Thursday, October 13, 2011

Gods and Mortals Revisited

The Bride of Frankenstein is another classic depiction of the terrifying story of Dr. Frankenstein and his creation. The beginning of the movie has the "character" portrayal of Mary Shelley lamenting the fact that the publishers had not clued in to the moral of her story. That a man cannot pose as God to create life. Bringing the "God among men" to fruition separates one from the rest of society making that person, and their blasphemous creations unfit to live among people in the natural world. As with what happened to Satan when his lust for power had him cast out of heaven in Milton's Paradise Lost, the doctors of creation in these books and films had no other fate than to be cast out of the earth as well. Even with the best intentions of friendship, some things, like humanity should not be altered.
While the film begins with Frankenstein swearing off any more experiments in order to live a happy, normal life with Elizabeth, it is not long before his God complex tempted him back into the ring of creation. Like Satan, much of what he says to himself and others comes across in a calm sensible manner, but the madness that stirs within comes out towards the end of the film when Dr. Pretorious lures him back to the dark tower where the whole story began. Frankenstein's situation can be paralleled to a number of characters in Milton's tale. Not only can he identify with Satan himself (along with Pretorious), he can be linked to Adam and Eve as well. His pledge to abandon his sins and return to normalcy was short lived, for when Pretorious stepped onto the scene with the proverbial apple, Frankenstein found himself resulting to his old tricks.
As previously stated, Frankenstein, in this film, acted with "good intentions". He felt that creating a companion for the monster would be beneficial to everyone. With something that the monster had so longed for there to distract him, Frankenstein convinced himself that he would find peace by partaking in this endeavour. The monster has spent so much time alone to avoid the persecution of his existence it had no more potential to develop and possibly become civilized than it did from the first film. This struggle for friendship with the monster is a major theme throughout this film and the novel. In the book, the creature yearns to be a part of the family in the woods. He helps them, and he watches them, but he dares not go near them after his run-in with the villagers. Even in the film, one of the first words he learns to articulate is "alone" which is shortly followed by "friend". There is a pivotal scene in the film where the viewers are able to see the developmental potential of the monster. When he happens across a blind old man in the woods, the monster is drawn in by the sound of a violin, and is completely shocked when the man doesn't scream and try to hurt him. While the monster still has an obvious fear of fire, his new blind friend begins to expand his vocabulary and teaches him that fire does not always result in harm. This moment of happiness, however, does not last long, for when two men with pitchforks walk by, see the monster, and scream, "Murderer!", the monster is back to square one and is completely alone once again. In a way, the pain and the emptiness the monster feels can parallel with the feelings of Dr. Frankenstein. Being on a God pedestal having created life from death, he is alone. His fear of the monster and his seclusion from others is just another form of forced solidarity.
Good intentions set aside, the other "Satan" in this story is another doctor who has crossed the line from mere mortal in an attempt to posses the same god-like qualities as Dr. Frankenstein. This Dr. Pretorious has a slightly different method of creating life than his medical colleague. Dr. Pretorious, instead of robbing graves and creating life from death, "grew creatures like cultures. Grew them from the seed." This, of course, is shortly after toasting to "a new world, of gods and monsters". His creations, however, are not enough to satisfy the urge of creation. While, yes, Pretorious succeeded in creating life, his growing method results in tiny human beings that live their lives in glass jars. Wanting to go further, the new doctor is not satisfied with his minuscule creations and wants to team up with Dr. Frankenstein to create something more. With lips wet with the taste of Godliness, the new doctor uses the monster's utter despair and solitude as a means to coerce Frankenstein into trying again. The core difference between Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Pretorious is their fundamental character. While both can be viewed as Milton's portrayal of Satan due to their initial thirst for power, one is seemingly more hungry than the other. Dr. Frankenstein genuinely seems remorseful for what he's done. Throughout the film and the original book, he is struck with fear and sadness for having ventured to a place where he clearly doesn't belong. His counterpart, Pretorious, has a completely different view of the events that have taken place. From having succeeded with one creation, he wants do more even to the point of having an army. This difference in character and attitude ends up playing a larger role at the end of the film.
Throughout the book and the film, these characters that are on completely different plains of existence from the rest of humanity have different experiences as the move through the world. As previously stated, Dr. Frankenstein feels remorse for what he has done, so he chooses to remain in his castle with his wife-to-be and his servants. In this sense, he is in a whole different world that he has created in order to avoid contact with anyone else. The other doctor, Pretorious, finds comfort among the dead. As he is desecrating the grave of a recently deceased woman, he sits and enjoys a glass of wine and a cigar while laughing madly to himself. And of course, the monster is having a different experience entirely. While he may share a similar sadness of being alone as Dr. Frankenstein, the monster's emotions run so much deeper. He is the only one of his kind, and his insurmountable loneliness has cast him into the deepest despair. At one point in the book, the monster comes across a sleeping woman in a barn. As he gazes at her, he feels the sadness of knowing that one look from her would bring nothing but screams of terror.
"Here, I thought, is one of those whose joy-imparting smiles are bestowed on all but me...Should she indeed awake, and see me, and curse me, and denounce the murderer? Thus would she assuredly act if her darkened eyes opened and she beheld me. The thought was madness; it stirred the fiend within me..." (Shelley 161).
The end of Bride of Frankenstein is where everything comes full circle, and the fates of our two Satans becomes clear. The most morally adept creature, the monster, decides that there is no place for him or his new companion anywhere on earth. Even something that was created to be just like him screams with one glance at his face, and the realization of his eternal solitude forms his decision. This is where the difference in character between the two doctors comes into play. As the monster has his hand on the lever and is getting ready to "blow everyone to atoms", he decides to let Dr. Frankenstein and Elizabeth go. Dr. Frankenstein's visible remorse acts as a plea for forgiveness, and the doctor is granted a second chance along with an opportunity to live a full life. Dr. Pretorious on the other hand, is not given that same opportunity. His continual lust for creation and his ever-growing god complex results in the monster's decision to kill him just as God made the decision to cast Satan from heaven. In these final moments, Mary Shelley's laments at the beginning of the film become realized: man cannot pose as God and create life without suffering the consequences.

1 comment:

  1. You didn't link to the original draft, which is why I missed yours the first time around.

    Other surface level issues: you didn't incorporate any research (which was required), and the revision is quite short. The first is more of a problem than the second, but the second connect with the real problem: like in your first draft (as I pointed out then), this operates more as a summary than anything else. Now, you do have some particular things to say about the film as you write about some of the plot points - it's not totally without direction - but the direction is vague and wandering at best. What's missing here is any kind of sense of an *overall* argument; I have no idea at the end of this essay about how I'm supposed to read the novel, or the film, or both, differently than before. You ending gestures toward an argument, but it is also the single most obvious thing you could take away from the book or the film (which doesn't mean that it's not worth talking about - just that somehow you need to deal with, move beyond, or use the fact that this would seem to most to be a very obvious insight).

    You needed a real argument; if you were struggling to find one, research might have been very helpful to you.