John Tells Liz What Happened In “The Host”
Remember when our friend John told us about “50 Shades of Grey“? What a good time that was! And now he’s taking on another bit of “Twilight”-adjacent storytelling. Because Hugh Jackman forbid we actually watch “The Host” ourselves.
First, a quick disclaimer: When I saw The Host, there were teenage girls in my theater and they were all laughing out loud at the same parts that made me laugh out loud, so while I usually try to go easy on movies for which I know I am not the target audience, I have no qualms with tearing into this one. Besides, The Hunger Games was my favorite film of last year, so maybe I am the target audience.
Believe it or not, I didn’t know that Stephenie Meyer was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it doesn’t surprise me in the least. LDS church members are compelled to get married very early in life and abstain from sex until marriage, unfairly burdening all their romantic decisions in high school with the weight of eternity. So it’s no surprise that Meyer’s characters routinely struggle with their hormonal impulses as this directly conflicts with the marriage vows that they will eventually be bound to until the end of time. No doubt her work connects with young people growing up in similar environments, but for the rest of us it gets really irritating.
Ironically, no one is as preoccupied with sex as people who have been taught that sex is evil or sinful, and that’s what makes Meyer’s characters so incredibly frustrating: No matter what’s happening, you’d be hard pressed to get them to think about anything but their hormones for five fucking seconds!
The Host is as much a science-fiction film as Twilight is a horror film. The alien invasion scenario is just another clunky metaphor used to take Meyer’s usual theme of “my subconscious says no but my inner goddess says yes” to new, ridiculously literal extremes. It is also a chore to sit through as it has no real structure or narrative trajectory. It just kind of starts then eventually stops when it thinks we’ve had enough. You get the feeling that it’s trying to speed through all the required moments from the book, and as a result no single scene is allowed to carry any dramatic weight.
And there’s no climax. The explosive final act is mostly just people standing around in one room chatting about god knows what. I got all excited when I saw images of a helicopter/car chase in the trailer but unfortunately none of that was saved for the final act. It all happens in the middle and it’s all boring. I was actually in awe of the skill with which the makers of this film could make almost anything boring.
An opening animation explains to us how an invading force came to Earth to occupy its inhabitants and “perfect” the planet. It is now many years after the initial invasion and they seem to have succeeded — there’s no global warming or poverty or violence and only a few outlying pockets of human resistance remain. Then we go right into a chase scene that really made me want to watch Hanna instead.
See those people in white? They’re possessed by the invading aliens, also called “Souls” — glowing jellyfish things that wrap around a human’s brain and make their host’s eyes glow. They’re really into corporate sterility — all their clothes are white, they all drive silver-chrome plated sports cars, and they all shop at the same store called “Store” where every product is of the same brand. (If you think there’s some kind of cultural critique going on here — perhaps an IKEA satire — I’m telling you right now, don’t get your hopes up.)
One category in which Souls are apparently not required to conform, however, seems to be shoes. I don’t know if you can see Diane Kruger’s shoes in that photo but they would put a leprechaun to shame. (Yes, Diane Kruger is in this, but don’t get your hopes up about that either — she doesn’t get to do much.) But their overall goal seems to be to make everything flat, sterile, and boring — making me wonder if this film was made after said invasion.
Our lead girl’s name is Melanie Stryder. Like other generic Stephenie Meyer names, this one sounds once again like it took about five seconds to come up with. (If Meyer wrote a Western about a prairie girl who can’t decide between two cowboys, maybe a good name would be… just give me a second… Clara Buckmaster!)
Melanie (Saoirse Ronan, trying to make the best of it) is trying to lead the aliens away from her brother, Jamie who is hiding under a table, so she leaps out of a window and falls a few stories. As she clings to life, the aliens take her to a special room to make her a host for a new Soul. To do this, they cut a little slit in the back of her neck and gently put the glowing jellyfish thing in there. If you’re wondering how — if human hands are required to put a Soul into a human body — this invasion began in the first place, I can tell you right now, you’re already putting more thought into the premise than the authors did.
After this is done, the newly implanted soul, named “Wanderer,” is taken to an interrogation room to be interviewed by “Seeker” (Diane Kruger). By retreading all of Melanie’s memories, Wanderer and Seeker hope to find clues as to where the last few human resistance members might be hiding out.
