not conventional.
During Melody’s speech to Tim about how Griff’s super heroics may actually help people, I was first thinking about how she keeps talking about alternate realities, and that maybe while just play acting in our world his actions may be carrying over into another reality. That was my theory, but I think it’s much more likely that Griff’s antics actually help HER deal with who she is. Griff being who he is makes her more comfortable with whom she is, and in the end they bring out the best in each other. She keeps him safe and he frees her.
There could be a lot alluded here to Autism Spectrum Disorder (i.e. Asperger’s) and seeing grown people dealing with the way their unique brains perceive reality and the struggles they encounter and if you get that from this film, I’m happy for you. I don’t think that’s the only thing you should take away from the film, however. It’s there, and it’s a great message, but it’s at its core a beautiful, quirky love story, and it should definitely be seen for that as well.
I highly recommend checking this movie out if you get a chance.
Thanks for reading.
“Griff the Invisible” is a product of Green Park Pictures and Distributed by Transmission Films Paramount
“Blade” is a product of New Line Cinema in association with Marvel Comics (now owned by Disney)
Special thanks to my gorgeous wife Talitha for introducing me to this movie.