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Literature / Memoirs of an Invisible Man

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"I want my molecules back!"
Nick Halloway

Nick Halloway was a fairly ordinary stock analyst until he fell asleep in the building of Magnascopic Laboratories, a company for which he represented shareholders. That night, a Freak Lab Accident occurs, apparently severely damaging the building; However, no debris is found. It turns out that the accident actually made certain parts of it completely invisible. One of those "parts" is Nick himself.

Desperately hunted by amoral CIA agent David Jenkins, Nick seeks to build a new life while avoiding becoming a scientific guinea pig stuck in a lab until he dies... or is forcibly recruited into being a black ops specialist.

Originally a 1987 Science Fiction novel by H. F. Saint, it was adapted into a 1992 film directed by John Carpenter, and starring Chevy Chase and Daryl Hannah. The book analyzed what effects invisibility would have on an average person who kept his morality, and the movie tried to do the same. The book was a small success; the movie was considerably less well-received.

Tropes used in the movie:

  • Actor Allusion: When Alice Monroe is introduced, it is mentioned she has just returned from Brazil. Daryl Hannah's previous film to this one was At Play in the Fields of the Lord, which was filmed in Brazil.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In the book, the company where the accident occurred is called MicroMagnetics; in the film it's called Magnascopic Laboratories.
  • Attempted Rape: Richard, a friend of Nick's friend George, forces himself on Nick's Love Interest, Alice, at one point. Nick, present but unknown to either party at the time, throws Richard off.
  • Babies Ever After: During the credits, we see Alice with a baby bump.
  • Blessed with Suck: Nick desperately wants to find a way to become visible again, although he gives up when the scientist who might be able to figure out how to make that happen gets assassinated.
    I can barely sleep. I can see through my eyelids, I can see through the top of my head. I get walleyed. I get bat-shit!
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Nick could have already made millions playing the market; until he became invisible he lacked any motivation for it.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Nick eventually figures out a way to make his lack of the usual invisiblity Required Secondary Powers work for him. When Jenkins corners him at a construction site, Jenkins sees where Nick brushed against some dust. When the view goes to where Nick really is, Nick is holding his jacket to the side, and throws it off the building to fake suicide.
  • Despair Event Horizon: At the end, Nick reaches this, tired of being unable to live normally and of being hunted by the CIA, and he jumps to his death from a construction site. Except he faked it, figuring that nobody would bother to look for him if they thought he was dead.
  • Driven to Suicide: At the climax at the construction site, when Jenkins has Nick cornered, Nick makes it clear that he'd rather jump off the building than be forced to work as a black ops assassin. He's actually faking it, as noted above under Cursed with Awesome.
  • How We Got Here: The film begins with Halloway in a recording studio demonstrating his invisibilty, then recounting the events that lead to him being there.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Nick desperately searches for a way to become a normal, visible person again. Even after he learns that it's impossible, he does his best to make it so that he can live as normal of a life as possible.
  • Invisible Introvert: Nick Halloway is a largely asocial character who actively avoids connecting with people. His psych profile reveals that he has no relatives, no real friends, no political beliefs, few interests, and only one recently-initiated sexual relationship. As such, when he gains his eponymous powers, CIA agents remark on the irony of someone so socially invisible becoming literally invisible.
  • Invisible Stomach, Visible Food: Applies to Nick. In the movie, there are several scenes in which Nick chews gum, drinks liquid, or otherwise ingests food and we see it hovering in air. In fact, the first time he notices is when looks in a mirror and sees food digesting in his stomach. We hear the sound of vomiting and the food arches into the air and off-screen. He ends up switching to an all-clear foods diet so that he can't see the half-eaten food in his stomach, justifying it to the clerks he orders it from by saying his doctor has advised him to avoid food coloring. Later, as he attempts to hide from the Big Bad, he refuses to eat so that he remains invisible.
  • Invisible Streaker: Notably averted. Because Nick was made invisible by a gamma beam-type Freak Lab Accident, both he and everything he was wearing at the time are rendered invisible, so as long as he's wearing his original outfit, he can get around invisibly while fully clothed. This leads to a funny moment as it takes time for him to learn how to put his arms through sleeves of an invisible jacket.
  • Invisibility: The plot revolves around what happens when a metaphorically invisible man accidentally becomes literally invisible.
  • Invisibility with Drawbacks: The primary drawback to Nick Halloway's invisibility is that he cannot turn it off. This causes endless problems for him, not the least of which is that the government wants to force him to become an invisible assassin. Secondary problems include the fact that he only has one set of clothing that is also invisible, so he can be seen when he wears anything else. Also, anything he eats or drinks is perfectly visible as he chews, swallows and digests it, and that can be nauseating to watch.
  • Miraculous Malfunction: It's implied that someone spilling a cup of coffee on a control panel resulted in uncontrolled but permanent invisibility, in a lab whose research had nothing to do with invisibility.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Not only the problem lies in that what happened that created the invisibility effect is a complete unknown (and an industrial accident, to boot), but Jenkins makes things worse in that he wants Nick so badly that he decides killing the scientist that created the technology (and may be able to replicate things eventually) is a perfect way to draw Nick into the open.
  • Personality Powers: A socially invisible man actually becomes invisible; It's even noted when the CIA goes over his file:
    Never been married, parents both deceased. The guy's got a few friends, but not real close to any of them. Not exactly a workaholic either. He kind of plays it fast and loose. It's always difficult with people like this. No strong emotional ties, no political beliefs, no particular interests. As a matter of fact, when you think about it, the man has the perfect profile. He was invisible before he was invisible.
  • Power Incontinence: Nick's issue with his invisibility is that he's stuck that way, and he wants at least the ability to turn it off.
  • Required Secondary Powers: Part of Nick's problem is that he has only some of these related to invisibility. His food isn't actually invisible until some time after he digests; he vomits the first time he sees himself in the mirror as it's digesting. The only thing that he can put on that's similarly invisible is the outfit he wore when rendered invisible — which he himself can't see, either — and any dust that lands on him is visible. He can still see just fine, however.
  • See the Invisible: Usually the footprint method, though the "something all over" method is used intentionally a few times (for example, when Nick and Alice go out to eat).
  • Shout-Out: The scene where Nick first shows Alice what happened to him by unwinding bandages from around his head is a direct visual Shout-Out to the unmasking scene in The Invisible Man (1933).
  • The Social Expert: Nick is a master at reading a situation and getting people to do things he wants them to do.
  • Technobabble: "...some molecular instability has made certain areas transparent."
  • The Film of the Book: Albeit one that changes a lot of the source material - for starters, instead of New York the setting is the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Visible Invisibility: Switches between types 1 and 5, though mirrors and camera footage always work as type 5. Additionally, in one scene where Nick is invisible on screen he gets rained on, and we see the shimmery outline of raindrops on him.

