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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Stephenie Meyer has found a whole new way for teen girls to be conflicted about sex (The Host review)

The Host red light Saoirse Ronan

I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): not a fan of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

You can pick apart the hilarious science fiction-ish nonsense until– well, until actual aliens show up. If The Host’s invading flagelliform ET symbiotes are so very delicate and require, as appears to be the case, a massive infrastructure combined with careful handing in order to take over a human body, how did they manage to invade in the first place? Why do the aliens-in-human-bodies favor shiny sportcars if they never ever ever drive over the speed limit (because that would be antisocial)? If the aliens-in-human-bodies wanted to experience life on Earth, why did they do away with brands and advertising in favor of a Repo Man-style genericism? And if the aliens had no interest in the ridiculous and self-harming side of being human — they fixed global warming, apparently — why do they wear such stupid shoes?

These questions boggle, and it’s easy to get sidetracked by them, as I did myself. But even we geeks cannot avoid admitting that most of what passes for science fiction in the televisual realm is as rife with contradictions, idiocies, unscientific garbage, and rampant self-contradictions as The Host is.

So what makes this film extra risible? Is it the car chases that come to an abrupt halt because the plot requires them to (and not because, say, someone has irrevocably escaped capture or has crashed into a concrete wall)? Is it the human exceptionalism, which posits that we Earthers are beautiful and unique interstellar snowflakes for being generally way more in touch with our meatbags than all the much-less-angry and much-less-interestingly-horny ETs out there among the stars? Is it the fact that there are characters here named, without any hint of irony, Magnolia and Jebediah?

No. It is none of these. It is that novelist Stephenie Meyer — upon whose book this is based [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.], and who is a producer here — has hit upon all new fantasticalishly metaphoric ways (after she did the same with Twilight) in which a teenaged girl can be conflicted about her own sexuality and the experience of living in her own body. And not in any way that illuminates the sorry plight of girls in our culture. Instead of asking us to look anew at the human experience, as good science fiction does — hell, as all good fiction does — Meyer’s tale reminds us that if girls feel like their own bodies don’t even belong to them, this is a dysmorphia that is perfectly reasonable because, you know, their bodies don’t belong to them.

Does Melanie (Saoirse Ronan: Hanna, Arrietty) fight back when the filamentous alien who calls itself Wanderer is placed within her body, after Melanie has spent years on the run from the invaders but is finally captured? She does. What’s not so unusual, in the annals of science fantasy, is that Melanie turns out to be the rare human with enough spunk or spark or something to resist being completely subjugated, mentally and psychologically, by the symbiote now sharing her body. (Every genre hero is special, by definition.) What’s new and awful is that Melanie starts to get won over by Wanderer in a turn of events that is like the ultimate case of Stockholm Syndrome. Did Neo come to see that the Agents had the right way of things? Did Luke eventually realize that the Empire was a stabilizing force in the galaxy? Of course not. But Melanie “discovers” that it’s kinda cool to have your own alien BFF in your head — literally in your head, and in your body, and pretty much in control of everything you do, if perhaps accepting of some small tidbits of advice from you, screaming from a corner cupboard of your own mind.

Much much worse is that the film expects us to share in Melanie’s change of heart. The alien invasion of Earth is already fully accomplished as The Host opens. Billions of human beings have been, at best, tortured and tormented and wholly subjugated by alien possession, and, at worse, outright murdered. But then we’re meant to accept — as Melanie and a whole lotta other human survivors do — that “kindess and love” are things the aliens respond to, and are the way to get through to the aliens.

It’s such a spectacular example of tone-deaf awfulness that it scarely bears comprehending. And yet, this isn’t the worst The Host has to offer. Because on the way to this, Melanie/Wanderer, having found their way to a camp of human survivors — led by her uncle (William Hurt: Robin Hood, The Incredible Hulk); what are the odds?! — now war among themselves over which refugee-from-a-boy-band survivor they should be kissing. I’m so not making this up. Huge chunks of the movie, way more than one would expect from a story set at the end of civilization, concern themselves with mooning over Jared (Max Irons), whom Melanie met before she was captured, and Ian (Jake Abel: I Am Number Four, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief), whom Wanderer finds totally cute.

