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Frankenstein 1994 clip 102:56

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Mary-shelleys-frankenstein

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, 1994. Source: http://www.aphelion-webzine.com/features/2011/05/frankenstein.html

This motion picture version, which is largely faithful to the original novel by Mary Shelley, was released in the United States on November 4th, 1994. It was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also stars as Victor Frankenstein. Screenplay was written by Steph Lady and Frank Darabont.

SynopsisEdit

The ship of explorer Robert Walton, on a scientific expedition to the North Pole in 1794, is trapped in ice. The crew wishes to turn back and even threatens mutiny, but Walton refuses, even if the venture costs lives. After hearing a series of unearthly howls, the crew meets Victor Frankenstein, who unsuccessfully tries to enlist their help to hunt down the creature that emits the howls. Frankenstein then relates his tragic tale to Walton.

Victor attends the University of Ingolstadt and encounters two professors who impact his life, Professors Krempe and Waldman. Ingolstadt experiences a cholera plague, and Victor uses the epidemic to harvest parts for his creature. Returning to the present, we find Victor relating how he has tracked the creature ever north to kill it. Victor dies, and Walton and crew find the creature mourning over its dead creator. During a funeral for Victor, with the creature present, a warming wind has broken the ice and freed the icebound ship. Refusing an invitation by Walton to come with them, the creature immolates himself and Victor's corpse. Walton decides to end the expedition and turn back to England.

Major ThemesEdit

The CreatureEdit

The novel’s creature is largely invisible to all but Victor, and even what agency it has can be subject to debate. We have only the creature’s word concerning the murder of William, and the murderer of Clerval is never established, only assumed. We do not actually see the murder of Elizabeth, but assume that it is the creature. All of these accounts come through the chief narrative agency of Victor, not the creature. The film changes these representations to allow us to witness Elizabeth’s murder. William’s murder changes from the creature’s mere attempt to silence the boy to the film creature’s account of how he deliberately lifted the boy and crushed his neck.

In its encounters with Victor, we see a more interactive creature, one more able--even to the point of insistence--to impact the interpersonal process between creator and creature. The novel's Victor meets the creature by chance on The Sea of Ice, but the film permits the monster to issue an invitation that they meet there, actively forcing an interaction. Moreover, the creature exercises conscience with an active injection of morality into the meeting using a pointed question as to whether Victor thought about the consequences of his actions.

In a move intended to intertwine characters’ lives more heavily than Shelley had, Branagh empowers the creature with an influence on the creation process that the novel lacks; not only does it provide the “raw materials” for Victor’s needs, but it also exercises its will in the right to choose its own mate.

Loss of Agency Edit

Victor fares the worst in agency. Branagh’s adaptation gradually deprives him of ability to act with any rationality or real choice. Robert Craig notes that his alien status from society "is not immediately discernible, evolving over a period of time" (127). Shelley originally depicts Victor as self-absorbed, isolated, even solipsistic. Far from being social, he stands at an emotional and intellectual distance from those around him. The novel arises from his own thoughts and his own perspective. In fact, few, if any, people provide contrasting perspectives whereby Victor might examine his own views by the standard of objective truth or reality. Branagh’s rendition removes us from that isolated position and slants the cinematography and linear narrative so as to make Victor a more social being, a creature more of society and forced to interact with others and to encounter viewpoints variant with his own.

Moreover, the death of Waldman robs Victor of some control that experience and prudence might have afforded. During their dinner conversation, Waldman implicitly cuts Frankenstein’s zeal short by declaring that he ceased experimentation because he created an “abomination.” His death removes from Victor any guidance that might have ensured safe or acceptable results of continued efforts; by dying, Waldman cannot provide wisdom that might allow Victor to avoid the dead man’s mistakes. Victor proceeds blindly, losing reason, without the constraints of Waldman’s tutelage. Branagh’s Victor seems to take others’ cues to some extent. Emotionally spent, he tells Elizabeth, “I don’t know what to do.” He allows her to make the decision about marriage and acquiesces to her stipulation that he divulge the truth of his activities. He has surrendered the power of discourse and its substance somewhat to Elizabeth. According to one scholar, Elizabeth is "perhaps even his emotional superior" and even more, a "passionate, erotic equal" (Picart 32).

