T. Anderson’s 2017 novel of the same name flaunts a far more eerie and existentially charged makeover in Cory Finley’s third feature, Landscape With Invisible Hand. Yet, barring the jabs that do land and heighten the claustrophobic confines of a dystopia people have fallen victim to, Landscape With Invisible Hand is exasperatingly disconnected from the issues it’s a supposed mouthpiece for. The barbed wire separating the lives of the deprived from the land of comfortable survival threaten to lacerate the soft adolescence of two teens. Unfortunately, even though they bleed, the spikes of the totalitarian crisis in the film aren’t quite sharp enough to strike beyond the screen’s limitations. In any case, since we’re here and we’ve got the time on our hands, let’s take a stroll through the dreary terrains of a world taken over by extreme pragmatism.
What Happens In The Film?
An enigmatic montage of Adam’s paintings holds our hand as we enter the nightmare of an alien-dominated Earth. While opportunistic capitalists have secured the comfort of literally hovering over the less fortunate in their airborne residential spheres, the Vuvv takeover hasn’t shown the same kindness to the working class. The result? Human resources have replaced the need for exploiting the earth’s resources. And with streets and bridges overcome by the sudden onset of increased homelessness, having a roof over your head is something of a major privilege. It’s this privilege that Adam wishes to share with his new classmate, Chloe.
Only in a world this distraught would a teenage crush lead to the boy’s family taking in the girl’s. With a law degree rotting away in the closet of a less awful past, Beth somehow provides the nutritional cubes they call food to her two children, Adam and Natalie. Sadness and the look in his eyes have been synonymous for Adam ever since his dad cottoned on to a better opportunity and moved away. An antithesis of her freeloading father and big brother Hunter, Chloe actually wants to put some effort into earning a few bucks and making rent. And what better way to make money than by milking the Vuvvs’ overwhelming fascination with the “alien” concept of love?
Why do Adam and Chloe get sued?
It’s hard enough to make ends meet in a world that bases your entire value on the labor you can provide. Since the technologically superior “gooey coffee tables,” who speak by vigorously rubbing their paddles together, have shown mankind “mercy” and “cured” it of its follies, even the skills people have spent their lives honing have gone out of demand. A neurosurgeon is the fancy chauffeur for a Vuvv living above—only as a symbol of status. Status never goes out of fashion. The only thing these superior beings who reproduce asexually have come to be intrigued by is human romance. So much so that there’s such a thing as a courtship broadcast, where people can livestream their romantic affairs and get paid in exchange for having Vuvvs ogle at their private businesses.
With their budding romance catering to the aliens’ increasing obsession with human emotions, Chloe and Adam’s relationship proves to be a financial blessing—initially, at least. While the discomfort of constant monitoring would prove detrimental to even a relationship with a steady foundation, Chloe and Adam have just started to feel the spark. As their fire inevitably dies out, so does the authenticity of their broadcast. And since even the minutest of their biological factors are being scrutinized by the Vuvvs, their deceit is soon caught, and their families face the daunting threat of losing everything over their children not being in love anymore. They’re being sued by Shirley, a Vuvv who doesn’t take too kindly to the fraudulent content its Offspring is being subjected to.
The looming fear of the two poverty-stricken families losing everything permeates the air as the focus shifts to the can of worms it opens for Chloe and Adam. The more hopeless romantic of the two, Adam’s unease with sharing the most intimate aspects of his life with things that aren’t even humans, has always been evident. Chloe, despite initially harboring a crush that she believed was love, has been way more consumed by the urge to provide for herself and her family. They’re no match made in heaven, and it’s Adam who’s left to pick up the pieces of his heart when the realization and consequent acceptance become too apparent to deny.
Why does Adam reject the Vuvvs’ offer?
The pervasive themes of societal hierarchy and existential crisis walk hand in hand through the drab, gloomy lanes of the narrative. Adam’s relentless dispute with the boy he’s supposed to be and the person he doesn’t recognize when he does take a look inward is tremendously aggravated by the state of the world he unfortunately inhabits. The friendly neighborhood aliens who’d made a trembling move after watching human beings screw everything up for 70 years now have established the kind of authoritarian grasp that gives them the power to control the academic curriculum. Adam’s teacher blowing his own head off out of the sheer hopelessness that has engulfed every life on the planet is only a small glimpse of the catastrophic effects of the extraterrestrial takeover. Vuvvs don’t feel.
The only thing they have their sights set on is intergalactic dominance. Yet, the crude realities of colonization are what their terrifying antipathy is empowered by. The only way Shirley would pardon the Campbells is if Beth marries their Offspring and helps it internalize the endearing nuances of a human household. While Beth’s resilient enough to withstand babysitting a cubical creature, she draws her line at being told to play the role of a conventional wife with stereotypical traits. It’s here that Landscape With Invisible Hand branches out and reaches for a less subtle metaphor to play around with.
The Offspring is no different than a regular child internalizing the problematic familial representations they’re fed. What cuts this tension is a chucklesome back-and-forth between Beth and the Offspring, finding a perfect ground to tackle two observations: Beth’s sass in the face of obnoxiousness and the Offspring’s unsurprising ignorance about its place in the world. Beyond the grander exploration of the depressing nuances of class struggle, Landscape With Invisible Hand allows the side effects of the same to get a more up-close and personal representation. Unable to rid themselves of the overwhelming sense of inferiority, Hunter and his father callously lash out at the family that’s given them a roof.
All the while brown-nosing the all-powerful perpetrators of the crimes committed against the very identity of humanity, the two would rather take a swing at the people who’re just as afflicted. Picking on the smallest of deviations in their respective sets of privileges, they hold the Campbell family accountable for the failures that were, to some extent, their own fault. This ridiculously shortsighted understanding of the true source of their struggles is glaring in the Marsh family’s embarrassing attempts at courting the Offspring to hopefully get on the good side of the Vuvvs. In a way, though, Adam’s suddenly returning father bolting after seeing his family hosting a Vuvv saves the little boy far worse heartache in the long run. If abandonment is all Adam expects from his severely anti-bourgeois father, there’s no new way his heart can be broken. When the school closes shop, and Adam’s subsequent fury is poured over the windows that have been boarded up, his existential crisis takes the form of a mural.
To be dumbfounded before his own mural against the Vuvvs and have a Vuvv offer him a significant sum in exchange for more of his pieces is understandably too much for Adam to process right away. Paying dearly for the grave mistake of prioritizing money over the morals that have been his driving force, Adam is tortured by the sight of the artwork being manipulated to serve the Vuvv propaganda. By the time the ending scene rolls in and you’re sort of taken aback by how sudden Adam and Chloe’s reconciliation is, there might be one thing you’re not thinking of. When Adam rejected the values instilled in him by his parents and the devastated state of the world for materialistic comfort, he essentially realized why Chloe did what she did. The ending sequence of Landscape With Invisible Hand pragmatically juxtaposes a hopeful rebellion with brushstrokes on a wall with the despondent acceptance of how the world functions under an apathetic authority.