Tropes used only in the book:

  • Badass Normal: Although being invisible means he really isn't normal, Nick is really badass. He plans for the future quickly and efficiently once he realizes his situation, makes good decisions about how to initially survive, plans for the long-term, and especially when he realizes that Jenkins simply won't give up, acknowledges that he is much too reactive, and plans and executes a way to turn the tables. Even when things go wrong with this plan, he improvises on the fly, and it works out. As Jenkins says in one of their phone conversations, Nick probably would have made a good field agent even if he weren't invisible.
  • Big Applesauce: The primary setting, as the One-Book Author worked on Wall Street.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Nick does this when escaping the invisible building. Jenkins has the entire area sealed off, but it's too large to effectively box Nick in quite yet, so they go about the business of identifying the dimensions of the walls and floors with tape and string. While they work, Nick gets together everything he can that is invisible, and builds a "ladder" of invisible tables to get him and his possessions out without being immediately noticed. A lot of it comes in handy later, especially the cloth, which he is eventually able to make extra clothes out of.
  • Determinator: Jenkins absolutely will not give up on finding Nick, and though Nick despairs a few times, he refuses to give up hope for a more normal life without Jenkins in it either.
  • Handwave: The book gives an explanation for why some of the issues that would eventually get Nick in trouble don't, specifically dust and other small particles that should adhere to him and make him easier to "see". The book explains that the process that made him invisible also made it more difficult for other objects to form mechanical bonds with him, so not only does dust not stick to him, but water beads and runs off him almost immediately. However, the book forgets that this should make normal walking surfaces more slippery due to the reduced friction.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: The scientist who is responsible for the accident that makes Nick invisible started on research related to nuclear fusion, but went off on a tangent, and barely talked to anyone, even his assistants, about what he was doing. He dies in the accident that turns the entire building invisible, most of his notes are unreadable because they too are invisible, and Nick burns it down anyway to help his escape.
  • One-Book Author: H.F. Saint apparently just took all the money he made from the book (and his prior earnings working on Wall Street) and vanished himself.

Alternative Title(s): Memoirs Of An Invisible Man