Frankenstein, By Mary Shelley And Metropolis, By Fritz Lang

2517 words - 10 pages

Literature and film have always held a strange relationship with the idea of technological progress. On one hand, with the advent of the printing press and the refinements of motion picture technology that are continuing to this day, both literature and film owe a great deal of their success to the technological advancements that bring them to widespread audiences. Yet certain films and works of literature have also never shied away from portraying the dangers that a lust for such progress can bring with it. The modern output of science-fiction novels and films found its genesis in speculative ponderings on the effect such progress could hold for the every day population, and just as often as not those speculations were damning. Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein and Fritz Lang's silent film Metropolis are two such works that hold great importance in the overall canon of science-fiction in that they are both seen as the first of their kind. It is often said that Mary Shelley, with her authorship of Frankenstein, gave birth to the science-fiction novel, breathing it into life as Frankenstein does his monster, and Lang's Metropolis is certainly a candidate for the first genuine science-fiction film (though a case can be made for Georges Méliès' 1902 film Le Voyage Dans la Lune, his film was barely fifteen minutes long whereas Lang's film, with its near three-hour original length and its blending of both ideas and stunning visuals, is much closer to what we now consider a modern science-fiction film). Yet though both works are separated by the medium with which they're presented, not to mention a period of over two-hundred years between their respective releases, they present a shared warning about the dangers that man's need for technological progress can bring about and, when compared side by side, one sees that the two stories they present, though seemingly different on the surface, are actually a lot more similar than they first appeared.
There is perhaps no more famous story of technological progress gone awry than the one found in Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein. It is a tale so famous that many people, without ever having encountered its pages, know nearly every detail of its happenings. Even children, spurned by the iconic images of James Whale's 1931 film adaption, are both familiar with and find fear in the idea of a hulking patchwork man, brought to life by unnatural means, lumbering through the countryside and terrorizing whoever he may encounter. Yet though this creature is the most iconic image culled from the Frankenstein mythos, Shelley's novel in effect contains two warnings about the dangers of progress. In the novel's framing narrative the reader encounters Captain Robert Walton, a man who, in a bit foreshadowing the tale to come, allows his obsession with progress to lead him into danger. As Walton prepares for his expedition to “unexplored regions” he describes himself as feeling “a trembling sensation, half...

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