Look, just cuz it’s the apocalypse doesn’t mean you can’t have a dreamy teen romance or two, amirite? And just cuz you’re the heroine in a science fiction adventure doesn’t mean you can’t have a little voice in the back of your head telling you not to kiss the wrong boy.

If only there were the slightest hint of the subversive about this! But no. No decent girl could possibly like two boys at once, even if she’s actually one girl and one alien symbiote. That would be a metaphor too far.

Screenwriter and director Andrew Niccol has written and/or directed some astonishing films about identity and individuality as explored via SF dystopias, most notably Gattaca and The Truman Show, stories that examined how people — well, men — rebel against the limitations their society places on them to become the people no one expected they could be. Here, he had the chance to do the same with a story about a young woman… and he has nothing more to say than “A girl needs to take care of her family and be faithful to one man.”

I’m not surprised by this. But I sure as hell am angry about it.

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The Host (2013)
US/Can release: Mar 29 2013
UK/Ire release: Mar 29 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated GGD: good girls don’t
MPAA: rated PG-13 for some sensuality and violence
BBFC: rated 12A (contains moderate violence and brief bloody injury)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Jurgan

    So, wait, this is Animorphs, but the Yeerks are the good guys?

  • Lalalady

    Oh man… no one references Animorphs anymore, Andalite high-five!

  • Jurgan

    Well, for Andalites, high-six!

  • The failure of this movie will kill any hope of seeing an Animorphs movie being realized. Shame, since I think the plot of “The Host” actually had potential.

    Mary Ann, if you want to see a sci-fi premise similar to The Host done right, the Animorphs series does it. You probably don’t have time in your schedule to check them out (Scholastic did a re-print of the first 8 books), but they’re more than kids’ books. Themes of war, freedom, dehumanization, morality, et al run throughout, and I’d think you’d enjoy them.

  • I thought *Stargate SG1* did it pretty well, with the Goa’uld and the small minority who shared a body with a human host instead of taking it over completely

  • RogerBW

    So basically it’s like SF porn, in that all the worldbuilding and background and characterisation are put in only as needed in order to make the main action of Smouldering Romantic Triangle (and kisses in the rain – tell me there are kisses in the rain) happen.

  • Or without the kink, genderqueering, and exploration of cultural and biological norms that makes SciFi sex so hot intellectually engaging.

  • There are most definitely kisses in the rain.

  • CB

    Ah, so another movie in which the central conflict is the heroine figuring out which of two hunks is her true Soul Mate and which is just a distraction meant to tempt her away from the path chosen by God. Is it as dreadfully obvious which is the “correct” choice from the get-go thus sucking out what little tension is present in the premise as it was in the last iteration?

    And how perfectly apropos that the heroine feels that an alien race who took over not just her body but the entire human race’s against their will are all about “love and kindness”. I can only guess that the movie presents this with no irony, or hint that Melanie might actually be wrong and really suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. It is, of course, those survivors who are for some reason offended by this who need to wise up. Am I right? Please tell me I’m not.

  • You’re right about the utter lack of irony. You’re wrong about the Soul Mate question because — SPOILER! — both Melanie and Wanderer get to have their hunky soul mates. Wanderer gets transfered to another human body who’s mind was lost during the initial takeover by another alien, and who just so happens to be another hot young female.

  • There’s *so* much potential for all of that here, and it’s completely ignored.

  • Annoyed

    Sorry I have to say I am appalled at the fact that you made this movie seem like it is all about sex. While I wish they would have made the movie better because the book was actually very well done, most of it had nothing to do with sex. Actually in the book there is no mention of sex at all. The movie took most of the romantic scenes from the book and played it up as more of a romance then what it really was about tolerance of others and how wrong it is for a type of person to take over everyone else lives. Unfortunately the movie made a book that was written about adult characters for adults into a more teen movie which I get but still. This movie you really need to read the book to understand what is going on in the movie. I wish they had added in some easy stuff to understand why Melanie loved Wanda and vice versa. It was explain a lot better in the book. However even after watching the movie I can’t begin to imagine where you are getting all this stuff about girls being uncomfortable in their bodies and that she is making points about sex. That is even close to what she was trying to portray. I think people see only what they want to see and unfortunately sex is what everyone keeps on their mind. They didn’t get the message in the movie overly well but they still didn’t give off that this movie was about sex either. Oh and by the way your Luke Skywalker analogy was a bit off. Yes he did not think the emperor was good later but his father who terrorized the galaxy and killed children was redeemed at the end. Luke thought he could be a good person after all of that.

