Saturday, February 15, 2014

Frankenstein Movie Revision

            It has become commonplace in the realm of Hollywood films and film production, in general, to push entertainment as the main element of the movie.  This only becomes problematic when the films are based on previously published books, which sometimes poses the conflict of alterations the movie crews think make the story better and more thrilling versus staying true to the core concepts and dynamics of the book.  The film Frankenstein, directed by James Whale (1931), is one of the movies that does no justice to the book.  The core story doesn’t even somewhat follow that of the book, Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley (1818).  A substantial difference from the book that appears in the movie is the presence of an extra character, Fritz, who is Frankenstein’s minion in the creation of the monster.  His presence has a direct consequence on the developing characters of the monster and subsequently Frankenstein, which also give way to avenues of indirect differences in the film compared to the book, including a contrasting focus of events that ultimately give a completely different perception of the story to the knowing audience.
The development of Frankenstein’s creation from seemingly human to monster is completely essential to character development and the unfolding of the story, but non-existent in the minute growth of the creation in the movie.  One of the main reasons for this is by the hand of Fritz. Early in the film, Fritz is sent to Dr. Walden’s lab to steal a brain as the final component of the monster.  Fritz grabs the brain labeled normal on the lab bench and, in a clumsy stupor, trips over himself allowing it to fall to the floor, shattering the glass container it was in, rendering the brain useless in pieces.  He instead grabs the other brain labeled abnormal, which was previously revealed to have come from a person who lived a life of complete brutality as a murderer.  This connotation sticks with the brain and subsequently the monster, once awaken, further in the story.  It starts early with the murder of Fritz, and continues to the end in an attempt to murder Elizabeth. 
Surely the monster is motivated early on by Fritz’s childish actions of antagonism, but it is still rather distinct in complexity from the monster of the book that achieves certain levels of humanity.  The film monster shows only small amounts of action that would characterize him as more than a complete zombie, which is essentially what he is.  Similar to many traditional zombies, which are attracted to singular things, the monster is intrigued by the light and reaches for it, but does not get to experience it.  He displays a slight animalistic curiosity, but it doesn’t get much further than that.  Shortly after animation, Dr. Frankenstein is somewhat delighted by what he has accomplished, and when prompted to sit down, the monster follows his command.  From a developmental perspective, this is also an inadequacy of the film because, it seems that just as the dastardly aggression is attributed to the brain that Fritz mistakenly took, this simplistic following of direction can be thought of as some basal functioning of the brain that the movie is suggesting is stored in it prior to animation.  The underlying personality seems to have transcended the time the brain had been out of life by a trigger, Fritz, and the reception to speech is somewhat understood, though this is a weak contemplation because the monster resists much of the urging of the doctor to do what he asks of him outside the realm of sitting in a chair, which itself, is not without difficulty.  It is completely clear, however, that the monster has no ability of speech himself.  He simply makes deep noises.  He lets out groans when wrestling with and hanging Fritz in the beginning of the movie, the same as the ones at the end of the movie when attempting to strangle Elizabeth to death, displaying his incapability of development by the scope of communication.  He also lacks the complexity of certain connections of understanding when he throws the little girl in the water after observing the floating flowers.  It seems that his basic curiosity overcomes his limited knowledge.  The reason for this lack of complexity of character might be rather easy to define if it were to be said that it was just for film purposes in that creating a monster and nothing more, made it more of a simple villain-like character in an early horror film.  A different and interesting reason, could be due to the route of animation that Fritz and Frankenstein provide, which is heavily weighed upon in the film, but not the book. 
In a horrific manner, the film goes as far as to show Fritz and Frankenstein digging up graves for bodies, one immediately after a funeral, and another that is hanging by the neck from a pole.  The purposeful showing of their gathering procedures is coupled with their extensive work in the laboratory to outline the process of creation.  The scientist and his sidekick work extensively with electricity and the physical consequences of it, while also mixing various concoctions in beakers.  Frankenstein says that he has found the light that first brought life to the world, and in the electrochemistry he performs, he recreates it.  From an animation standpoint, the body is raised above the laboratory dwellings during a very strong thunder and lightning storm, and it is the energy of this storm from the electrical output of lightening that becomes the cause for the sudden shocking animation of the body (Watkins). This may also be a contributing factor to the static character of the monster.  The electrical impulses of the body are just given a jumpstart.  There is no detail as to any tissues of the body (other than where they came from), the fluids, or working systems other than the electrical circuit.  This would then suggest that the monster is in fact just an animated zombie that has no further chance for development.  Though this creature is reanimated, it may not be brought back to life, as life would conventionally be defined, but rather a walking dead.  There is no attempt for the monster to sustain life, for he does not eat or drink, but just wanders around.  The monster is completely exempt from any possible personal associations to the audience.  Granted, it may be that this detail is far beyond the scope of a 1931 horror film, but it is an interesting thing to consider, which is in direct contrast to what the scope of the book lays out for the monster. 
