Originally Published Monday 13th October 2008
Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein
Obsession can make for a great story. The X-Files is really all about the obsessive search for the truth by Fox Mulder, The West Wing is really about Josh Lyman’s obsession with leadership, and Ghost Rider is about Nicolas Cage’s obsession with making crap films. Obsession is a symptom of madness and in madness lies some great tales and some far out ideas. One of those far out ideas that a lot of writers and film-makers often deal with is the notion of defeating death.
Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, as the name suggests, follows the story of Victor Frankenstein, an earnest young medical student searching for a way to defeat death having never fully recovered from the passing of his mother. In medical school he hooks up with a professor who has been ostracised from the main faculty because of his extreme views and the nature of the experiments he once conducted.
When his professor is murdered, Victor is tipped over the edge and resumes the experiments trying to create life. The results of this work are mixed and a terrible creature made up of deformed remains of criminals and other undesirables is unleashed on the world. Society rejects this monster almost immediately and when it comes to terms with what it is and how it came to be it seeks revenge on its creator and his family.
This adaptation follows the story from the original book pretty well and because of this strong fundamental it is a good film. The production is of an extremely high value, the settings are moody and atmospheric, Frankenstein’s lab is an amazing space that makes me want a lab like that, the historical setting seems authentically dirty and the people historically ignorant. The science that features in the story has to be taken with a pinch of salt but the film captures the essence of that point in history when science really began to make its mark on the world and in this is very faithful to one of the core tenants of the book
Not everything is perfect, the first half hour or so is quite slow, taking it’s time setting the scene and establishing the Frankenstein family. Helena Bonham Carter is in it, which is barely excusable as there are many fine British actresses who could have played the role of Elizabeth well and a lot less skankily. But the thing that detracts from Frankenstein the most for me was Victor’s madness itself. His obsession with stopping death is obvious and immature, especially as his father is a doctor and he himself trains to be a doctor, an understanding of death would have been part of his education. If Victor had taken the doctor’s God complex to an illogical extreme it might have seemed less laboured.
Having watched Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein I’m struck by how many films take the idea and run with it as a motivation for action or as the main idea – Star Wars Episode 2 explains Anakin’s slide to the dark side as a result of his mother’s death and Robocop is practically Frankenstein told from the monster/victims perspective, proof that Mary was on to something when she penned the novel. So, as Mark Steele asked in one of his brilliant TV lectures, what would Mary Shelly say if she were alive today?
“FRANKENSTEIN WAS THE DOCTOR, NOT THE FUCKING MONSTER!”
Two thumbs up for Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.