Film versions are essential in analyzing the work of Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. These adaptations reveal new insights into the complexity of juxtaposing literary devices and cinematic techniques to relay the intended message. In this case, the films Frankenstein (1931) by James Whale and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) by Kenneth Branagh will be reviewed. Often, films communicate to the eyes, and what characters say sporadically supersedes the effect of what the audience sees. Examining various adaptations of the narrative will reveal whether movies are mere travesties or vulgarizations of the original. Film versions of Frankenstein are thematic by addressing various topics in popular culture; however, they are abridged due to narrating the original story in different ways.
In both films, the monster is a victim of forces beyond his control. This is a remarkable feature that reveals isolation from the self and society. The grotesque creature “articulates pain to his creator” for being the cause of his miserable life (Jung 256). For this reason, he is prompted to transmogrify from a gentle monster to a dreadful misanthrope. He turns against Victor by killing those close to him, including family and friends. However, the monster exhibits emotions that reflect his internal conflicts. Whale portrays the monstrous being as one who radiates humanity and love, but the physical ugliness blinds the beauty of its soul (Heffernan 157). Branagh also presents a mixture of pleasure and pain that consumes the creature from the inside; through its close-up peering face, the beast expresses his “desire to see and his fear of being seen” (Heffernan 139). The theme of monstrosity embellished to make the grotesque creature thematic and appropriate for the setting of the films; in doing so, the original narrative is not entirely buttressed in the storyline.
The two adaptions of Frankenstein also accentuate the theme of social identity through characterization. This attribute is interesting because it reveals complex issues in society that are either unique to males or females. First, Whale’s film portrays the monster as an “antithesis of a beautiful woman” because he veers from the typical male nature (Heffernan 158). Additionally, the scientist in Branagh’s work is petrified by life as he witnesses the negative transformation of the monster he created; this factor “evokes the sense of revulsion against newborn life” (Heffernan 143). It is ironic that the monstrous being has no name and place in society despite being composed of human parts. The creature is continually pushed from being good to evil by rejections of humans (Jung 263). These ideologies disturb identity and the normative order in society. Although the social identity developed by the monster in the original narrative is abridged in the film versions, the theme is well-expressed to capture debatable issues in society.
However, filmmakers can have different perspectives on the same character, hence widening the scope in which the audience can interpret the message. In Whale’s film, Victor is portrayed as an insane researcher who trolls the cemetery for corpses. Conversely, Branagh presents the same character as a virtuous protagonist who is willing to self-sacrifice for a better community (Jung 248). Victor’s discovery about animating lifeless matter is considered a life-changing breakthrough in Branagh’s work, which is also linked to his mother’s death as the main motivation. Moreover, Whale portrays the monster as unintelligent and dangerous (Jung 255); he never learns to speak and often behaves like a child. This feature rips out the beast’s heart, which figuratively reenacts how filmmakers devalue or distort original narratives (Heffernan 136). Conversely, Branagh depicts the creature as intelligent and capable of speech. In this case, filmmakers alter the intended purpose and themes of the original Frankenstein by taking different perspectives on antagonists and protagonists.
It is evident that film versions of Frankenstein can elide or ignore some attributes of the characters. They can also reduce the original narrative into a skeleton fleshed out in different perspectives, which can abridge and tell a fraction of the storyline. In this case, the works of Whale and Branagh are thematic by addressing various topics in society; however, they are truncated in various ways to relay the purpose of the filmmaker to a specific audience.
Heffernan, James. “Looking at the Monster: “Frankenstein” and Film.” Critical Inquiry, vol.24, no. 1, 1997, pp. 133-158.
Jung, Yonjae. “Do your Duty Towards Me: Branagh’s Monstrous Reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” K.A.L.F, 2001, pp. 245-268.
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