Frankenstein of the book is much more versed in a biological, chemical, and anatomical (natural philosophy) approach to be able to, “…give life to an animal as complex and wonderful as man.” (Shelley 48)  The creature was meant to be human all along, not just a result of the animation of a body into a life-form via electricity, which indicates the aspirations and goals of Frankenstein to be above what the movie presents.  Frankenstein was worried about a frame, “…with all its intricacies of fibres, muscles, and veins,…” which he works tirelessly to obtain as an independent.  Unlike the movie, the actual process by which Frankenstein mimics life is not discussed much further than that other than some minor details of gathering bones and other materials.  After studying decay, life, and death arduously Frankenstein says, “I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing…the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs (Shelley 53). Outside of this exclamation and preparation of materials, there is no other indication as to how Frankenstein actually achieved the creation of a transient somewhat superhuman being, which leaves a lot open to interpretation, contrary to the electrical animation of the movie (Watkins).  The attention to what seems to be correct anatomical and physical nature of it in itself could be part of the reason for the distinction between the monsters characters as well.  Fritz’s mistake and the limited scope of study in these more natural sciences contained in the movie constricts the possibility of progress in relative terms, while the book’s animation makes the idea of the human character the creature develops much more available.  Frankenstein’s creature in the book develops wants and needs while sensing hunger, thirst, and fatigue.  (Shelley 111) He understands that the cessation of sensations is death and feared it, a higher complex.  (Shelley 133) The search for and satisfaction of nutritional and survival needs indicates that even in the earliest stages of life in the book, the monster is far superior to that of the movie, which makes it much more believable for the former to have developed as he did.  This may be due to the original construction of the creature as a more complete biological being, the consequence of the pure “genius” of Frankenstein in all the work he conducted alone, while Fritz was highly unqualified to be anything more than a lackey to him in the movie, but still assisted in certain ventures. 
Thus, the depiction of the monster in the book has a far more profound evolutionary progression.  His monster stature and look made Frankenstein flee his site because, “breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.” (Shelly 54) Despite this, the monster actively shows humanly characteristics of increasing intelligence.  The monster originally was much like the depiction in the movie, vocalizing, “…inarticulate sounds… frightened me into silence again.” (Shelley 112) However, by the end of the book, he is talking about Paradise Lost and speaking in French (Watkins).  He soon shows how discovery can be afforded to reasoning and often committed to memory, discovering fire and the warmth it provided (Shelley 113).  Quickly, his intricacies gain substance when there is complex emotional analysis of DeLacey’s farm family.  “The silver hair and benevolent countenance of the aged cottager won my reverence, while the gentle manners of the girl enticed my love.” He himself asks Frankenstein for a companion of his own. (Shelley 117,162) These events give the monster a high level of sympathy, not shown in the movie, which is important to his human-like character (Britton). Shelly also gives the monster times of great enlightenment questioning how much of a monster he is compared to a human in pondering the deeper questions of life that many humans indulge, “What [Who] am I?”  (Shelley 133) These developing characteristics give the monster more of a relatable being for the reader to certainly sympathize with, which is never given a chance in the film (Britton).  The monster grows up before the eyes of the reader, giving moments of success and certain achievements to be proud of just as a parent would be of a child at an academic awards ceremony or graduation.  Being able to see this and read the unfolding of events makes the occurrence all the more enjoyable in a vicariously nostalgic way.  This build up is important to completely understand and feel the full destruction of Frankenstein as a complex person through the acts of the monster when the creature turns to evil after being outcast by all humans he had come in contact with, including his own creator.  After his violent departure from the DeLacey family, the side of the monster only shown in the movies, is brought to life immediately after saying, “I, like the arch-fiend, bore a hell within me;…wish to tear up the tress, spread havoc and destruction around me, and then to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin.” (Shelley 152)   Just as quickly as the progression of his humanly characteristics gave the reader something good to cherish in the monster, Shelley gives the reader every reason to loathe the monster with the growing evil of his acts.  He admits to killing William (160), a murder Justine was found guilty of, threatens Frankenstein’s future wedding night (192), murders Frankenstein’s best friend, but in worst malice, murders Elizabeth to which he exclaims, “yet when she died!-nay, then I was not miserable…evil henceforth became my good (255).”  All of these murders are direct attacks by the monster on the well-being of Frankenstein, which is also not true of the movie. The monster’s devilishly vengeful scheming is further indicative of a higher complex, showing the vastness of his reason, and the methodical intent of all his actions (Watkins). It makes the monster’s entire plan, “death will carry despair to him [Frankenstein], and a thousand other miseries shall torment and destroy him” completely absent from the movie, which is almost the entirety of the book. (Shelley 160) 
