Have you ever been on an elevator with a group of people and it stops at a floor no one selected and when the doors open there’s no one there? Whenever that happens I always say, “It must be Claude Raines.” And no one ever gets it. Or maybe they’re contemplating the fact that in Britain elevators are called “lifts” even though they lower you too. Or maybe they’re too busy considering the physics of invisibility, or even the biology of an invisible person. Probably not the chemistry because what would that have to do with anything? Yes, in the 1933 movie and even in the H.G. Wells novel the protagonist, Griffin, becomes invisible by injecting a chemical, which is kind of ridiculous because most chemicals, even ones that prompt such dramatic changes, would eventually wear off. At least in the 1975 TV series, which I remember watching as a kid, it was a nuclear process and in the 1987 novel Memoirs Of An Invisible Man and the 1992 adaptation with Chevy Chase the protagonist is rendered invisible by bombardment with radiation, but then in 2000 with Hollow Man it was a chemical process all over again. And in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man it’s really an extended metaphor, but that’s another story.
It’s the biology that’s ridiculous, though, which I didn’t realize until I was taking an anatomy exam and one of the questions was, “Could the Invisible Man see? Discuss.” And I wrote, “No, sight depends on light projecting images onto the back of the retina. What do you want me to discuss? How you’ve just ruined what I thought was a pretty cool story? That maybe the Invisible Man isn’t really invisible but is like some kind of chameleon and can blend into the background? That you’ve tried to drag out a yes-no question so you can slip off to the teachers’ lounge for a smoke? That there are times when the power to become invisible would be really helpful in dealing with the perils of adolescence? That since it’s May I should be gathering nuts instead of sitting in here going nuts?”
I had to stay after school. My correct but creative answer was not appreciated. Go figure.