Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.
Genre: comedy, drama, romance
Length: 93 mins
Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Maeve Dermody
Director: Leon Ford
Studio Synopsis – ‘The Greatest Superpower is love’
Griff (Ryan Kwanten) is a quiet office worker by day, and a superhero by night. Into his private and secluded life comes Melody (Maeve Dermody), who turns his world upside down. She is a intrigued by the possibilities of science and, like Griff, shares his passion for what seems to be impossible. Griff’s day-time world is dominated by the office bully (Toby Schmitz); his protective brother appears to be his only friend. By night, Griff assumes his other identity, roaming the dark streets of Sydney protecting the innocent and the vulnerable from the dangers that lurk in the shadows. He is the hero, Griff the Invisible. Increasingly concerned by Griff’s eccentric behaviour, his brother Tim (Patrick Brammall) attempts to draw him back into the ‘real world’. In doing so he introduces Griff to Melody, an equally eccentric and charming girl. Fascinated by Griff’s idiosyncrasies, which are equal only to her own, Melody begins to fall for Griff. As Griff is forced to face up to realities of a mundane world, it is up to Melody to rescue Griff the Invisible for his sake, and their love for each other.
Griff the Invisible is fresh, imaginative and original, owing more to the feel of a movie like Lars and the Real Girl than the super-hero genre. It is a debut feature film by writer / director Leon Ford. Griff the Invisible is fresh from international rave reviews and accolades from the Toronto and Berlin Film Festivals.
Questions for discussion
This is a gentle, quirky and imaginative movie. It does raise some important issues about ‘growing up’, ‘identity’ etc. Some general questions might provide enough of a framework for you to discuss the movie:
What stood out as the main highlights in the movie?
What assumptions were embedded in the story?
What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
Are there aspects of the movie that resonate with your own story/experience?
Are there any biblical or theological themes or characters evoked by the story?
The following provides some ideas for further discussion and reflection.
We have all heard the words: ‘what will you do when you grow up?’, ‘when you are mature….’. Adolescence and early adulthood is viewed as a ‘stage’ on the way to ‘maturity’. There is much that needs to be left behind on the way, seemingly having no place in ‘mature adulthood’. Yet, there is a cost to shedding ‘immaturity’ in order to gain the appearance of ‘maturity. Often credibility as an adult is gained through submission to conformity. Those who retain ways of ‘being’ that resist the need to ‘conform’ and to be domesticated by societal and relational expectations are often considered ‘eccentric’.
Griff represents something universal, according to writer/director Leon Ford. ”He’s just an extreme version of what’s in me, and in all of us to varying degrees. We all put on roles for this job or that relationship. And we all have part of us that never grows up. I’m sure inside every fireman rushing down the street is a 10-year-old boy screaming. Even if they are off to save lives.”
How does this resonate with your own experience?
The imagination of a six year old
Writer/Director Leon Ford’s first inspiration for Griff the Invisible came when he was sitting in a cafe, watching a six-year-old boy in a Batman cape zooming between tables. Inside his game – which was inside his head – he was saving the world. It struck Ford that, at some stage, we give up on our spirit of play. ”It was somewhere in the teens for me,” he told a young audience at the Berlin Film Festival. ‘You’ve to hold on to that superhero in any way you can. Then let it out!”
When a six year old plays ‘superheroes’ or any other imaginary activity, it’s not play but reality in their head. They create with their imagination the world they choose to inhabit with their play. Perhaps we abandon our capacity to ‘play’ too readily. What is lost when cease to play and use our imagination – not just in relation to our own ‘being’, but in our capacity to imagine another kind of possibility that might positively contribute to the well being of the world? The experience of many is that there is a kind of nothingness that consumes our ‘being’ when play and imagination is set aside, perhaps masked by our busyness, distractions and possessions.
(from The Neverending Story by Michael Ende): “The Nothing is spreading. It’s growing and growing, there’s more of it every day, if it’s possible to speak of more nothing. The Nothing caught us in our sleep and this is what it did to us.”
“Is it very painful?” Atreyu asked.
“No,” said the second bark troll, the one with the hole in his chest. “You don’t feel a thing. There’s just something missing. And once it gets hold of you, something more is missing every day. Soon there won’t be anything left of us.”
Discuss how this resonates with your own experience?
Bullying and emotional well being
Griff the Invisible has something in common with the main character in The Neverending Story in which a boy, Bastian, is hiding from bullies at school. He finds a book called The Neverending Story and begins reading. Immediately he is taken into the world of the book, Fantastica, and begins imagining a place where stories are real. And Bastian has the power, as the reader, to change the world he reads about and to imagine it as he sees fit. He can make changes to the scenes around him and decides the fate of different creatures he comes across.
