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James Whale's Frankenstein Essay

1676 words - 7 pages

“We feel as if something inside us, in our blood, has been switched on. That's not just a phrase--it is a fact. It is the front, that has made electrical contact ... We are dead men with no feelings, who are able by some trick, some dangerous magic, to keep on running and keep on killing.”
During World War One, the amount of devastation was massive. The human welfare declined as well as progress in Europe. James Whale formed his surroundings during this time period into his personal adaptation of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. The monster created by Whale is symbolic of a wounded soldier who has been forgotten and cast out or pushed to the side by an economy in depression. This film is ...view middle of the document...

New media of the time swelled with highlights, stories and advertisements of electricity and its impact on the human body. Some of these were serious in nature, while others where in forms of comedy and science fiction. The astonishing amount of popularity this genre appeared to garner revealed the public’s fascination with science and claims of animating a body through electrical manipulation. By the mid-1910’s, films such as Otto Rippert's Homunculus and Joseph W. Smiley's Life Without Soul were created with this fascination in mind but with a more sophisticated depiction of scientific creation. In fact, Life Without Soul has been noted for the claim of being the first feature-length film predicated on Mary Shelley’s original Frankenstien. Films that provided the most inspiration to the look of Whale's Frankenstein were Paul Wegener's The Golem, Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Hands of Orlac and, due to its portrayal of technology pitted against conventional ideals, Fritz Lang's Metropolis (5). What is interesting to note is that Whale reportedly singled out The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as a primary source and watched it “over and over” (6). The similarities of these two films are extraordinarily direct as each of the main characters are doctors who manipulate cadavers who interestingly suffer from the lingering effects of past sufferings.
When studying each of these film sources, what can be quickly identified is the significant narrative of a human/non-human hybrid that is disjointed, illogical and physically impaired. Unlike Shelley's creation, Whale’s version of the monster has neither speech nor unconstrained mobility. The primary emphasis and undertone seems to be, not the progression of mankind through a better “man”, but rather regression, disability, and defect. The idea of a perfect human that may live forever through boundless vitality seems to fall to lumbering re-animation becoming more dead than before. The influence of the First World War also shows here where the distinction of science comes to life by medical advances for soldiers' injuries and deformities, new and radical military vehicles, the use of chemical weapons, and by the development of plastic surgery. There is a rather large difference in focus from Shelley to Whale. Shelley focuses on changing man as a symbol of nature whereas Whale portrays human nature as the well off and strong against the weak and weary individual returning from war. In both the original text and film, the character of the Dr. Frankenstein is seen as an artistic genius who is in a non-stimulating atmosphere where he is unable to draw support from. The creature is mechanical in both versions, yet Whales monster is more innocent, similar to an animal. It mumbles and groans but is not able to actually speak. It is a hideous creature created out of several different human body parts sewn together resulting in a “re-animated” man who inflicts fear instead of veneration or sympathy...

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