Soon it will be two hundred years when Frankenstein is in the European culture. The novel, written in 1818 by 19-year-old Mary Shelley, gave birth to the whole mythology. At all times, man has sought to solve the mystery of life and death, feel like a creator, and revive the lifeless body. One of the most famous embodiments of this idea was written by Mary Shelley, who gave the world a unique character. The story of Frankenstein, a talented scientist who created an evil force with which he could not cope, has been a classic of science fiction and horror for almost two hundred years. In this work, the author created an interesting metaphor: the autonomous existence of an artificial creature. This immortal gothic novel by Mary Shelley has long become a classic of its genre and inspired many other writers to create their own stories that involve this truly inexhaustible and timeless theme. The works of such masters as Robert Bloch, Ramsey Campbell, Paul McAuley, and Kim Newman were inspired by Mary Shelley's novel. As expected, the novel was repeatedly adapted for the screen and had all sorts of interpretations. Unfortunately, none of them could really capture the atmosphere of the original book and the main characters. However, Kenneth Branagh's film has become the most close to the novel itself, to its plot, Gothic images, dark and fatalistic atmosphere, and mysterious tone. This paper aims to compare and contrast Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein with Kenneth Branagh’s film. Branagh's movie, still having a lot of changes, keeps the general concept of the original work: preservation of harmony in nature is impossible when it submits to the immoral human whims.
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Frankenstein: Science Fiction or the Story of Mysterious Fears of Human Nature?
From the very beginning, the movie makes it clear to the audience that it will focus on the early 19th century, a century of revolutionary change, when the thirst for knowledge was so great that numerous scientific experiments were conducted, the purpose of which was to change humanity. After his mother's death, the principal character Victor Frankenstein was obsessed with an idea to conquer death, to breathe life into the dead body by means of galvanic current. On the contrary, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is not only about scientific experiments; it carries more secrets and philosophy than it might seem at first glance. According to the movie, one can say that this story is about great scientific discoveries and achievements in anatomy, about the scientists who want to become famous and to be honored as benefactors of mankind even sacrificing their lives or the lives of loved ones. However, the novel carries more of true feelings and experiences.
Although the book is more philosophical and the film is more focused on science fiction, the main problem of moral responsibility of the scientist for his discovery can be seen in both works. The movie was able to fully convey the immorality of the experiment of a human against the will of Creator. Like the novel, the film vividly portrays the image of science enthusiast, immersed in his special world, inaccessible to others. According to Mary Shelley, "The world was a secret which he desired to divine”. The product of human brain becomes a powerful and destructive force, because its creator did not think about the real prospects and consequences of his work. The scientist Victor Frankenstein is afraid of his invention and is running away from the monster, whose purpose now is vengeance: "You can blast my other passions, but revenge remains”. However, this monster constantly reminds him of his responsibility and close connection between human intelligence and the society.
The Image of a Monster
Frankenstein created a monster, who was rejected by the society, full of fears and hatred. The following creature's words show how lonely he was: “I am alone and miserable: man will not associate with me”. Unlike previously depicted monsters, Mary Shelley's creature is not a spirit, not a devil in the guise of a giant hideous vampire, but a product of science, creation of a man. The creature wants to live in a community, but is artificially deprived of the links with society. He is lonely and unhappy because he cannot create his model of life independently, without copying it from a human's model. Both in the book and the film, Frankenstein does not cause compassion; he has created a monster, for which he does not want to be responsible. He has brought the creature into the world and disowned him. This creature would actually be very similar to a human being, but the surrounding malice and cruelty of people make him different. Every human is born pure and innocent, and throughout the course of life, a person chooses his/her own path: either to be kind and sympathetic, or cruel and evil. The same happened with this creature: he was left to his fate; people hated him, and he felt the same in return: "All men hate the wretched; how then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things”. Very touching is the scene in the novel, in which the monster, full of despair and loneliness, comes to his creator with the request to create him a woman, but receives a refusal, as Frankenstein is afraid that the world may get filled with such disgusting creatures. Frankenstein's refusal reversed his already doomed to eternal wandering and loneliness inner world. He became a real monster, not only externally but internally, which was a million times worse.
The creature in Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is a sympathetic character. Unfortunately, the film does not show that the monster, created by Victor, wanted to do good, not evil at first; he dreamed of a happy family, he tried to help people, hoping for their love and acceptance. He was ready to worship the whole world, but saw only anger and hatred toward himself, and learned how to hate, looking at people. This is a very important part of the novel, not fully shown in the film. In the movie, Frankenstein's creature is shown as a monster that destroys everything in his path. The creation of human genius, represented in the novel, is disgusting outwardly but rich, humane, and kind inwardly, while the film depicts him as a terrible unhuman monster, both externally and internally.
