The Host (2013)
Although most of what I receive to review are movies and television series I do occasionally get an opportunity to broaden my scope with some home theater related equipment or such. One time, back in 2008, I received a novel for my consideration, ‘The Host’ by Stephenie Meyer. Naturally I had been aware of her authorship of the popular teen series of novels, ‘The Twilight Saga’ and their subsequent movie adaptations but the notes on the dust cover seemed intriguing, albeit very family but I was in the mood to return to my roots as an aficionado and science fiction literature and anxiously dove into the tome. The entire idea of aliens invading the earth conquering us through infiltrating our bodies my means of a parasitic invasion is a theme that has a myriad of examples that mat be cited to support this observation. With classic stories like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ or any one of several episodes of ‘Star Trek’ the notion that an alien personality can override own persona overlaying their mind on our bodies. What I found was a very expertly crafted story of an extraterrestrial race, Souls, who descend on a planet and by means of their innate psychic parasites. Their latest target was a little blue planet third out from its star. The story picks up in medias res several years has the majority of the invasion had been accomplished. At this point that human race existed solely as a host race for the intergalactic souls.
The remainder pockets of unassimilated humans were monitored by an authoritarian branch of the Souls called Seekers. On in particular, (Diane Kruger), caught a human named Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) is infused with a Soul named Wanderer, or Wanda as it will soon be better known. Melanie had been living free scavenging for necessities in order to eke out an existence. Traveling with here was her brother, Jamie (Chandler Canterbury, and boyfriend, Jared Howe (Max Irons). It doesn’t happen often but occasionally the original personality is sufficiently tenacious to persist after the infusion. Among all the countless races the Souls have commandeered humanity is the most problematic in this regard. Now the Seeker has to track her down before this fact becomes widespread knowledge among Homo sapiens. Melanie is still in there and wants to escape to find her Uncle Jeb (William Hurt) who as it turns out is living with a small cadre of free humans. When Melanie/Wanderer is first taken into captivity they are regarded as just another potentially dangerous alien unaware that the persona of the host has survived.
In the truest tradition of science fiction the story infuses a strong socio-political message into the cloak of and entertaining tale of alien invaders dedicated to the annihilation of our species. The threat comes not only from the invaders but from our own ranks. The Souls are intrinsically peaceful holding fast to the belief that their unity improves the quality of the lives of their host. Crimes almost nonexistent, war a thing only found in history books and prejudice unheard of in the converted population. The sacrifice to achieve this is humanities greatest gift and curse, free will. From the perspective of the Souls this is a negligible price for the overwhelm benefits they bring. Of members of the cave dwelling group that takes in Wanderer, the O’Shea brothers, Ian (Jake Abel) and his rash sibling Kyle (Boyd Holbrook) take an interest in the new prisoner with Kyle attempting to kill her. It is also disclosed that the group’s medic, Doc (Scott Lawrence) has been experiment on a procedure to remove the Soul from the Host. Thus far the results have been lethal failures.
Typical of a fictional work by Ms Meyer this story is ultimately a very literal variation of Romeo and Juliet with the points of the romantic triangle occupied by Jared, Ian and Melanie/ Wanda. Instead of being from opposite social or racial groups these lovers are quite literally from different worlds. I’m certain that the former constituents of Team Edward and team will rebrand with new tee shirts as team Ian and Team Jared which is a shame. It dilutes some of the weightier aspects of the themes found in the original story. I suppose some of this was to pander to the tween/teen audience the author has already established via her lucrative supernatural franchise. In some ways shifting the focus from the social issues to the romantic was necessary at least from a marketing standpoint. While reading the novel I naturally found myself drawn to these issues idealizing them as the paramount significance. That is to be expected as I did come from a generation where Sci-Fi was a major tool in revealing social problems and disclosing the intrinsic foibles of our kind. The Similar treatment from our era was a cloaked indictment of the insidious infiltration of Communism into our very neighborhood; they look exactly like us.
Unfortunately the factors that I enjoyed so much about the novel did not transfer properly over to the visual medium of film. While the telltale ring around the iris is a very effective indicator of inhabitation it is inadequate to drive the focus of the story. This is part of a greater shortcoming of the movie a weak, diffused narrative. One of the strengths of the novel was the way it was able to quickly pull you into this near future where humanity has been reduced to fleshly vehicles for the Soul race to commandeer. It is only to be expected that certain sub plots have to be sacrificed to sufficiently streamline a story for the screenplay, unfortunately much of one of the more interesting threads was sacrificed; the previous hosts used by the Souls. One of the reasons Wanderer has that name is it has been in an unusual number of hosts, rather than the normal settling down on a particular planet Wanderer has gone through a number of host, each one adding its own distinctive mark on the core personality of this Soul. As such it was in a better position psychologically to empathize with humanity’s resistance. What the souls consider the greatest gift possible humanity views as enslavement. In the film much of this is relegated to a contextual position secondary to what was required to lay the foundation for the familiar romantic triangle.
Although still a teenager, Saoirse Ronan, is rapidly becoming one of the most fascinating actresses of her generation. She is eschewing the usual, predictable teen roles of cheerleader or ‘scream queen’ in a slash and dash flick in favor of psychologically intense and emotionally demanding roles. Her portrayal of a innocent looking teen assassin in ‘Hanna’ was extraordinary even in more sedate roles as her character in ‘City of Ember’ her talent is obvious. When combined with a nascent, ethereal beauty she is certain to become one of the most sought after actors in her craft. Even in a film the ultimately fell short of its goals her performance is worth experiencing.