Thursday, January 23, 2014

Week 2 Essay: The Silence of the Monster

      Between the novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, and the film “The Curse of Frankenstein”, by director Terence Fisher, very little is held in common, save the name of the characters and the creation of a monster. The film and novel take two different approaches in telling a tale concerning the creation of life by a scientist, and the disastrous ends that result from such an action. The most significant change between the two media forms is in the characterization of Frankenstein’s monster, and it is this change that helps to deepen the characterization of Frankenstein as a wholly undesirable person within the film over the novel.

      In short, the largest change between the novel and the film was the decision to make the monster of Frankenstein unintelligent. In the novel, the monster created by Frankenstein learns and becomes quite articulate, to the point of full conversations with humans. The monster is able to describe his motivations (Shelley, 158), win arguments, (Shelley, 162), understand human cultural mores, and in general, acts as a human. However, the film characterizes the monster as stupid, mute, and violent. The monster is never characterized in the film as an intelligent character; instead, he is defined by the few violent acts he performed and nothing else. Instead of an acute intelligence that was able to modify the behavior of Frankenstein, the film’s version of Frankenstein is passive, and is only defined as a character by what Frankenstein does to the monster.

      The decision to keep the monster passive in the film magnifies the character defects within Frankenstein, while the book’s use of the monster as an intelligent within the book being clouds the characterization of Frankenstein. The novel form of Frankenstein is easily characterized as self-centered. He characterizes his issues over that of others, evident where Elizabeth complained of misery, and he dismissed her, stating his issues were of more importance (Shelley, 222). He placed importance on his own safety above others, arming himself with pistols and knives when under threat of the monster, and failed to warn or protect any of his family members (Shelley, 225). He even willingly put his friend Clerval at risk by taking him to England, hoping that the presence of Clerval would discourage the monster from attacking, or at minimum, Clerval could act as a human shield (Shelley, 173). His research was driven by self-interest, and he always reluctant to take any blame for the murders the monster committed. However, much of these character flaws are mitigated by the duress he was placed under due to the monster. Most of his selfish actions were done while under a looming threat of the monster’s rage. He believed the monster to be an extremely dangerous threat, a thought the monster did little to dispel. The monster’s vehemence towards Frankenstein heavily influenced Frankenstein’s behavior, and pushed it to dangerous extremes. The monster’s actions, including the murder and threats, make Frankenstein’s character flaws less striking, because the reader can sympathize with him to a degree for the stress he was placed under. The intelligence of the monster, and the active role he played in the novel, made the character of Frankenstein less one-dimensional, as Frankenstein’s actions are not just of his own character flaws, but also of extreme external pressure.

      In contrast to this, the film version of Frankenstein has just as many character flaws as the novel version (if not more), and these flaws are not softened by the presence of some external threat. During the movie, Frankenstein researches in hopes of fame, and refuses to stop working for any reason, no matter how immoral his work becomes. He directly causes the death of Justine, and murder’s another man in cold blood for his brain. He cheats on his betrothed, promises marriage to a woman of a lower station, and actually shoots Elizabeth while trying to kill the monster. He berates Paul, who is a mixture of Clerval and novel Frankenstein’s father, for shooting the monster and for trying to stop Frankenstein’s work. However, the largest distinction is that none of Frankenstein’s actions are done while under duress of an external threat. All of these actions were made by him, with no external pressure. The character flaws of the film Frankenstein are caused his normal behavior, without the outside threat of the monster made by the novel. By making the monster unintelligent in the film, he is demoted to a more passive role in the narrative, a being whose actions are caused by the actions of Frankenstein, instead of a being that modifies the behavior of Frankenstein, as the novel does. The decisions that Frankenstein makes are done in his own interest, not in the interest of the safety of others, or in fear of the monster.

      Frankenstein’s monster is a dynamic character in the novel, who learns morality, is spurned by humanity, and modifies his behavior due to the relationship he has with Frankenstein. That monster is able to mitigate the character flaws of Frankenstein because the monster’s own character flaws change changes the actions of both characters. If the novel monster was able to forgive Frankenstein’s actions, or find a less murderous approach to punishing Frankenstein, the eventual actions and characterization of Frankenstein would change within the novel. However, in the film, the monster takes no independent action. The terrible events that occur in the movie are direct products of the scientist’s actions, not the monster’s. In the novel, the death of Justine is the fault of the monster, who intelligently framed her for an action the monster committed, while Frankenstein’s blame in that murder is that he created and mistreated the monster. The film uses the murder of Justine to show exactly how little Frankenstein cared for people around him, as the film monster is only capable of violence, and nothing else. Each murder in the novel is a byproduct of the Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster relationship, while, in the film, it is all a product Frankenstein’s ruthless ambition. The actions of the monster in the novel are able to force Frankenstein to rethink his scientific pursuits, which he eventually abandons. However, the film does not have such an influence acting upon Frankenstein, which allows him to continue his gruesome experimentation. Without the monster taking an active role in the tale as an intelligent character, Frankenstein makes little character development, and continues to follow only his own goals, which leads to more negative outcomes directly attributed to Frankenstein’s character.

      There are a considerable number of differences between the film “The Curse of Frankenstein” and the novel “Frankenstein”, including the removal of the layers of narration from the novel, the addition, removal and modification of several characters, and a change in location, but the most important is the change in the characterization of Frankenstein’s monster. By making the monster a passive and less independent character, the film magnifies the negative aspects of Frankenstein’s personality, and places more blame for the terrible occurrences during the narrative on Frankenstein’s character. The novel form of Frankenstein is self-centered, ambitious, and intelligent, but his actions are often motivated by fear of the monster, which takes away some of the responsibility Frankenstein had towards his actions. The film, however, places all the responsibility for his actions on Frankenstein’s shoulders, as all decisions were products of Frankenstein’s own character, without an intelligent monster influencing the title character. By making the monster more passive in the narrative in the film, Frankenstein becomes more negatively characterized than he does in the novel.

Works Cited

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Lynd Ward. Frankenstein: The Lynd Ward Illustrated Edition. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2009. Print.

The Curse of Frankenstein. Dir. Terence Fisher. Perf. Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, and Robert Urquhart. Hammer Film, 1957. DVD.


Kurt Wichman said...

I personally have not seen this particular film, but I do understand with your major argument. In my personal opinion, I believe the major decision to change the monster from what he is in the novel; smart, learning, adapting and such, into a senseless, stupid like giant is obviously for dramatic purposes. The major change that the film has over Victor is essentially for the same effect. In the novel, Shelley uses extremely descriptive language and symbolism that might not transform well into a film, that the director wants. From what you describe, Victor turns into the 'mad scientist' he is often stereotyped as according to the social norm and the monster is a ruthless killer.
I can see similarities in the film I watched, the 1994 version. Many things were changed but it keeps the essence the same. With the change of some minor (or major in some opinions) changes, directors change the story to their liking, but still keep the Mary Shelley's Frankenstein essence.

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.