While reading the book, it is difficult to imagine this creature or to comprehend what he embodies. But in the movie, Robert De Niro perfectly conveys the image: on the one hand, the viewers can see the human body, though terribly mutilated, on the other one, something diabolical. In the book, this creature is called “the devil”. But in that part of the book, where the creature acts as a narrator, the readers may understand his inner world and feel a real sympathy to him. The moments when he spies upon a peasant family and tries to learn the word "friend" are very touching. But unfortunately, the film did not show how stubborn and eloquent the creature was, how he trained himself to satisfy his hunger and survive, as well as comprehend language, customs, and human relations. Monster tried to discover the possibilities of existence, he learned to talk and enjoy the fruits of human labor, but people rejected him.
Similarities, Differences, and the Main Deviation from the Book
Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein is very emotional and psychologically accurate screen version of the story of the creator and his creation. The director successfully demonstrated Mary Shelley's thought that a man is not God, and nature cannot submit to a stupid human's whim. Though Frankenstein was able to revive the dead body, but in reality, he just created a miserable being, doomed to torments. The cast, music, costumes, and make-up contributed a lot to the thrilling depiction of Mary Shelley's brainchild. Bringing Victor's desire to conquer death and rise above nature to an extreme, Branagh made his role and the entire film emotionally saturated. He was able to convey general features of the era, described in Shelley's book: the era of a great progress on the one hand, and wild, dark, and brutal, times on the other one. The crowd, chasing the mutilated subhuman creature lost its human face and became more monstrous than artificially created being. The man's fear of everything that is different and the passion for destruction were also successfully conveyed in the film. The movie masterfully expresses uncomfortable, prickly, smelly, immoral, and dirty atmosphere, which can be found everywhere: in the alleys of the university, in Frankenstein's laboratory, in Victor's the basement.
Robert De Niro, who brilliantly embodied the on-screen creation of Frankenstein, is undoubted success of the movie. It seems that Mary Shelley herself saw this character in such a way. The monster, created by a mad whim of a man, is forced to suffer and direct all his strength and anger to the killing of innocent. After getting the ability to think, he made his creator a terrible ultimatum. One difference between the original and the film here is that, according to Shelley, the creation received the ability to think after getting acquainted with the works of Goethe. Branagh attributed gaining mind and senses to the genetic memory.
After reading Shelley's novel, some readers may attribute Frankenstein doing to the narrowness of the scientific thought of the time, while others think that the romantic nature of Victor or his madness served as the background to the creation of monster. In Branagh's film, all those interpretations coexist. If at the beginning of the movie Frankenstein is depicted as an enthusiastic young idealist, closer to the end he is completely mad and even ready to repeat his terrible experiment. Thus, the most important deviation from the novel is the episode of creation a woman for monster or the resurrection of Elizabeth. In the novel, he gave up this idea very convincingly; his decision was justified by saying that he could not create another monster to destroy the world. In the book, he realized his mistake and tried to atone for it: “I refused, and I did right in refusing, to create a companion for the first creature”. But Branagh's fantasy with the resurrection of Elizabeth though made the film more spectacular, but this idea spoiled the impression of the film a little bit. In the book, it is felt that at the end, Frankenstein feels a great regret about his creation. In the film, this episode strongly distorts the image of the protagonist, as the understanding of his mistake was the essence. However, Kenneth point of view is also deserving. Thus, he wanted to say that the obsessed humanity would not stop experiments, which could result in destroying the whole mankind.
The gloomy atmosphere of mystical and terrible fate of Victor Frankenstein, who created and revived a human like monster, fascinate readers today. Naturally, being the result of the Mary Shelley's inspiration, the product is now separated from the author and lives an independent life. The screen versions sometimes coincide with the concept of a creator, sometimes not. Kenneth Branagh's film is the only adaptation for today that comes closest to the novel. As a result, even though the director made some cuts, changes, and deviations from the original, concentrating more on the scientific side of the story than on the philosophical one, the movie is still very emotional, intense, dark, and interesting. Despite the fact that the film differs from the book in details, it conveys Mary Shelley's main problems, that is, the formation of scientist character of all times, the responsibility for human's creation, and the eternal contradiction that accompanies mankind: the enmity of material and spiritual beginnings.
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