This week I'll look at how women are portrayed and interact with other characters in the 2015 suspense/horror film The Invitation.
(Find out more about 3 tests I'll use to guide the conversation in Women, Men, and Movies or just read on.)
Will is invited to a formal dinner party at a stunning, isolated Hollywood Hills mansion he used to live in with his ex-wife.
On returning to his former home, Will struggles with memories of and guilt over his son’s death. His ex-wife Eden's insistence that she’s now free of pain disturbs him, especially because she's been out of touch for the last two years. Her too-understanding ex-husband and slightly off-kilter house guests raise Will’s suspicions even before they show the dinner guests an unsettling video pitch for their cult-like new way of life.
Will’s friends and his girlfriend, though, are certain he’s uncomfortable due to grief and the strangeness of seeing his ex again. Will suspects something ominous is about to occur.
(Does a (named) female character talk to another named female character about anything other than a man?)
Who’s Talking To Whom
Women To Women:
Will’s ex-wife, Eden, talks to several women characters almost exclusively in one or two line conversations about:
- Introducing themselves
- staying after watching the video
There are 3 longer conversations:
- Kira tells Eden to stop what she’s doing in the last quarter of the film when everything unravels (to put it mildly)
- Kira tells dinner guest Gina that she and Will hit a coyote on the drive to the mansion and Will killed it with a tire iron
- Eden and Kira talk about how Will is coping with the loss of his and Eden’s son
Men To Men:
Will talks with Eden’s new husband, David, about:
- why the husband keeps all the doors locked
- break ins and fire hazards
- letting another dinner guest leave or not
- whether The Invitation is a cult
- the wine
- Will’s apology for his seemingly odd or hostile behavior
Will talks to his three (named) male friends about:
- the way Eden and David are acting
- Will’s grief
- Ben’s sex life
- Will’s odd behavior
- the good old days of their friendship
- the business Ben and Will used to have
- Will killing the coyote
- the video pitch for The Invitation
- the pills Eden may be taking
- the weirdness of the evening
- Will not feeling safe in the house
- the friends’ take on Will’s odd behavior
Women And Men:
Named male and female characters talk to one another about:
- Eden claiming pain is optional and feeling free
- how Eden feels about her son’s death
- all the topics above and
- Eden choosing Will for The Invitation
- Claire wanting to leave
- Kira and David about leaving or staying
- how to get out of the house
- Eden’s and David’s two years in Mexico
- death (generally)
- how Pruitt’s wife died
- where missing dinner guest Troy is
- Eden and Will missing their son
- Eden’s goal for the evening
- Pruitt’s beliefs
- David’s beliefs
The Invitation passes the Bechdel Test.
Despite featuring only minimal conversations among women, the film does show multiple named female characters talking to one another, rather than women only talking to men. It’s striking how much more substance and how many more topics there are when men talk to men or women and men talk to each other, but Will is the protagonist, so there’s some justification for that.
Similarly, there’s a reason the woman are talking about Will, as everyone is talking about Will. Everyone’s worried about him.
And the characters have similar conversations about Eden. There are more about Will, but whether Will’s fears about the gathering are based on a real threat to everyone or his feelings of guilt and grief is key to the story.
As mentioned last week, the Bechdel Test is a low bar, but sadly many movies don’t pass. The failure almost always draws me out of the movie. I’m a woman and almost every day I talk with both women and men rather than interacting solely with men, as many moviemakers appear to imagine women do.
Women v. Sexy Lamps
(can the main female character be replaced by a sexy lamp without affecting the plot?)
The main female character, Eden, drives the plot. She chooses Will in particular to be part of The Invitation. She joins The Invitation and wants her friends to join her to alleviate her pain over her son’s death.
If she were replaced with a sexy lamp, none of the story would happen.
The Invitation passes the Sexy Lamp test.
(does a female character have her own narrative arc that is not grounded in supporting a man’s story line?)
This test is a tougher call.
The only two female characters who might have their own narrative arcs are Kira and Eden. Kira arguably becomes more proactive from the beginning of the movie when she watches Will kill the coyote to the end when she acts as much as he does to struggle for safety. But these two actions are more like bookends without any real story for Kira in between that's separate from Will's.
As to Eden, she grows as a character in a sense.
She begins by insisting she is free of pain and guilt. This causes Will pain, as he feels she is making their son’s life and death meaningless. At the end she apologizes to Will and admits she misses their son. This arc, though, isn't independent of Will, as she seems deeply invested in him joining her in The Invitation and in her struggle to deal with her grief.
On the other hand, as noted, she does set the entire plot in motion, and she is key to each phase of it.
If you shift and look at the movie through her eyes it's about her striving to achieve true freedom from pain. With a few minor shifts, it could be a story independent of Will. As written, though, I don't think it is.
In my view, there’s no Mako Mori narrative arc here, but I can see an argument otherwise. Convince me.
Sexy Lamp: Pass
Mako Mori arc: Probably not
Did I Like It
Maybe because I’m not a movie critic by trade (or at all) but instead a writer who loves story, in the end what I care most about is did I enjoy the movie.
It’s creepy, unnerving, frightening, and a study of characters in close quarters facing intense conflict and heartbreaking loss. Watching it a second time to prepare for this article I caught things I’d missed before. To me, a movie that stands up to rewatching is a good one.
Next Week’s Film
A 2018 rom-com from Netflix, Set It Up. I chose it because I like Lucy Liu so much in Elementary, and she is one of the stars. I'm not usually a big fan of rom-coms. Happily, this one was far better than I expected.