It’s still alive! Modern adaptations of Frankenstein
By Sarah Clare
Posted on April 27, 2015 in Film with tags
After last year’s slightly dodgy reimagining of the canon in I, Frankenstein, it is a small relief to see a more original interpretation at the cinema this year with Victor Frankenstein. But Daniel Radcliffe insists it’s ‘not going to be like the book’ while talking eloquently in interview. He says this version will pull together all the myth and characteristics that we attribute to ‘Frankenstein’. It made me wonder how many times can we actually use this trope, cliché, icon, character? And do we always know we’re doing it?
When the nineteen year old Mary Shelley was challenged by pals to put pen to paper, she could never have predicted the impact her story would continue to have. Imagine presenting her now with Pokemon’s Mewtwo and saying ‘thanks for the tip’.
Frankenstein, and his monster, have become legend; stick a couple bolts in your neck and everyone knows what you are (aside from slightly nuts). But more than that, it has evolved to become part of the very fabric of our culture. New interpretations have a hard job on their hands not to fall into cliché or comedy with it.
In plain text alone (if you can ever really call it ‘plain’) the Frankenstein legend manifests and engages readers both obviously and insidiously. How many times have you experienced lines like ‘look at the monster you have made’ or themes to that effect? It strikes right to the heart of creation. Nature vs Nurture, and ‘playing god’. Radcliffe emphasises that Igor and Victor constantly ‘teeter along this line’ in McGuigan’s film.
Moving towards the humanity and away from the monster is difficult. Frankenstein has become something visually assaulting, sometimes comedic, and often dramatic. But more importantly, it is entrenched in our vocabulary. For instance, when the atom bomb devastated Hiroshima, one radio broadcaster said; ‘for all we know we have created a Frankenstein.’ The ideas of creation are still the same; it’s about being able to ‘play god’ at the push of a button, the flip of a switch.
To ‘franken-something’ suggests that it has been cobbled together, hastily sewn on to other parts. You could say this is a franken-article (shh, don’t tell anyone). It’s become a slang term, easily used in everyday speech.
Animation, somewhat ironically, has repeatedly created franken-like characters. Popular and more recent conceptions include Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie; the heartbroken tale of a young boy who misses his dead dog. It points at the dangers of this kind of power of re-animation, but the conclusion here, at least, is warming and thoughtful.
Similarly, Disney’s Lilo & Stitch tells the story of the little blue monster, Stitch, born out of random alien DNA, and he is initially motivated by evil intent. But the discovery of a very human emotion, loneliness, leads him to use his power for good instead.
Interestingly, Steven Tyler from the band Aerosmith admitted that the initial concept for the song title ‘Walk This Way’ came after watching Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1974). Dr Frankenstein mimics Igor when he is encouraged to ‘walk this way’. The scene is wonderfully ridiculous. But it ended up headlining one of Aerosmith’s biggest hits.
Frankly, pun intended, there are so many manifestations in modern popular culture that it’s impossible to list them all. From cult favourites in characters like Dr Frank-N-Furter and Rocky in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, to Eddie Van Halen’s guitar, the ‘Frankenstrat’. Or even The Incredible Hulk, Solomon Grundy and Daniel Radcliffe’s version of Igor; it seems we’re still bewitched by the crazy-wavy, unravelling fabric of life, and how small a thread it is between that which is living, and that which is not. We’re still unstitching what it means to be human and Mary Shelley has given us the perfect totem in Frankenstein to keep exploring this creatively. Unfortunately, for Frankenstein’s monster, we will keep using him. Again, and again, and again…
‘I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on.’