The Host (2013)
Talk about a film that had a lot of potential and a great concept, but fell flat! (And a book, for that matter, although I couldn’t bring myself to finish reading it.) I had not heard good reviews of The Host, based on Stephanie Meyer’s non-Twilight book, but because the story intrigued me, I decided to watch it. I figured it was better to spend two hours watching a film than five hours reading a book. The latter tends to cut into my sleeping time.
Despite the awkward storyline and unrelatable characters, I enjoyed the film. The acting was very good, considering the script. The actors, particularly Saoirse Ronan as the lead, managed to embody the characters and bring them to life. They are still unrelatable, but they are real. I was eager to find out who would survive and what would become of them.
The problem with telling any science fiction story is that there is a delicate balance between world-building and metaphors on the one hand and keeping a relatable story on the other. The less relatable the characters and setting, the more exciting the worlds to be explored need to be. Star Wars and Star Trek, to use the big examples, work well because they navigate this balance – at least most of the time.
Stephanie Meyer took a big risk with The Host and unfortunately, it did not pay off. I have to give her credit for trying to tell an alien invasion story from the point of view of one of said aliens. That is no easy feat! I think it worked better in the book and I am interested in revisiting the novel to test that hypothesis.
The film, unfortunately, still tries to keep the storyline of plucky humans resisting alien invaders. Thus, we have survivalists with little emotion. We have our alien protagonist out of her element. We have the alien protagonist fighting against our human…protagonist? Antagonist? Deuteragonist? The plot never makes it clear why we should be cheering for the humans, except that we in the audience are supposedly human. There are some vague references to love and freedom, but these are not elaborated upon.
Is what is so special about humans the fact that we have free will? That we are difficult to subdue? Is there something special about certain humans? That is certainly implied – namely that certain people are more resistant to invasion than others. While that may be true, what of it? Again, this is not really explained or discussed adequately. It is just assumed: humans must resist! Choose freedom! Er, sorry, freedom to hide? Freedom to live in small enclaves under dictatorships – even benevolent ones – and forced to shoot loved ones?
This is where the story takes a bit of a different turn. Mature adult characters see that this on-the-run lifestyle is not sustainable. They take measures to study the invaders to try to beat them or at least negotiate. Our protagonist is not killed outright because the human leader wants to talk to her and learn from her. (It helps that he cannot bring himself to kill someone who looks and seems like his niece.) Contrast that with the reactions of the younger humans, who are more willing to keep up the fight.
This whole story is a string of interesting plotlines and potential character development arcs that do not really bear fruit and do not tell a meaningful story when cobbled together. It is unfortunate that they tried to pack this all into a film. I think it might have made for a better miniseries. Perhaps someone should consider adapting it?
Simply put, Meyer made her aliens too perfect. Their only flaw is taking away human free will – because they did not adequately understand the concept.
Was there supposed to be a moral lesson or something to be gleaned about our own world from this story? I am not sure what it was. The only meaningful things that I was able to take from it was “do not be so quick to pass judgement” and “it is always better to cooperate than fight”. Not new, but worthwhile reminders anyhow. I am constantly reminded of what I learned as a child: no matter what, find something relevant to take from the story. Plus, it was entertaining. I’ll give it that.