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.