Shelley’s novel is rich in emotion and description of the natural world. Branagh’s rendition deprives nature of agency in that we see very little of its impact on the senses. Frankenstein as a text reflects the philosophy of a Romantic era in which nature in all of its beauty possesses the power to impress the sense-experience and reshape the mind with diverse emotions. Shelley considered nature as vital in the reader’s understanding of Victor as a human being. With the exception of minor photographic shots, the film sacrifices the influence of nature on the mind at the altar of dramatic experience and anthropocentric plot. Peter Hajdu notes the loss of the natural world in Branagh's version: "[I]t is not only the subtitle that is lost, but quotations from contemporary poetry, passages that describe a landscape or a character's response to it. While the novel is deeply influenced by the romantic sensitivity to landscapes, the film refuses to make use of the Swiss environment" (65).

In fact, Branagh’s focus on action and special effects predominates over the novel’s exploration of sensibility and sentiment, indeed, emotional struggle. Shelley wrote Victor as an emotionally agitated, overwrought man who wrestles with guilt and remorse. The film-goer possesses no “viewership agency,” which comes as a loss of the opportunity to peer inside Victor’s tortured mind and to form her/his own opinions as to his mental condition.

The final blow to Victor’s influence arises at the beginning/end, as he is unable to convince Walton and his crew to pursue the creature. His quest must be his alone, and he is unable to exercise any sway on others to align their thinking with his. Even deeper, Victor under Branagh’s script loses perhaps the only real agency that Shelley ever granted him in the novel, namely, a last ability to male-bond. He has lost any agency in homosocial participation. The opening chapters of Frankenstein contain Walton’s impassioned lament over friendlessness and an implicit plea for a male friend. Victor’s arrival allows for male companionship, but the film not only removes this dimension of their relationship, but actually places the barrier of variance between them, even portraying Walton as insensitive and regardless of others’ lives. Victor has lost the relational agency that Shelley provided him in her tale.

Morality

While Shelley's text gives a cursory gloss to Victor's clandestine visits to charnel-houses and cemeteries for his materials, Branagh's film vividly and graphically provides all of the steps of flesh-robbing, impressing upon the viewer Frankenstein's loss of moral control or moral agency as we see numerous steps of collection, experiencing a degradation of conscience in such statements as "Only raw materials, nothing more." One scholar observes film-makers' desires to include this graphic portrait as contrary to Shelley's intent: "Film versions of Frankenstein violate the tacit compact made between novel and reader precisely by showing us what the novel decorously hides" (Heffernan 157). Michael Eberle-Sinatra agrees, observing that Shelley "elides the details of the creative process" as a way to favor or privilege the image of female reproduction over male creation; "writing science in Frankenstein thus becomes an act of denial, resulting in a meaningful silence" (190). Graphic inclusions of Victor's grisly collecting process constitutes a disintegration of male conscience and intrusion into a world that belongs by nature to the female.

Significance of Adaptation Edit

In studying the film adaptation of a novel, one can consider the amount of “agency,” “privilege,” or “presence” that the filmmaker, as opposed to the author, affords to various characters and themes. By “agency” we signify the ability, even more, the power and potency, to act upon the narrative and other characters. A filmmaker may endow a character or theme with more or less ability to impact the direction of a plot and/or the actions of others. Agency arises partly through presence or “screen time”; a script can thus provide more or less presence of a motif or a figure that invests these things with the power to influence narrative, privileging some over others. While Shelley’s novel focuses on the world from the perspective of Victor Frankenstein, Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 adaptation of ''Frankenstein'' shifts screen presence and narrative agency exclusively from Victor to other characters, including the creature, in order to create a more human drama. Branagh himself found the novel intriguing as a subject because it was "just a great big discussion about what it means to be a human being" (Greene 12).

As the film progresses, Elizabeth wins more autonomy to the point that she now asserts control over a weakening Victor, even to the point of making choices for him. Distraught, he tells her: “I don’t know what to do”; Branagh allows her to make the decisions for them both. She prepares to abandon domesticity by walking out. In an interesting turnabout, Elizabeth assumes Victor’s earlier role of urging marriage. Furthermore, she demands from a position of moral superiority that he disclose the truth of all that has occurred, telling him: “You lose me if you don’t.” Victor becomes confined, enslaved, trapped; Elizabeth retains freedom. As with Waldman, Branagh’s adaptation grants agency and influence to Elizabeth even in death. Her image, as well as the absence that he wishes to remove, governs Victor’s emotions to the point of robbing him of all rationality as he moves impulsively to restore her, she being the only impetus in his mind and will. The Elizabeth/Justine composite awards the head, again, the seat of all agency, to Elizabeth; even in death, she continues to make decisions on her own and for Victor by immolating herself. Death does not remove the ability to exercise will; the novel's creature-woman is incomplete, without will or choice, and falls prey to the power of male decision-making as Victor destroys her, but in the film she retains subjectivity.

