In the 1931 film entitled “Frankenstein,” there are many notable differences depicted throughout the movie which causes the storyline to deviate completely from the Gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley. This black-and-white Hollywood hit, although an important piece of cinema at the time, is essentially altered to such a great extent that it would cause Mary Shelley herself to turn over in her grave. The most glaring difference between the film and the novel is when a “criminal” brain, belonging to a disturbed individual, is stolen from Dr. Waldman’s lab and placed within the monster’s head—consequently explaining his heinous actions. This change in the film completely misrepresents the monster’s true character from the novel by presenting the viewer with a malevolent, speechless monster with immoral intent, and lacking any conscience or desire but to kill.
During some of the earliest moments of the film it became apparent that this adaptation of Frankenstein wasn’t designed to give the monster a voice which he could then use to convey his desire for acceptance to coexist with humanity. In the reading there is a specific passage where the monster delivers his personal journey to Victor telling him about his development of the senses and what it was like to be alone in the woods. At this very instance we understand the creature, although appearing grotesque and of gigantic stature, has nothing more than the mental development of a frightened young child. He miserably says, “I was a poor, helpless, miserable wretch; I know, and could distinguish, nothing; but feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept” (Shelley 111). Later, the creature observes a family in their cottage for several months. As he begins to admire their beautiful qualities he’s also presented the opportunity to learn the science of letters and words, of which caused a “wide field of wonder and delight” in him (Shelley 130). The film doesn’t even remotely begin to showcase any of his emotional or physical growth whatsoever. He can only emit an audible groan and a blank stare; making the monster seem like an incoherent, savage character. These human qualities—or, lack thereof—are crucial alterations because they don’t truly represent the monster’s initial altruistic behavior that is seen in the novel.
Halfway through the film, the hunchback assistant known as Fritz upsets the monster when he provokingly brings a flaming torch nearby. The monster frantically begins to attack those around him, but he is eventually detained. In the novel, though, we see that the monster is not so brutally savage when faced with abject conditions. He exclaims once entering a village, “Some fled, some attacked me, until, grievously bruised by stones and many other kinds of missile, I escaped to the open country, and fearfully took refuge…” (Shelley 115). The creature in the movie was not so passive once being detained and provoked. Another important deviation occurs when he escaped Frankenstein’s castle and fled to the countryside to wreak havoc. He encounters a little girl named Maria playing by a lake and begins to play with her. She hands him flowers which they both throw onto the lake to watch float. When she runs out of them the monster is confused and throws Maria into the lake, subsequently drowning her. Conversely, within the monster’s story he sees a girl being chased through the woods until she trips and falls into a river. He tells Victor, “I rushed from my hiding-place; and, with extreme labour from the force of the current, saved her, and dragged her to shore. She was senseless; and I endeavored by every means in my power to restore animation…” (Shelley 158). These important changes between each respective version can either hinder or help the audience compassionately sympathize with the lonesome monster.
A reoccurring theme throughout the book is the monster seeking companionship to alleviate the pain caused by his horrible disfigurement. The monster ponders to himself, “Could they turn from their door one, however monstrous, who solicited their compassion and friendship?” (Shelley 145). Although frightened he desired only to be loved by the cottagers. However, the awful reception he receives due to his horrifying figure leads to his desire to wreak eternal damnation on all of man. After being shot he laments his words passionately, “Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind” (Shelley 158). It is here where we can clearly divide the novels approach to explaining why the monster is a savage, meanwhile the film never develops a substantial backstory as to why he begins killing. It can only be deduced that it was the criminal brain he possessed which made him kill and attack those he encountered.
These points only allude to a few pertinent differences between the 1931 Frankenstein film and the novel. Although the film made for an interesting watch it was really not similar to the book at all and was quite upsetting. The most dramatic change was Fritz obtaining the tainted brain to be put inside the monster and the outcome of this decision. His sheer stupidity sets the stage for the brutality that ensues. These changes have a drastic impact on the viewer’s perception and attitude on what once was a creature who yearned for acceptance and love before he began to murder. The monster is such a complex character that sometimes movies do an injustice to the story, or as seen here, the character itself.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Dover, 2009. Print.