Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Monster of "Frankenstein" and "The Curse of Frankenstein"

Comparing a modern work of the story of Frankenstein to the novel written by Mary Shelly requires evaluating each by the context of the producer and the era. The 1957 The Curse of Frankenstein, directed by Terence Fisher, was created in a Christian’s image for Christian viewers. Shelley, as product of the Romantic Movement, had a different view of the story of creation than a modern director or audience. While the Romantic novel is written with moderate sympathy towards the Being as a satanic symbol, the 1957 movie detests the monster.

The means of the creation of the monster is the first reference to the difference between the works about the purpose of the Being. Shelley, or perhaps the narrators, make little reference of the source of the bones and flesh to make the monster; Walton reports from Frankenstein’s tale, “Having spent months collecting and arranging my materials, I began” (Shelly, 49). This is the solitary remark made about the collection. Because of the absence of interest in the means, the accumulation is either completely insignificant, or at most a minor sin. Fisher’s film is diametrically opposed in that it follows the collection for at least two-thirds of the work, including an implied murder, a direct defiance of one of the Ten Commandments. The director, as being raised in a strict Christian by his grandmother, shows his disdain for the defiance of God by exaggerating the evil of the acts of the being creation. The reanimation ritual itself implies almost a satanic witchcraft spell, with grinding electric sounds, bubbling fog, and glowing red lights. The creation of the monster in each has a direct result on the behavior and representation of the creature when brought to life.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, though Frankenstein has an immediate reaction of horror to the life of the being, the monster is conducts baby-like innocence (Shelley, 54). The film is in stark contrast when the Being makes an attempt on his creator’s life as his first act of living. This reaction is a result of the evils that were done in creating an evil product, emphasizing a Christian idea of cause and effect. Though the Frankenstein of the film doesn’t recognize the evil, the monster is there to represent the curse of Hell on earth for the sins that he committed. In the novel, the monster is horrifying to Frankenstein, but the monster’s wretchedness is something that readers must consider with more caution. The monster only first committed devilish acts after his rejection by those whom he admired. This reaction evokes more sympathy as it is a human reaction with anger to rejection. By the monster resolving to seek his vengeance, one of the Seven Deadly Sins, on his creator and mankind, he takes the role of Satan. This resolve to fight against his oppressors would have been more commendable by Romantics, who admired Satan’s rebellion.

Each monster is terminated with fire, but again the monster of Shelley’s work represents an honorable Satan figure, while Fisher again shows his detest for the monster. Shelley’s monster has his total victory over his creator. While disparaged for his agony of his triumph, he has achieved the liberty that he desired. This would have been a high honor for any Romantic, because the monster was able to liberate himself through his own power. His fitting death by a funeral pyre represents both the Satan’s hellfire and the ceremony of an honorable warrior. He reveals this when he tells Walton, “I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly, and exult in the agony of the torturing flames” (Shelley, 259). However, the monster’s ignoble death in The Curse of Frankenstein was symbolic of a Godly triumph over evil. Frankenstein ignited his Being with a lantern before the creature falls into acid. This annihilation heralds the power of Creator over wickedness, as the God also triumphs over the wickedness of Frankenstein himself. Fisher intended the monster’s death as Christian resolution to a story of ultimate evil on earth, and the omnipotence of God over Satan in battle.

In their creation, life and destruction, the monster of each tale represents a figure of demonic nature. However, the difference in the sympathy the audience feels towards the Being is a result of the author or director, and their eras of origination. The Frankenstein monster could be highly regarded as a Romantic figure of Satanic courage to stand against his creator, while the creature from The Curse of Frankenstein embodies sin and evil that must be relinquished by the Almighty God.


Tom Kappil said...

I liked the argument that you made, being that the changes made between the film and the novel allow the creator of the piece to manipulate the symbol of the monster. I personally did not see that when I watched the movie (I used the same film for my essay), but the argument holds. You’re first contention, was slightly confusing. I thought the detail provided in the creation of the monster for the film was more about exposing Frankenstein’s character, as opposed to the monster. The monster itself did not know what it was made from, meaning it should have minimum impact on its characterization. However, the second point was very well made, and helped distinguish between the characters of the monster between the film and novel. Finally, you’re description of the “Godly triumph over evil” for the monster’s demise in the film seems misguided. Fire as a symbol has both positive and negative associations (saving light and illumination, against hellfire and punishment), and the monster’s death was not accomplished by a man representing God, but a man who was the embodiment of evil throughout the film. I don’t really see how one evil man killing his own creation was a parallel to God defeating Satan. And you should clarify what version of Satan you are referencing in each scenario. In some parts, you intend to use the biblical version of Satan, and in others, you reference the Romantic, “Paradise Lost” version, and because they have such disparate connotations, you should clarify between the two. Overall though, your premise was a fresh look at the differences between the film and the novel.

Adam said...

I'm a little skeptical of seeing this film as Christian (as such) - but starting out with the idea of detestation vs. sympathy is a good beginning nonetheless. The second paragraph is well executed but in need of citation - you need to tell us where you got your information about Fischer's life. I think you oversimplify Shelley's account of the creation - she isn't interested in the raw materials but is interested in the processes and in Victor's state of mind. Nonetheless, you are right to focus on the film's obsession with the process of gathering materials.

I struggle a little with the idea that the monster's immediate attack on Victor Frankenstein in the film is somehow Christian. Of course it's fine to understand it as a direct results of Victor's actions - but I don't see how this makes the film Christian in any sort of conventional sense.

I like your discussion of the Romantic character of the monster's death in the novel - but it seems like a stretch (to me) to see the film's monster's death as Christian. After all, the greater figure of evil in the film is (obviously?) Victor himself - so it's not obvious to me that the monster's defeat alone could ever represent some sort of triumph of good.

Overall: You are focusing on a good set of differences, and your use of the Romantic aspect of the novel is good. While I don't buy into the idea of *Curse* as a Christian film (mostly it just seems like a stretch, especially given how evil *Victor* is), your analysis still has merit. Just because calling it Christian is over the top (or seems over the top without adding a lot more detail...) doesn't mean that you aren't heading in the right direction.

If you revise, and if you really buy into the idea that the film is literally Christian, I just think you need to work a lot harder at it, maybe both through Fischer's life and through a more detailed reading of the film - one which wrestles especially with Victor's crimes & sins.