Monday, March 7, 2011

Of Men, Women and Monsters

Frankenstein is often referenced as an insight into various moral questions and dangers of scientific discovery. However, it can also be used to look at some significant differences in the way men and women think. The book was written by a woman, and the classic Universal films were scripted, directed and produced by men.  By comparing the two, those differences can be seen as clear as black and white (unless the Turner coloring people get involved.)

Yes, I do know that the film is actually an adaptation of a play written by a woman, Peggy Webling, but:
            A: There were other male written plays before hand that introduced the changes.
            B: The men who bought the rights to the play were dismissive of its quality.
            C: Using true guy logic: Why should I let facts spoil a good theory?

First of all, there’s how the creature is made.  It really doesn’t need to be a critical aspect of the story.  That the creature was built, what it represents, and the interactions with it afterwards all are. The book glosses over the process in order to get right to the feelings generated by and the consequences of that act.  It mentions the body harvesting and alchemical stuff almost in passing, and the creation moment never takes the spotlight.  The film, however, includes full “scientific” details with giant fancy machines (power tools), lightning, explosions and much yelling of orders, flipping of switches, and celebration of the importance of the event.

When the creature is done, the reactions are a huge difference. In the book, Dr. F. is immediately horrified by what he has done and descends into illness due to remorse at the mere thought that he has trespassed into a realm that no man should. This is very apparent in his own words:

“…now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bed-chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep.”

 The movie doctor has a tad lighter mood.  Note any remorse here?

That’s a line delivered with the enthusiasm usually reserved for the “Watch this!” accompanying a guy demonstrating to his buddies how he’s managed to strap a rocket engine onto his lawn mower.

This brings us to what is probably the key difference.  The female penned Victor Frankenstein creates a human looking (albeit very large and excessively creepy looking) creature that is both intelligent and cultured.  However, he immediately feels guilty about the unspeakable crime against God and nature that he committed. After recovering from the shock of his horrible deed, he works toward taking responsibility for his actions and blames his own pride and amoral thirst for knowledge.  On the other hand, we have the male filmed Henry Frankenstein.  He made a flat topped, bolt necked, inarticulate monster.  Of course, his view on the whole thing is that it all would have turned out peachy if his handicapped employee hadn’t made what basically comes down to a clerical error during the procurement phase of the project.

These feelings extend to the end of the tales.  After chasing his creation to the ends of the Earth in an attempt to atone for daring to believe a man could create life; Victor dies in the frozen isolated wasteland of the arctic. When the death of his creator leaves him still unfulfilled, the creature wanders off north to immolate himself, isolated and alone. There can be no redemption from the guilt either the doctor or his creation has brought on themselves.  The creature’s end in the film is caused by a violent and angry mob chasing the poor misunderstood monster, and finishes in a giant fiery spectacle complete with explosions and buildings collapsing. Woo-hoo! Henry gets to live happily ever after with his new wife and family. Y’know, it wasn’t really his fault and he promises not to do it again (until the sequel anyway.)

Speaking of sequels, that’s another huge difference.  In the book, everyone Dr. Frankenstein talks to about his work is horrified and repulsed by the thought that a man tried to give birth to new life using scientific, unnatural methods.  They all agree that destroying his life’s work is the high moral path.   In the litany of sequels that follow the original Frankenstein there are always one or two others displaying prime examples of guy thinking, “He built a dude... Way cool! I bet I could do it better, though.”

As stated previously: the inherently evil (due to its method of creation) monster’s final fate in the book, as is proper for an affront to the natural life creating process, dies by his own hand, cold and alone.  The film version keeps coming back, always as a pawn or misunderstood being.  Invariably some mistake by someone other than the guy doing the creating can be blamed for anything that goes wrong.  The monster’s actions, like most guy's, are never really his fault. In the final Universal films and subsequent homages, he often ends up in league with the good guys against someone like Dracula. (Who is a symbol of romantic and sexual freedom in women, according to some scholars with even more free time (and dirtier minds) than I have...if that’s possible.)

In conclusion: What does the doctor ultimately get in the end from trespassing into the realm of life creation that no man should venture into?

Female written book: Loss of family and loved ones, loss of health, and finally, loss of connection to human society and life itself, mourned only by the creation he hated.

“Oh, Frankenstein! Generous and self-devoted being! What does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me? I, who irretrievably destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst. Alas! He is cold, he cannot answer me.”

Male created movie series: 

So… yeah, a slightly different way of viewing responsibilities and benefits of creation.


Jeff McGinley said...

Whoah , sorry about that. The quote function did weird things to the order of the book and movie bits, should be right now.

Bruce Fieggen said...

Loved Young Frankenstein!!! Right after watching it last month for the first time, my 10 year-old taught himself to play "Putting on the Ritz." Of course everyone hearing him had to sing the monster's line, spoiling it a little.