The difference in embodiment for the two monsters is certainly an important consequence for each character of the monster himself, comparatively speaking, but also has an effect on the character of Frankenstein, which further derives from the presence of Fritz.  There is no backstory as to how Frankenstein came to the time of creation, as far as planning, goals, and school, and there is no singular accountability due to Fritz’s assistance, especially in his rectified blunders the movie explicitly points out. The evolution of the monster to evil from aspiring great good, solely created from Frankenstein’s hands, makes his demise all the more tragic.  This side of Frankenstein is barely even an afterthought in the movie, while it is essentially the vehicle of the entire plot unfolding in the book.  The dominant driving force is Frankenstein himself.  His drive for fame and glory above all was central to his work.  This drive can be closely paralleled to an extreme addiction, to which he doesn’t stop until complete [here work, but then in death when attempting to destroy it later].  He toils away in isolation day and night doing nothing but studying and attempting to make life from death possible.  His monster (and its creation) can be thought of as his drug.  Not only does this addiction cause him to neglect his friends and family, it also incites true neglect of himself, obsessed with the fulfillment of something no one else could have claimed to accomplish.  (Schmid 21-23) When he set out to create a human being he aspired, “to become greater than his nature will allow,” such that, “no father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs,” putting himself before God (Shelley 48- 49). This notion of being arrogant and confident beyond belief with relation to God was only brought to the screen once after the being comes to life when Frankenstein says, now I know what it feels like to be God.” This isn’t the complete story because even though Fritz is an afterthought intellectually, he was still there for the creation, and God acts alone.  Frankenstein’s arrogance takes a back seat to the creation process. 
When he had actually succeeded in the act, his thoughts and feelings quickly shifted from grandiose ideas of a new species blessing him as its creator and source (48) to putting an end to the existence he loathed (210).  The realization of what he had created, and the implications of it were too much for Frankenstein to handle, so he didn’t, which lead to the neglect and sorrowful wandering of his creation until their reunion later in life as a result of murder, which further incites sympathy in the reader.  The monster destroyed everything that Frankenstein had since he had been given nothing, though Frankenstein could never face the guilt of any of it, always blaming the monster, and not his lack of confession about the creation, and for what it had done as a result of his own wrongdoings.  His failure to take responsibility is indicative of his addictive nature, doing everything for himself and his own benefit, not caring of the consequences it has on other people.  This omission is important in the story when Frankenstein’s arrogance, dynamic guilt, and innocence is somewhat affected by the amassed misery inflicted upon him by the vengeful monster.  However, instead of taking responsibility for what he has done, Frankenstein blames “the drug” for his misfortunes.  (Schmid 24)  The highest level of misery in the movie is a one line mention of guilt for things that happened being his fault, though it is resolved in the eyes of the viewers with the death of the monster, which also doesn’t occur in the book.  Guilt and conscience essentially have no place in the movie, which shapes almost all of Frankenstein’s book character.  Having Fritz as a secondary character in the creation process displaces sole accountability for the acts, including the madness of the senseless time Frankenstein singularly devotes to the endeavor in the book, which is cut short in the movie by his presence.  The monster doesn’t specifically set vengeance against Frankenstein and his family [two of the three people murdered were close to him (Dr. Walden and Fritz, excluded the little girl)], but starts by turning his violence on Fritz.  Frankenstein, Fritz, and the monster don’t create the wretch of a man that Dr. Frankenstein becomes in the end of the book. 
The additional character of Fritz in the movie completely cuts the dynamic depth of the book.  His early blunder in stealing a brain gives the movie monster a ground for violence and true horror film material, which doesn’t display the softer human side of the monster that makes his character readable and relatable, thus providing no avenues of sympathy before being ripped away.  Frankenstein’s lack of solitude cuts the backstory of how he came around to the idea of the creation of another human being, seeking to be bigger than God, discounting the major inner turmoil displayed in the book by him.  Frankenstein doesn’t study alone for years the natural sciences due to his presence, so the bearing the full weight of the misfortunes that ensue after creation is absent, though in the book this is attributed to the monster and not Frankenstein himself.  The monster’s first act of violence is against Fritz, not in response to the neglect of Frankenstein as a creator due to his inability to deal with what he had created.  The movie is certainly a large variation to the book, in which multiple central themes or core ideas are missing or completely altered.