Griff lives in such a world, perhaps a response to bullying in school and at work. ‘State of the art’ electronic surveillance technology exists only in his head (and appears to be real to the audience). Superhero abilities exist only in the realm of his imagination. He is the ‘Dork Knight’, the The Invisible Man, protecting his neighbourhood with his own catch phrase “Get out of my neighbourhood!” He wants to believe he can make a difference, and rise to the challenges he sees around him, and to respond to the ‘Commissioner’s’ call – who apparently needs Griff’s help to ensure public safety and order is maintained.
We all know the experience of moving into our own ‘worlds’ when the need arises, and we all have our escapes (TV, music, sport etc) when we need to disengage from ‘reality’. We can escape to these worlds, where things make more sense, when we can ‘re-assemble’ in order to face the world again.
Griff expects no-one will understand or enter his ‘world’, not even his brother (hence his covering up the ‘evidence’ in his flat – keep it hidden, and protected from derision). He assumes that being on his own, eating on his own every night, is a necessary part of maintaining his constructed world.
It’s a thin line between mental health issues and the world of imagination, between social and emotional well being and the private, internal world (perhaps more real than the tangible one?) Imagination has the capacity to transform harsh reality into something that offers meaning and hope. Is there a place for such imagination in the ‘real’ world?
“…. he felt that his life had been an utter failure, and that he himself was only one among millions of wholly unimportant people who could be replaced as easily as broken windowpanes…… He came to realize by some mysterious means that he was absolutely wrong: that there was only one person like himself in the whole world, and that, consequently, he mattered to the world in his own particular way.” (Michael Ende)
Griff and Melody recognize each other as kindred spirits. They connect as ‘outsiders’ in the ‘real world’, and draw closer to each other as insiders occupying a world that they shape together. We all wear masks at times to hide our true feelings, but kindred spirits are able to take off their mask and reveal who they really are. Melody matches Griff’s ‘world’ with her own views on things such as particle physics and the possibility of passing through walls, as well as her belief in the multiple existences of cats. Griff has been so caught up in his world that he can’t entertain the idea of sharing it with anyone else. But Melody is prepared to pursue him and to give value to his way of seeing things. She recognises the merits of complicity with Griff’s ‘world’. Her relationship with Griff is thus framed by love, support and protection, and the desire to make him happy in his ‘world’ rather than try to change it.
Writer/Director Leon Ford recognises that the conventional choice in his script would have been to pair Griff with an understanding nurturer who could provide him with a safe space to be gently crazy. Ford admits that he did try going down that road. ”But that would make her almost motherly. She’s probably more functional in everyday life than he is. She probably has friends. But it was important that she not have less depth of character.”
Tim, Griff’s older brother, is regarded as the more responsible, “normal” member of the family. He is stinging in his criticism of Melody who wilfully encourages Griff to inhabit his make believe world, when Tim wants to rescue Griff from it. He has hope that medication offers some hope that ‘normal life’ possible. Perhaps we can identify with some of Tim’s exasperation and even despair when individuals we know don’t seem to want to ‘grow up’ and be ‘responsible’.
It does invite exploration about what defines maturity and ‘responsibility’.
Strengths and weakness
It is easy to see the two main characters as flawed, limited, immature, irresponsible etc and to have hesitations about them as people – quiet, introspective and fragile. Writer/Director Leon Ford rejoices in the characters’ oddities. ”I think everyone in any job, any classroom or any train carriage has something inside they think is special or suppressed or misunderstood. I wanted to give that thing permission, to celebrate it and find a strength in it”.
Both characters are also highly intelligent, likeable, creative, determined, and display a steady confidence – despite the way others perceive them and relate to them. The audience sees both, and is placed in a position where a decision needs to be made towards the end in response to Griff destroying the superhero ‘props’ and his constructed world. When he dons the check shirt and the glazed appearance of ‘normality’- is this something to be greeted with applause and relief, or some despair?
Melody’s ideas about ‘parallel worlds’ may find company with the Christian understanding of the reign of God – here and yet not yet fully present. Who can see it and know it? It is an act of faith, an alternative way of viewing ‘reality’. The conversation with Nicodemus (John 3) opens opportunities to see things in a new way, even being ‘born again’. Like Griff, not everyone understands or appreciates an alternative way of viewing meaning and ‘reality’.
© Rev Sandy Boyce, Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
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