For dramatic intensity, Branagh’s treatment intermeshes Elizabeth and Victor, as well as Victor and the creature, more heavily through her death and gives her more influence over the narrative through a love triangle. She becomes “double-mated” to Victor, once in life and once in death, exercising narrative influence in life and in reanimation; furthermore, while in life she was the creature’s unwitting enemy, in second life she becomes a lover that exercises influence by governing the creature’s desire. Elizabeth’s reanimation is not just a second chance at life, but also a renewed and further opportunity from Branagh to impact the direction of the plot, to give more “life” to the tale. Intriguingly, even Justine gains some narrative and creational influence, or “physical agency,” with the contribution of her body.

Contributed by Zach Meyer and Garrett Jeter

References

Craig, Robert. ""Lost in a Lost World: Looking at Victor and the Creature as Aliens in Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 18: 1-2 (1997), 126-132. Print.

Eberle-Sinatra, Michael. "Readings of Homosexuality in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Four Film Adaptations." Gothic Studies 7:2 (2005), 185-202. Print.

Frost, R.J. ""It's Alive!" Frankenstein: the Film, the Feminist Novel and Science Fiction." Foundation 67 (1996): 75-94. Print.

Gill, Linda. "Women Beware! The Appropriation of Women in Hollywood's Revisioning of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Journal of American and Comparative Cultures 24: 3-4 (2001), 93-98. Print.

Greene, Ray. "Perfectly Frank." Box office 130 (1994): 12-14. Print.

Hajdu, Peter. "The Modern Prometheus and the Interpretive Communities." Neohelicon 34:1 (2007), 59-66. Print.

Heffernan, James A.W. "Looking at the Monster: Frankenstein and Film." Critical Inquiry 24: 1 (1997), 133-58.  Print.

Kaye, Heidi. "Feminist Sympathies Versus Masculine Backlash: Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Pulping Fictions: Consuming Culture Across the Literature/Media Divide. Eds. Deborah Cartmell, I.Q. Hunter, Heidi Kaye, and Imelda Whelehan. London: Pluto Press, 1996. Print.

Lewis, Barbara Jo. "Frankenstein's Monsters and Moral Accountability." Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 22:1-2 (2001), 78-86. Print.

Martinez-Cabrera, Miguel A. "Frankenstein Reimagined." Grove: Working Papers on English Studies 4 (1997), 477-88. Print.

Picart, Caroline Joan ("Kay") S. "Visualizing the Monstrous in Frankenstein Films." Pacific Coast Philology 35:1 (2000), 17-34. Print.

Further Readings

Craig, Robert. ""Lost in a Lost World: Looking at Victor and the Creature as Aliens in Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 18: 1-2 (1997), 126-132. Print.

Crowl, Samuel. The Films of Kenneth Branagh. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2006. Print.

Diaz, Llantada and Maria Francisca. "Of Narcissists and Other Monsters: Kenneth Branagh's Film Adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Anglistik: Organ des Verbandes Deutscher Anglisten. 20:1 (2009), 163-171. Print.

Frost, R.J. ""It's Alive!" Frankenstein: the Film, the Feminist Novel and Science Fiction." Foundation 67 (1996): 75-94. Print.

Gill, Linda. "Women Beware! The Appropriation of Women in Hollywood's Revisioning of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Journal of American and Comparative Cultures 24: 3-4 (2001), 93-98. Print.

Heffernan, James A.W. "Looking at the Monster: Frankenstein and Film." Critical Inquiry 24: 1 (1997), 133-58.  Print.

Kaye, Heidi. "Feminist Sympathies Versus Masculine Backlash: Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Pulping Fictions: Consuming Culture Across the Literature/Media Divide. Eds. Deborah Cartmell, I.Q. Hunter, Heidi Kaye, and Imelda Whelehan. London: Pluto Press, 1996. Print.

Lewis, Barbara Jo. "Frankenstein's Monsters and Moral Accountability." Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 22:1-2 (2001), 78-86. Print.

Martinez-Cabrera, Miguel A. "Frankenstein Reimagined." Grove: Working Papers on English Studies 4 (1997), 477-88. Print.

Picart, Caroline Joan ("Kay") S. "Visualizing the Monstrous in Frankenstein Films." Pacific Coast Philology 35:1 (2000), 17-34. Print.

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