Landscape with Invisible Hand: Making a Case for Existence

Photo credit: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, films like Landscape with Invisible Hand might not exist.

In all of the stories about alien invasions and dystopian futures, there aren’t many like Landscape with Invisible Hand. The seemingly nonsensical title refers not only to its 2017 source material novel by M. T. Anderson, but also to the title of a piece of artwork within the film. The art is created by teenager Adam (Asante Blackk), who finds solace in painting. He lives with his mother (Tiffany Haddish) and his sister (Brooklynn MacKinzie) on Earth. It looks a lot like the planet we know today, and even though there’s been an alien invasion of sorts, there aren’t any little green guys running around.

The alien race is known as Vuvv and they’re not the aliens from Hollywood drive-in movies of yesteryear. Instead, the Vuvv look like plucked chickens that walk around on oddly bent limbs, with large paddles instead of hands. Their speech is made by rubbing and slapping their paddles together, an alien version of Sign Language. While their appearance may not seem like supreme rulers, that is what they became when they landed on Earth five years prior to the beginning of Landscape with Invisible Hand. They did not impose their rule through force or violence, but by introducing their labor-saving technology.

A family of Vuvv
Photo credit: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

All of a sudden, everything is automated. There’s no need for teachers, doctors, lawyers, anything. Humanity is set adrift by the Vuvv. Earth has become desolate and poverty-stricken with thousands, if not millions, of human families forced to live in their cars, in tents, or in falling-down houses while the Vuvv (and some select humans) live in perfectly manicured floating cities above the planet. Adam and his family are some of the humans who have decided to stay on Earth to try to salvage what’s left of their home. At school he meets Chloe (Kylie Rogers), who has just moved to the city. They quickly develop a crush on each other and she proposes that they make some money by broadcasting their teenage love story to the Vuvv. The aliens are fascinated by all things romantic because it’s not a feeling they experience.

As one can imagine, Landscape with Invisible Hand is a bit odd around the edges. You don’t have to look further than the Vuvv themselves to recognize that writer/director Cory Finley has created a world that’s slightly off-kilter. Food is presented in oddly formed blocks and made by a “meat printer” from the Vuvv. Humans shave their eyebrows and keep their skin moist to fit in with the aliens, and teachers have been replaced by cartoon versions of the small Vuvv creatures. Earth is recognizable, but it’s not a nice place to live. There’s a distinct feeling of hopelessness that exists among the humans because they don’t see any way to work through this new world order. Jobs are few and far between, with people who used to be brain surgeons fighting for a job as a golf cart driver for the Vuvv. It doesn’t take much imagining by the audience to see themselves in the shoes of Adam and his family. How many people today, with rising inflation, are struggling to put food on the table and a roof over the heads of their family?

Chloe and Adam peer into a doorway
Photo credit: Lynsey Weatherspoon

Finley burst into the film world with Thoroughbreds in 2017, with Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor Joy playing the lead roles in a darkly comedic look at complicated teenage friendships. He followed Thoroughbreds up with Bad Education, an HBO movie starring Hugh Jackman about public school embezzlement. In some ways, Landscape with Invisible Hand feels like a natural blend of these two. The heightened, slightly absurdist nature of Thoroughbreds mixed with the more down-to-reality quality of Bad Education paves the way for Landscape with Invisible Hand. However, the vision Finley has for Landscape with Invisible Hand feels unfocused. The film lacks the clear certainty of Thoroughbreds, a self-assured debut feature like no other. Landscape with Invisible Hand has moments that come close to succeeding, but not with the same confidence Finley has shown in the past.

At the film’s core is the battle between art and love and survival. Adam and Chloe’s courtship broadcast could be teenage love or it could be a means of putting food on the table. Adam’s painting could be his way of expressing himself or a paycheck. Under the current state of capitalism, can art be both expression and monetary gain? Finley uses a teenage romance to peel back the layers of capitalism and classism. Like his previous work, there’s always a satirical edge to his observations. In the case of Landscape with Invisible Hand, he’s overwhelmed by the observations he wants to make. There was a tidiness and confidence to Thoroughbreds in Finley’s satirical critiques, but that razor-sharp wit seems to have dulled.

Written by Tina Kakadelis

News Editor for Film Obsessive. Movie and pop culture writer. Seen a lot of movies, got a lot of opinions. Let's get Carey Mulligan her Oscar.

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