Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ripping the Heart out of the Novel

The great challenge with bringing a novel to the big screen is always where to make artistic changes. In 1994, Kenneth Branagh makes a valiant effort to recreate Mary Shelley’s famous Frankenstein.  With many things being displayed well, Branagh however decided to completely revamp the death of Elizabeth. In Shelley’s novel, Victor and Elizabeth are enjoying their honeymoon in peace. Even after Victor’s tumultuous past events, he even stated that this time was Elizabeth was “the last moments of my life during which I enjoyed the feeling of happiness” (Shelley 221). At this point, the film and novel are in sync. Not too much later, the film completely trails off and creates a new ending to the story. In Shelley’s story, Victor suggests Elizabeth go to bed while he secretly looks for the monster to stop the impending doom. While Victor is still looking, he hears Elizabeth shrieking; he retreats to their bedroom to find that she was strangled and her body lay lifelessly on the bed. Victor then continues to sit there exclaiming his feelings while also putting his handkerchief over her face as if he were letting her sleep. This moment in the novel shows Victor how little he has left in his life. After Victor has a second to let what happened sink in, he stands up and sees the image of the monster outside the window grinning and pointing “his fiendish finger towards the corpse” (Shelley 226). In the film however, there’s a completely different train of events that began shortly after Elizabeth’s screams. In Branagh’s film, Victor races to the bedroom where he sees the monster wrist deep in Elizabeth’s chest, ripping out her heart. Victor is also accompanied be a couple people, a detail that was also not true to Shelley. While the monster rips Elizabeth’s heart out he turns to Victor and tells him “I keep my promises” (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). After the monster flees, Victor takes Elizabeth’s body back to Geneva, cuts off her head, placing it on Justine’s body, and brings a befuddled Elizabeth back to life.
                This extreme artistic change can be explained in a couple different views. In 1994, when this film was released, the attendance to movies in theatres was beginning to incline at a rapid pace. This enormous crescendo was due to the economic recession that ended in 1992. Between 1987 and 1992, Americans were not going to the movies as much as they used to. At the end of the recession, Americans saw the ability to do more social events and live leisurely. It can be seen that due to the high turnout, directors were making films that were exciting and were engaging. The shift Branagh decided to make in the film can be seen to make it more exciting and dramatic. Although the film differs from the novel, the scene where the monster rips Elizabeth’s still beating heart from her chest is far from boring.

                One of the biggest problems that this change makes is that it doesn’t give Victor time to truly let Elizabeth’s death ‘sink-in’. In the novel Victor holds his wife’s fresh corpse and goes through a plethora of emotions; pain, sadness, guilt, and many more. The film makes Victor out to be even more of a monster than he truly is meant to be. Rushing to Geneva and sawing his new wife’s head off and sewing it to a stale body is painfully cringe worthy. The alternate ending portrays Victor as a more careless individual than what I perceived Shelley to portray him as. In the end, Kenneth Branagh’s version was made to be more theatrically dramatic and exciting. Although it may not have been authentically pleasing and word for word to the novel, it was a box office success, which is what Branagh aimed for. 


Kyle McManigle said...

I like the direction of the argument you are making for how important the difference is between the movie and the book, but I would have liked to see more detail. I agree that directors and producers strive to make everything more entertaining, which takes from the purpose of the book a lot of the time, but I don’t necessarily understand the entirety of the argument. I think it can be strong, but if you were to rework the essay, I would suggest to add in more supporting detail to explain the effects that the different death of Elizabeth has on Victor. Maybe you could give a few things that Victor says in the movie and book that differ after Elizabeth’s death to truly show how he is more of a monster. It might be more difficult to give direct quotes from a movie, but I think it will bolster the essay and give it a better flow. It might also help to start from an overall general view of Victor then really narrow it down throughout the argument to give the full scope of him as a character, which could include how Elizabeth is portrayed in both since it seems like his response to her death in the movie, although gruesome, shows that he cares more about what happened than in the book.

Adam said...

The 1st paragraph could have been more compact - this is too close to just being summarization. While it is certainly important to summarize some relevant material from the film, at least, given how short your essay is, this is just too long for what it does.

The speculation about movie attendance is ok. It makes sense intuitively - but it's not like Hollywood hasn't always been accused of overdramatizing/oversimplifying the fictional works it adapts. This is almost a topic for comparing multiple film versions of Frankenstein, rather than simply comparing the novel to a particular film.

The third paragraph is where you begin to do the real work of the essay - articulating the meaning of the changes. You almost begin to analyze Victor's character, but simply stop instead of actually doing it. This third paragraph could have been the real beginning of the essay, but rather than focusing on the significance of, say, Victor's work on Elizabeth's corpse, you spent too much effort getting here and too little effort actually working with this material.