Mary Shelley?s Frankenstein
directed by Kenneth Branagh
The modern motion picture Mary Shelley?s Frankenstein, directed by Kenneth Branagh was mostly faithful to the book?s original story written by Mary Shelley in 1816. While Branagh attempted to stay close to Shelley?s storyline a few scenes were changed to add more drama to the cinematography. The general plot of the story did remain true to the book.
Determined to find a way to defeat death, Victor Frankenstein decides to pursue the experiments of his mentor Dr. Walden into the reanimation of dead tissue. He feels that ?the best way to cheat death is create life.? His experiment is a success, but when he sees the creature (Robert De Niro) that he produced, he abandons it in horror. In comparison to the book, Shelley does a fantastic job of describing the dark thunderous evening when the creature took its first breath. She describes the ?dreary night in November? as the evening that ?beheld the accomplishment of my toils.? Branagh is successful at bringing Shelley?s vision to life. The night of the creation was full of thunder and lighting which was a necessity to make the experiment a success.
Mary Shelley?s Frankenstein frequently differs from the book on plot point, but the two are thematically in synch. In Shelley?s writing, she never seemed concerned about the scientific realism of Frankenstein?s actions. She describes neither his experiments nor the practical reasoning that leads to them. In the film, Branagh does attempt to present some scientific evidence to suggest how the creation of a life might possibly be accomplished. The birthing scene in
which Frankenstein brings his creation to life via a combination of electricity and amniotic fluid provides a real moment of excitement. But Frankenstein immediately declares his experiment a hideous failure and leaves the unnamed offspring hanging from the ceiling. Shelley describes the creation?s abandonment in more detail. Because Branagh doesn?t do so this scene doesn?t have the dramatic affect that was intended by Shelley. Branagh also doesn?t allow the movie to have the necessary Gothic energy of darkness, irony and terror that was suggested in the book.
The sequence where the creature befriends a family, anonymously providing them with crops that could not harvested fast enough (instead of firewood, as in the book) while observing and learning from them through a hole in the wall, is marvelously moving. This is the creature?s honest attempt to become a humane creature or human. Until this point the creature has proven to have all of the sensations of an adult with lack of maturity. He begins to realize that he is a poor wretched being.
There is a significant alteration to the last scene. Shelley does describe the creature?s demand for a female companion. The creature desires someone as grotesque as he to share sympathy and companionship. As told by Shelley, Victor Frankenstein refuses the creature of his wishes. The creature then threatened Victor that he would be denied his wedding night if he did not create a mate for him. Victor disregarded the threat and continued to get married. The creature finds Frankenstein and his bride and kills her. In the book the creature strangles her where as in the movie he ripped her heart out. Branagh?s vision of what follows is significantly different from the book. After the death of Victor?s wife Elizabeth, Victor becomes obsessed with the idea of recreating Elizabeth. Mortality, which took away his beloved mother and Elizabeth seems to him a dirty trick he must so something about. Once again he tries his luck at playing God and creating life in his laboratory. He is successful. But the creature wants Elizabeth for himself. The creator and his creature compete for her love. Thus leading the scene to a fiery conclusion of death and destruction. Branagh?s approach to the conclusion was too exaggerated and made for a ridiculous ending. Until then it had been a fairly entertaining movie.
Overall, I enjoyed Branagh?s version of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley?s version is by far the best but Branagh was successful at remaking a fairly true rendition of the original. Thus far it has been the most faithful version of Frankenstein that I have viewed.