At age twenty-eight, Griff (Ryan Kwanten) hasn’t outgrown make-believe. In his mind, he’s a superhero masquerading as an office worker. By day, he takes phone calls for his company’s shipping department. By night, he’s a fearless defender of the people; donning a black suit and mask, he stalks the alleyways of his neighborhood, frightening away thugs as they gang up on defenseless people trying to make their way home. This is not a choice, but a responsibility. Into his life enters a young woman named Melody (Maeve Dermody), whose persistent clumsiness stems from a fixation on the nature of atoms, the infinite spaces between them, and the theoretical possibility of passing through walls. Griff initially resists her, simply because his civic duty doesn’t allow for relationships of any kind. If he fell in love with her, she might get hurt. But as the film progresses, it becomes obvious that she will not let him go without a fight.
Griff the Invisible, a delightfully quirky and surprisingly poignant little Australian gem, is one of the most fascinating character studies I’ve ever seen. It tells the story of two people hindered by the differences that unite them; they should not be together, and yet they can relate to no one apart from each other. Both have needs that aren’t being met by living in the real world. Speaking as someone who has battled anxiety disorders and social awkwardness, I can say with absolute conviction that writer/director Leon Ford understands the psychology of the outsider. He clearly knows what it’s like to feel so uncomfortable in your own skin that you yearn to be someone else. He knows the desire to become invisible in a cruel, unsympathetic world. Most importantly, he knows that, when you’re different, you long for a kindred spirit – and that when you find one, you initially resist because you’re unaccustomed to the change it brings.
The title character spends all day cowering in his cubicle, feeding into his contempt for a coworker named Tony (Toby Schmitz), a bully who makes him feel worthless at every available opportunity. Griff tries to gain the upper hand; he spies on Tony with tiny cameras and microphones, secretly trips him with a line of fishing wire, hacks into his computer, and even breaks into the office after hours. Wouldn’t the surveillance cameras have caught him? To you and me, he’s plainly visible on the security tapes. In his mind, however, he’s protected by an invisibility suit, which he made by soaking a white jumpsuit in a tub full of lemon juice and baking soda. He got the idea from a local hardware store owner, who plays along in the same way a grownup does when a kid plays dress-up. It could be out of pity, but then again, I don’t think he knows the full extent of Griff’s delusional state.
When he’s not being harassed by Tony, Griff is being lectured about his odd behavior. I’ve had these conversations before. Everyone and their uncle think they know what’s best for you. Griff’s boss tells him that he’s making himself a target by his lack of social interaction; if he wants to be “invisible,” he should be more outgoing with his coworkers – the same people who either go out of their way to embarrass him or ignore him altogether. I’m reminded of a passage from Jodi Picoult’s novel My Sister’s Keeper, one of the truest, most understanding quotes I’ve ever come across: Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.
The most important person in Griff’s life is his brother, Tim (Patrick Brammall). He comes off as unsupportive, but he’s not a bad man at all; he simply doesn’t know how to process Griff’s inability to cope with reality. Melody was originally Tim’s girlfriend, although their very first scene together makes it clear that the two are on completely different wavelengths. She is, in fact, just as socially incompetent as Griff. Example: She once surveyed people on the street about street surveys, after which she protested a protest for its display of protesting: “What do we want? An end to protests! When do we want it? Now!” She doesn’t wish to be a part of society. Rather, she wants to draw someone into her isolation, namely Griff. She not only encourages him to live in his fantasy world, she also helps to perpetuate it. Here are two people so isolated that the only relationship they can form is an unhealthy one with each other.
Griff the Invisible has some very funny scenes, although I hesitate to call it a comedy. It may, in fact, be a tragedy. If Griff and Melody are meant for no one except one another, and if in being together they exacerbate their ineptitudes, where does that ultimately leave them? Melody believes that the world needs to grow up as opposed to herself and Griff. She may be on to something. We’ve been taught to accept and accordingly adjust to humanity’s cruelty and injustice. “Life isn’t fair,” our parents and teachers would tell us. How much better would it be if, rather than prepare our children to adapt to unfairness, we raised them to prevent it from happening? In a compassionate world, people like Griff wouldn’t need a fantasy to escape to, and people like Melody wouldn’t be so desperately clingy. I think Leon Ford understands this above all else.