Works Cited:  

Britton, Jeanne M. "Novelistic sympathy in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Studies in
            Romanticism 48.1 (2009): 3+. Academic OneFile. Web. 11 Feb. 2014
Schmid, Thomas H. “Addiction and Isolation in Frankenstein: A Case of Terminal Uniqueness.”
            University of Texas at El Paso Gothic Studies Text. (2010). Academic OneFile. Web. 11
            Feb. 2014
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Lynd Ward. Frankenstein: The Lynd Ward Illustrated
            Edition. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2009. Print.
Watkins, Ron. "Frankenstein was not a doctor: misconceptions about the novel Frankenstein, or
            the Modern Prometheus arose from the errant and misleading interpretations of the story
            in film adaptations." Skeptical Inquirer Nov.-Dec. 2010: 36+. Academic OneFile. Web.

            11 Feb. 2014.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Like I said, I'll keep it very brief.

Many of your insights are quite good - for instance, the extended (but slightly scattered) discussion of the film monster as a zombie (the film *White Zombie* is a great point of comparison here, by the way). I also really liked your analysis of the purpose that Fritz serves, by removing responsibility from Frankenstein. So there is lots of good material here.

In fact, the problem is related to the quantity of good material. There really isn't a central argument. I mean, you are arguing that the book is different from the movie, but that's so obvious as to have no value. It would have been better to focus more narrowly on particular differences between the book and movie *and what they mean*. You end up doing a good bit of that (e.g., the whole Zombie thing), but not with a good structure - you want to be clear about your main argument, and not only built up the parts of the essay which support it, but remove those parts that don't.

In other words, this essay, despite its many individual strengths, is weakened by a poor focus and (arguably) excessive length.