From this review session, we learn that Melanie has been on the run ever since her father took his own life to avoid capture, leaving her to look after Jamie. This is all relayed by Wanderer with cold detachment — until, that is, she gets to the memory where Melanie meets Jared…
Wanderer flushes. Her heart jumps into her mouth. Her breathing accelerates and she starts to feel a pinch down there. What’s going on? Seeker explains to Wanderer that these humans are different from any of the creatures on the numerous other worlds that they’ve inhabited. They have… physical urges… But as they’re about to discover, this one is different. This one is going to change everything. Because of all the human hosts that have been taken over by Souls (must be about six billion or so by now), not one of them — not one! — has ever, ever thought about boys as much as this one!
In further flashbacks, we get a glimpse of Melanie’s life just before her capture, which was spent hanging out in a trailer in the middle of nowhere with Jamie and Jared. At night, Melanie and Jared would sit on a beat up old couch in the middle of a pasture and make out. All that’s missing is a 12-pack of Milwaukee’s Best.
In stark contrast to the cold, alien-infested world, these memories are offered up as humanity in its ideal state — which doesn’t make you care very much about who will eventually win. It’s no surprise that for Meyer, the epitome of human existence = making out in a trailer all day long.
Around this time, the internal dialogue starts. That is, Wanderer is constantly being yelled at by the echoing voice of Melanie inside her head. Wanderer will do or say something, then we’ll hear Melanie’s voice scream something like, “Okay, you did not just do that!” If that sounds annoying to you, trust me, it is. I’ve always maintained that any movie with a significant amount of internal dialogue won’t work and this movie just proves my point. I can honestly see it working really well in book form, but for a movie it’s kind of a cop-out. There has to be a better way to present their bickering, cinematically. Why can’t Melanie have a memory warehouse?!
Eventually, Melanie gets enough control over Wanderer to engineer an escape by making their car crash in the desert. Then Wanderer wanders the desert while Seeker… seeks. (Amazing how the souls just happen to have names that predict what they will do for most of the movie.) Eventually, Melanie/Wanderer is found by the resistance, which is hilariously comprised almost entirely of hunky teenage boys, including her long lost love, Jared.
They take her to their cave hideout inside an extinct volcano, which is where most of the rest of the movie takes place, unfortunately. When word spreads that there’s an alien in their camp, a group of hunky boys band together to try and kill Melanie/Wanderer but their wise leader, Jeb (William Hurt) stops them because, according to Jeb, this is the first time an alien has possessed one of their own. You might find it hard to believe that no one in the resistance has ever known anyone who was taken over by the invading aliens that they are so desperately fighting, but it doesn’t matter — as long as Melanie is the center of everyone’s attention.
So they decide to keep Wanderer around for a while in the hopes that Melanie is still in there somewhere (we the audience already know she’s in there thanks to her ceaseless internal protests). Jeb gives her a tour, showing her the underground river where they get fresh water and their underground wheat field — lit by an elaborate system of mirrors that deflects sunlight into the chamber. Wanderer is in awe of this and starts to think maybe the humans deserve to be treated with more respect — becoming the first alien ever to question their systematic enslavement of an entire species. Okay…
Somewhere around here, that car chase happens, and it all starts when Jeb sends some young resistance members out on a dangerous mission to the “Store” to get supplies. That’s right: Even though he just spent all that time bragging about how they have their own food and water supply, he still has to send kids deep into enemy territory to get food and water.
Even better is the way the Souls finally spot them. Seeker knows that the cargo truck Jared’s friends are driving must belong to the resistance because…it’s breaking the speed limit. Why, if their species always follows the speed limit without question, would they drive silver-chrome-plated Lotus Evoras? Why, if they came to earth to save the planet from its inhabitants and stop global warming, would they drive gas-guzzling sports cars? Did they outfit them with some kind of clean, alien technology? You would think Andrew Niccol — who wrote The Truman Show, directed Gattaca, and gave us one of the coolest opening credit sequences of all time — might have put a little more thought into this, but I got nothing.
