The Host: Your Burning Questions Answered

by Ethan Alter March 29, 2013 6:01 am
<i>The Host</i>: Your Burning Questions Answered

Stephanie Meyer's post-Twilight movie career begins today with the release of The Host, the Meyer-produced, Andrew Niccol-directed adaptation of the 2008 sci-fi novel she penned in between Twilight installments. We're sure you've got a... well, host of burning questions about the film and we're here with the answers.

So you can confirm The Host has absolutely nothing to do with Twilight apart from Meyer's name above the title, right? That Team Edward and Team Jacob shit is over and done with?
Yes, you can safely put the whole Team E/Team J nonsense in your rearview. Instead, prepare yourselves for Team Jared and Team Ian! That's right, Twilight may be gone, but Meyer's love for adolescent love triangles lives on, as does her uncanny ability to imbue these romances with Mormon overtones. Otherwise, though, The Host stands apart from the author's previous franchise. Where Twilight took place on a present-day Earth that mankind shared with all manner of supernatural creatures (but mainly handsome vampires and studly werewolves), The Host fast-forwards to a near future version of the planet where mankind has been conquered by a race of space bugs who implant themselves in human bodies and assume control of their thoughts and actions. So it's a dictatorship, but an entirely benign dictatorship as these space bugs are just looking for a little peace and quiet. Under their control, humanity has ceased its internal squabbling and everyone lives in harmony, walking around in a state of blissed-out grace clad in fashionable white uniforms. There's no crime, no war, no disease, no religion and no social or class divides -- everyone is invited to share equally in the planet's resources. Frankly, it sounds kinda ideal, especially since our new alien overlords aren't even interested in sentencing us to the salt mines or anything.

Seriously! What's there to complain about?
Oh, you know, there are always cranks out there who will bitch and moan about the lack of free will that comes with having your body serving as the host for a species of sentient space bugs. In this case, those cranks have retreated to the mountains of the American Southwest -- the film was shot in New Mexico, but the landscape evokes Utah -- where they live in caves deep underground, clad in outfits that not-at-all coincidentally resemble the habits of 19th century Mormon pioneers. This rebel community is led by Joseph Smith-like warrior/philosopher Jed (William Hurt) and includes a mixture of both old and young escapees, among them our orphaned heroine Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), her younger brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) and the aforementioned Jared (Max Irons, son of Jeremy, who is already following in his father's footsteps by taking paycheck roles in crappy YA movies), her strapping boyfriend. While out on a raid to gather supplies like a real guerilla insurgent, Melanie is captured by the alien-infected hosts and implanted with her own space bug.

Wait, Saoirse Ronan? The creepy girl with the piercing gaze from Atonement?
The very same. And while she's grown up a whole bunch since, she's still got that piercing gaze, enhanced by the blue eyes that a human gets when a space bug is residing inside their body. Unlike most hosts, the scrappy Melanie doesn't succumb to her internal occupation; no, she fights back against the alien -- a thousand-year old soul that calls itself "The Wanderer" -- any way she can, which mostly involves her yelling at herself inside her own head while Ronan stares blankly off into the distance. It's not unlike those thousand-young stares Fred Savage would fall into at regular intervals on The Wonder Years while Daniel Stern's voice reverberated on the soundtrack. It was an awkward, silly device then and it's an awkward, silly device now, but I gotta give massive respect to Ronan -- she gives this ridiculous movie her all. There's no Kristen Stewart-like vamping here; she's crafting a real performance that establishes two very different identities inhabiting the same body. As Melanie, she's poised and self-confident, ready and willing to attack the world. And as the Wanderer -- whose name is eventually shortened to Wanda -- she's reserved and thoughtful, an old soul hiding behind a youthful face. This is easily the one legitimately good performance that has ever been given in a movie based on a Stephenie Meyer novel. It almost breaks your heart to see Ronan working so hard in service of material that's so ridonkulous.

So when does the love triangle stuff happen already?
Be patient -- this movie runs over two hours, after all. First, the Wanderer-enhanced Melanie has to break free of her kindly captors, led by one particularly determined "Seeker" -- the designation assigned to alien-infected humans tasked with finding other host bodies for the constantly arriving stream of space bugs. The Seeker is played by Diane Kruger, perfectly typecast as the Aryan superwoman who serves as the movie's de facto villain. (You know, a more interesting movie would have been told from her perspective -- making the alien peacekeeper the hero and the army of annoying rebels who are hellbent on ruining the world's newly idyllic state the bad guys.) Melanie/Wanda does eventually escape and marches through the desert to her old hideout, where she's greeted with less-than-open arms by the people she left behind. Jared in particular wants nothing to do with her, assuming she'll sell them out to the space bugs at the earliest opportunity. But Jed, Jamie and the other handsome stud muffin who populates this rebel outfit -- Ian (Jake Abel) -- prove more accepting of the stranger in their midst. Ian is particularly attracted to Wanda's inherent kindness, which makes her far more submissive than the sparkplug Melanie. See, Melanie was the kind of girl who would -- and does -- hit a guy for trying to kissing her without permission. Wanda just stands there and lets it happen. (This does result in one of the movie's most unintentionally hilarious lines of dialogue; after Jared tries to rouse the Melanie side of Wanda's personality by locking lips with her, Wanda-as-Melanie slaps him across the face. To which he replies: "You hit me, just like you did the first time. I love you!" Yeah... uh, real romantic, kids.)

Yikes. Well, at least there's no pedophilic baby-imprinting going on.
No, that's true -- the fact that Jared doesn't respond to Wanda's attraction to Ian by forcing a toddler to become his mystical soulmate counts as social progress in Meyer's world, I suppose. But the movie's vision of romance is still all-kinds of messed up, with the guys regarding Melanie/Wanda as an object to be possessed rather than a woman with her own (split) mind. The allusions to the author's Mormonism are also hard to miss, what with the way Jeb positions his tribe as humanity's last hope -- the true believers who fled a corrupted society to lead simple, pure lives. Having not read the book, I can't say whether this was even more explicit on the page, but Niccol doesn't exactly play it down in the film version. That's the power of an author having her own "Produced by" credit in action.

Well, guess I'm seeing G.I. Joe: Retaliation this weekend, then.
I'd seriously advise against that. Not that I'd recommend seeing The Host first run either, mind you. (Really, all you should be doing this weekend is marathoning the past two seasons of Game of Thrones in preparation for the start of Season 3 on Sunday night.) But of the two options, it's by far the more interesting failure, if only because it's so thematically weird and earnest to the point of cheesiness and beyond. In that respect, it feels like an heir to such '70s sci-fi campfests as Logan's Run, Zardoz and ZPG: Zero Population Growth right down to the curiously depopulated sets and low-fi costumes and production design. Niccol's not much of a visual stylist, but he's evolved into a competent journeyman director, which is more than I can say for G.I. Joe's clearly out-of-his-depth helmer, Jon M. Chu. Make no mistake, The Host is a bad movie, but it's the kind of bad movie that's almost compulsively watchable if only to see how much worse it could possibly get.

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