Thursday, December 3, 2015

Victor Frankenstein

Are you a fan of the book, or of the movies? If you're a fan of the book, you should know that the writers chose to go with the movie version of Frankenstein. This is pretty immediately obvious, as Daniel Radcliffe plays Igor, who doesn't even appear in the book.

And yet, you should watch this anyway. I'm not sure that old Mary Shelley would be proud of this adaptation, but it certainly explores many of the themes she was getting at. It's Gothic horror as it should be. We explore questions of identity, redemption, purpose, and playing God. And we do it through the eyes of two tortured young men, and against a lovely industrial backdrop of nineteenth-century London.

Wait, London? But, um, wasn't Frankenstein set in Austria? Or maybe Romania? Ah, now you get your first taste of the liberties that have been taken with the story. And yet, I must say, the liberties paid off. Everything just felt right. We were allowed to focus on the oddities of the characters and their story because the background was so familiar.

The story opens with a fascinating take on Igor. He was born into a circus (or possibly left with one), and raised as a hunchback clown. He spent his entire life being punished and reviled, not even being given a name. He was also made the company physick, and taught himself how to be a damned good doctor. His whole life changes on the night that the beautiful trapeze artist (that Igor naturally has a crush on) falls. Dr. Frankenstein rushes in from the audience, and pronounces the injury fatal. Igor disagrees, and saves her life. Dr. F, impressed, offers to take Igor away from the circus. Despite a minor hitch in their plans, Igor goes with him. They then embark on a dizzying project to bring dead flesh to life, a project that Dr. F could not accomplish without Igor's remarkable grasp of anatomy.

The project is threatened by the attention of Moriarty a remarkably keen detective (played by Andrew Scott). The detective has a strong faith, and carries the keen grief of a recently dead wife. He believes that Dr. F's project is an abomination and must be stopped. Unfortunately, he can find little proof of actual criminal activity. Harassment ensues, with a few excellent opportunities for philosophizing.

While there are definitely some intense action scenes, this is primarily a thinking movie. This is one that I would love to discuss over a beer with a few friends. How far should we push the boundaries of science? Is gaining knowledge always an intrinsic good? Was Igor Dr F's first creation? Was Igor wrong to ignore his own misgivings when he learned of Dr F's true motivation? In the places where this movie and the book ask the same questions, is the radically different phrasing of those questions important? Is it okay to pursue pure science when you know that the people providing the funding intend to use the results for malicious or selfish purposes (compare and contrast with Real Genius)? And why on earth did Dr F draw attention by using exotic animal parts for his experiment instead of, oh, stray dogs?

Let's see, feminism. Not a lot to point at here. The love interest was nicely built so as to be three dimensional. But she had little agency, being strictly a background character. There were no other named women in the movie, and I think only one other conversation that included women. No, wait, there was also the nurse, making it two other scenes. So, no, the Bechdel Test was a complete fail. And the love interest didn't really have enough arc displayed to pass the Mako Mori Test. Basically, it's a feminist fail all the way around. Ah well.

I am going to run the odd recommendation of, essentially, using a half star. I normally rate movies on either "see it" or "wait for it" (with the rare "why haven't you seen it yet?" and "dear god, don't even think about it" categories). For this one, I don't think it's worth making time to see it during this busy movie season. If it had come out in February, I would say that it was definitely a "see it", though. If you want something a bit different from either the heavy Oscar bait, the sappy holiday fare, or the remarkable spate of over-hyped late season blockbusters (I'm looking at you, Katniss), you will not be disappointed by this movie. If you find your schedule full of parties and Star Wars, though, you probably won't regret waiting to catch this next February on Netflix.

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