The music and sound effects during the car chase are muted, and I can see how Niccol might be trying to create a feeling of inevitability and hopelessness, but it’s really just boring. And the way it ends had me saying, “Wait… Wzhat?” The kids driving the truck — surrounded with nowhere to go — decide that they’d rather die than be captured and assimilated, so they crash the truck into a wall. But to get to this wall, they must first drive a good 500 feet or so past the surrounding vehicles…and they do…easily… Maybe they weren’t as surrounded as they thought? Oh, well, too late, they’ve already decided. Also, is it really necessary to kill yourself? Based on what we’ve seen so far with Melanie and Wanderer, it’s clear that the aliens can be negotiated with. I’d take my chances with being a host!
While all this is going on, Melanie and Wanderer, together in their one body, have some very tough decisions to make about boys. Jared still lusts after Melanie, but one of his friends, Ian, has taken a liking to Wanderer. He likes that she’s a 1000-year-old alien, she’s traveled to many different planets, and her host body is pretty cute! Meyer sure does love her centuries-old characters in teenage bodies.
Wanderer confesses her mutual affection for him, but there’s a problem: Melanie still likes Jared. “This body loves him, and since this body loves him, so do I,” she says, “But I like you!” (Actual dialogue.) Whenever Ian tries to make a move on Wanderer, Melanie’s inner voice screams in protest, prompting Ian to ask Wanderer, “Is there any way Melanie could give us a little privacy?”
Yeah… Hey, Ian…call me a prude, but maybe you shouldn’t have sexual designs on someone’s body when you’re not sure who’s behind the wheel. That’s kind of…rapey?
Later, Wanderer starts freaking out because Melanie’s inner voice has gone silent. We the audience are relieved, but Wanderer is worried that Melanie might disappear all together. The solution? Ian must make out with her so that Melanie’s voice will be compelled to flare up in protest. Here we get some of Meyer’s trademark sadomasochism: “Kiss me like you want to get slapped!” They make out, but it’s not working, so Ian gets an idea — maybe if she makes out with Jared, Melanie will come back. This feels even more icky as now they’re just passing Melanie’s body around from one guy to another, but I guess it’s for her own good, right?
Meanwhile, Seeker gets captured by Jeb and taken to their compound for surgery. See, the resistance doctors have been trying to figure out how to remove Souls from human hosts, but the hosts always end up dying in the process. This infuriates Wanderer — you’re not doing it right, gah! It has to be done gently and lovingly! So she demonstrates by gently removing the Soul from Diane Kruger, who wakes up safe and sound, back to her old self again…and that’s the last time we see her. So much for that character! (Getting rid of the lead villain before the third act has even started does not bode well for this movie or any movie.)
But what to do with Seeker? Wanderer explains that the Soul must first be put into this metal bedpan-looking thing…
And taken to… this place, whatever it is…
Where the Soul will then be magically be transported to another planet. Okay… Should they also include a little note to the inhabitants of that planet that says, “Fuck you”?
Now we get into the riveting third act, which is basically one long, boring conversation about Soul-removal surgery. Now that Wanderer has showed them how to properly remove a Soul, she wants them to remove her from Melanie’s body so that Melanie can be herself again. Ian is naturally upset about this, but Jared is of course thrilled. So they put Melanie’s body to sleep and it looks like that’s it for Wanderer…until, that is, she wakes up again — in a new body!
Melanie, back to her old self, explains to Wanderer that this host human was in a coma — on the verge of death anyway — so they decided to put her in there to save the host’s life. (The host is also, coincidentally, a cute teenage girl. Convenient!) Is that ethical? Who cares — the point is that now Jared can be with Melanie and Ian can be with Wanderer. That’s right: Meyer has solved the love triangle problem by literally splitting her main character into two separate people.
Then in an epilogue, Melanie, Wanderer, and company are stopped at a Soul-controlled roadblock. But the Souls let them pass because as it turns out, they aren’t the only humans with alien girlfriends/boyfriends. Humans are dating aliens and aliens are dating humans, so everything is going to be okay!
I just… I can’t. I’m done.
Posted on April 16, 2013, in All the Spoilers, Movies, Other People Telling Liz Stuff and tagged Andrew Niccol, john tells liz, man I can't stop bringing up Twilight, Stephenie Meyers, The Host. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.