  • “Animorphs” has a lot more going on than the aliens sharing a human host. Much further than what SG-1 had going on with the Goa’uld.

  • you really need to read the book to understand what is going on in the movie.

    I really don’t.

    You also need to understand that an artist (writer, painter, filmmaker) doesn’t need to have *intended* a work to say something for it to be saying it anyway.

  • CB

    Oh, of course, I should have known.

  • Kate

    Everyone gives poor Stephanie Meyer such a hard time, when she’s just being Stephanie. She’s not writing about teen girls with body image problems, she’s writing about STEPHANIE (who has body image problems). She’s not suggesting that ALL women (and girls) are torn between two lovers, she’s just acknowledging that STEPHANIE is torn between two lovers (if only in her dreams). This is a woman who honestly and truly believes that loving a man is what “saves” a woman from herself, that the greatest sacrament is pregnancy (even if you’re only 18), and that being a gorgeous superhero (or an alien, I guess) is the ultimate fantasy for we mere mortal females who have nothing much to look forward to but having more children and gazing at our men.

    I actually feel sorry for her. A little.

  • Greyhound

    “. . . a book that was written about adult characters for adults . . .”
    Bwahahahaha. Sounds like someone’s never read real “adult” sci-fi. You poor dear. This is juvenile stuff through and through, and it has nothing to say other than “Humans suck!” and “Hey, girl. That body ain’t yours.” Which is a bit counterproductive, considering the audience will consist mostly of teenage human girls.

    “I can’t begin to imagine where you are getting this stuff about girls being uncomfortable in their bodies . . .”
    Also sounds like someone’s never tried to take anything beyond face value before.

    Paragraph breaks, punctuation, and proper grammar are your friends. Use them.

  • She’s talking *to* teen girls, many of whom do have body image problems, and who get conflicted messages about their sexuality.

    I’m sure she does honestly and truly believe these horrific things. Her sincerity does not exempt her for being criticized for them, and for propagating them.

  • Kate

    The thing is, she was NEVER talking “to teen girls” when she wrote those books. She never even considered that the Twilight series was YA — it was the agent she contacted who told her the books should be marketed as YA. She was writing for herself, a story inspired by a dream she had (in which she was the protagonist).

    I totally agree that the Twilight series (which I have read) is dangerous to young girls. I haven’t read The Host, but from your review, it sounds like similar garbage.

    And I was being facetious when I said I felt a little sorry for Meyer. It is sad, though, that an adult woman is so out of touch with who she is that she identifies with hapless, weak-willed seventeen-year-olds who long to give everything up for the love of a controlling man. Then again, there are a lot of adult women who swoon over Bella and Edward, so she’s clearly not alone.

  • Whether she intended teen girls to be her audience, teen girls *are* her audience.

    Frankly, her belief that Twilight is adult fiction says a lot more about her state of mind than anything else.

  • Radek Piskorski

    Andrew Niccol has completely sold himself for some time now.

  • Radek Piskorski

    Aren’t all the characters in Twilight teenagers? Even the hundred-year-olds?

  • Alex

    The book actually explores all these things but the film just makes it about the romance. It’s probably the studio trying to remake twilight because I doubt Andrew Niccol planned this even if he has lost his touch recently.

  • Nelly

    Well in the book they deliberately pick the body out for her and the irony is there. The film just played up the romances when there’s a lot more to it than that.

  • Mel

    Personally I loved the chrome lotus cars!

  • goldushapple

    >>“A girl needs to take care of her family and be faithful to one man.”
    I’m not surprised by this. But I sure as hell am angry about it.

    I’ll take this snippet and say you basically just wanted a female action hero who defeated the aliens by herself, and convinced both male love interests to enter a three way relationship, or maybe fall in love with Wanda – to make a lesbian female action hero.

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