Film directed by Andrew Niccol
“To my mother, Candy, who taught me that love is the best part of any story.”
“Our world has never been more perfect, only it is no longer our world.”
The Earth has been invaded, but most of humanity was not aware of this fact until it was far too late. These stealthy invaders inhabit human bodies, called hosts, and go on leading human lives, quietly converting others until there are almost no humans left. Earth is not the first world they have conquered, but it is unlike any planet the Souls have inhabited before. Melanie Stryder is one of the few remaining humans, or she was until she is captured and becomes the new host for Wanderer, a Soul who has lived many lives but never settled on any one world. Melanie was supposed to fade away when Wanderer took possession of her body but, for the first time in her many lives, Wanderer finds herself unable to subdue her host. Human emotions and memories are so powerful and vivid that she feels sympathy for Melanie. Worse, it isn’t really sympathy, but empathy; Melanie’s feelings are her feelings. Soon Wanderer finds that inhabiting Melanie’s body often means wanting what she wants and loving those she loves. Melanie’s memories of Jared drive Wanderer into the wilderness in search of the man they both miss.
Meyer’s novel gets off to a slow start, with some awkward exposition from the perspective of a minor character. The film manages to eliminate this awkward dialogue through an initial voiceover introduction. However, later moments of exposition in the film remain clumsily wedged into dialogue, a technique which is efficient but also breaks narrative flow. Overall, The Host hues close to the source material—Meyer was a producer on the film—except where it streamlines the plot for runtime, or strays for the opportunity to add visual effects or more dramatic action sequences. The Host presents a somewhat unusual challenge for film translation. Not only is it a first person perspective, but the two first-person characters share a mind and speak to one another in silence. In the film, this was achieved using an echoey voice-over to represent Melanie’s voice in Wanderer’s mind. Although Saorise Ronan is a remarkable actress, not all of their interactions with one another ring true. Indeed, the acting overall is a mixed bag, with most characters having good moments, as well as awkward ones that don’t quite pass muster.
Despite the science fiction premise, The Host is a love story—romance with a window dressing of science fiction. Meyer dedicates the book to her mother, who she says “taught me that love is the best part of any story,” and this certainly plays out in her work. Although the ending offers some hope of redemption for humanity, the problem of the occupation of Earth is by no means solved. (Although initially published as stand alone, Meyer has stated that there may be future sequels). Rather, Meyer focuses on resolving the conflict of having Wanderer and Melanie first love the same man, and then love two different men despite residing in one body. Unlike the book, however, the film seems to see the humour in the situation, and wisely chooses to play Meyer’s melodramatic two kiss scene (one with each love interest) for laughs when Wanderer frantically calls Melanie’s name, rather than that of either lover.
In “A Conversation with Stephenie Meyer” included in the book, Meyer has said that The Host and the Twilight Saga are not particularly similar. Overall, however, there are a number of strong similarities despite claims to the contrary. Love triangles (or quadrangles?) and romances complicated by age differences play a key role in both stories and Wanderer, much like Bella, is self-sacrificing to the point of absurdity. Although marketed as an adult novel, I would peg it squarely in the realm of YA despite some of the characters being slightly older.
Looking for another sci-fi romance? I recommend The Rules by Stacey Kade.