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The people behind The Host worked hard to please the young fans they obviously thought would come expecting Twilight meets Tom Cruise’s War of the Worlds. In this film, based on Twilight author Stephenie Meyer’s other novel, lots of action, tension, and PG-13-rated sensuality were crammed into what could have benefited from a leisurely pace, less forced action, and far fewer beautiful young people. They looked way too healthy and well groomed to be the last desperate survivors of the human race, reduced to living in caves and scavenging.

Actress Saoirse Ronan aces her dual role, even without being given twice the screen time. For she is both Wanderer, a gentle alien creature implanted in the body of a human host, and Melanie, the young human who has unsuccessfully attempted to sacrifice her life rather than be captured and subjected to implantation. Wanderer awakes from her insertion procedure expecting to have full control of the body she has been given, only to learn that Melanie’s consciousness has not left the building.

Melanie and Wanderer briefly struggle for control but quickly become allies against the aliens who want their secret knowledge about the remnants of the human resistance. Among the hidden survivors are those Melanie loves most, and Wanderer, influenced by Melanie’s memories and dreams, cannot help caring for them as well. Together in one body, Melanie and Wanderer flee the aliens, known as “the souls,” in a desperate bid to find and protect the people neither of them can live without.

The Host deals, if somewhat superficially, with post-apocalyptic thriller themes that are familiar, perhaps especially so to fans of alien conspiracy stories and zombie dramas. To what values do we humans cling when our survival is threatened, when our security and sense of self, perhaps our very humanity is at stake? How do we maintain our identity and ideals when the walls of civilization as we knew it crumble? With what weapons do we fight back?

Meyer’s novel goes into greater depth than the adaptation can. Still, the movie makes an admirable attempt—between getting lovers and friends together and in and out of danger—to consider how living and sharing with an enemy can change our perception of them as aliens, ugly, untrustworthy, and dangerous.

Also, if one digs deeper (picture a steam shovel in a sandbox), there is something being said in this story about the struggle to be spiritual in a carnal body. The “soul” may have good intentions, but the body wants what it wants, and the two are bound to fight. Ultimately, the message of The Host is that the soul and the body must either find a way to work together or, as adversaries, risk mutual destruction. Sound familiar? (Open Road)

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