Comparisons between Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Ridley Scott's BladeRunner
Scott created Blade Runner to warn of the many issues which he regarded as the outcome of a world that would existed forty years into the future. Similarly to Blade Runner, Scott provides a stark warning against the disruption of the natural order. By the absolute negation of it, Scott explores the importance of nature. Furthermore, he examines the morality behind the usurpation of God, the dangers of knowledge and science and the importance of social justice.
Shelley had a number of purposes for writing Frankenstein. Overarching, which was influenced by her Romanticist values, was to explore the consequences of disturbing the natural order the status quo. In exploring this critical idea, Shelley examines humanity’s inextricable link with nature, the usurpation of God, the dangers of knowledge and science and social injustices.
Both texts, although set in different times, explore universal themes concerning the disruption of the natural order to create artificial life. Both composers present a harsh critique of the society in which their text was created. This is particularly explored through the similar issues concerning class division and the social injustices this afforded citizens.
Society, class and injustice: Frankenstein:
Shelly uses her novel and more specifically the monster’s narrative to make a critique on her own society, class division and the injustices this afforded citizens during the foundation of capitalist Europe. When exploring this in context Shelley saw such as a disruption in the natural order, thus Frankenstein forms a harsh warning against capitalism. In this sense, Frankenstein can be viewed through a Marxist lens although Marx’s Manifesto would not be written for some years later.
Influencing Shelley’s critique were three significant periods in European History. The English Revolution in 1642 saw Charles I oppose the parliamentary system where he lost the English Civil Wars and a republic was established, liberating citizens from autocracy. The French Revolution which occurred in the 1790s saw a movement away from the monarchy and aristocracy and towards a republic established on the principles of equality, citizenship and undeniable rights. The Industrial Revolution which dominated the turn of the nineteenth century saw a movement towards capitalism. Shelley, writing her novel under these influences and, with her parents being highly connected with these ideas, ensured such were explored in her cautionary tale.
Shelley’s novel is set during the Industrial Revolution. The idea of monarchies ruling had been removed from society which Shelley and her anarchist father and husband would have respected, but replaced with capitalism where a new ruling class emerged. In this society those with wealth assumed power, becoming the upper class. Everyone else belonged to the working class – the proletariat. This breakdown of ethical considerations at this stage was seen by Shelley as an absolute disruption in the natural order thus, Shelley makes an ardent warning against the effects that this oppression has. The industrial revolution challenged the values of compassion and community where human dignity was being sacrificed in the race for mass production and profits. Within the proletariat a human’s worth was determined only by their labour. Apart from seeing the working class as their way to profit, the upper classes had no compassion towards them.
Victor Frankenstein represents the ruling upper class. He is sympathetic of Charles I who lost the English Civil Wars and was overthrown by liberators. This is shown when Clerval and Victor visit Oxford. Victor proclaims “It was here that Charles I had collected his forces. The city had remained faithful to him, after the whole country had forsaken his cause to join the standards of Parliament and liberation.” Shelley employs a sympathetic tone from Victor towards an “unfortunate king”, rather than excitement towards the liberators. This establishes that Victor values the ideas associated with the ruling classes and oppression afforded by the Industrial Revolution.
The Monster, therefore, represents the working class of society, being physically bigger and stronger while Victor is weak but wealthy and educated. The Monster speaks “of the division of property, of immense wealth and squalid poverty; of rank, descent and noble blood.” Shelley employs the Monster as a symbol of the struggles of the working class against the privileged upper class. The Monster acts as Shelley’s symbol of the working class who is hated, rejected and oppressed. The Monster’s gargantuan stature reflects the tremendous population of the working class which far outnumbered the nobility. This is symbolised through the Monster’s statement to Victor saying “Thou hast made me more powerful than thyself; my height is superior to thine; my joints more supple.” Shelley employs the use of semicolons to emphasise the contrasts between Victor’s physical qualities to the immense superiority of the monster.
Shelley insinuates that the working class will rise above the ruling class “You are my creator, but I am your master; - obey!” The high modality that the Monster speaks with here represents the revolutionary warning that Shelley presents; it is a stark warning – that the ruling classes will create a formidable opponent in the working class (as victor who represents the nobility creates the Monster) who will rebel with destructive fury. Shelley’s critique on industrialised England and the subsequent oppression and exploitation of the working class is unmistakable and a further warning against the unequal distribution of wealth and the class system.
Blade Runner: Reaganism:
Scott, being influenced by the political policies of Reagan saw how the world would turn out in a 2019 Los Angeles setting. In his film he incorporated what he considered the eventual effects of Reagan’s policies undeterred. Amidst the threats of communism during the Cold War Reagan implemented policies to deregulate corporations, giving them more power. The effects are shown in Blade Runner where Los Angeles has become a degraded, dystopic society with little or no social construct apart from the obvious rule and dominance by corporation. There is obvious class division; shown as Bryant asks Deckard to come back and work as a Blade Runner. In response to Deckard’s rejection a close up shot shows Bryant saying “If you’re not a cop, you’re little people”. Bryant’s venomous tone forces Deckard to accept the position as he acknowledges the harsh truth in what Bryant says. This, coupled with the dull lighting exposes the lack of social structure that is caused by unregulated corporation. This is a similar warning projected in Shelley’s Frankenstein against the increased authority of business during the Industrial Revolution. She warned of the social division and injustices this caused.
The political policies of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher also influenced Scott’s depiction of the future. Her almost autocratic style of government is depicted through the centralised government of the 2019 world. This is presented as Deckard flies to the Tyrell Building. The massive pyramid style buildings are depicted as the tallest, overseers of all society and is the only place where natural light can be seen, thus Scott warns that in such a society the ruling class will become more corporate rather than political.
As the elevator rises above the clouds, the cessation of the rain symbolises the division of the lower from the upper class. The owner, Eldon Tyrell is its autocratic leader who represents the upper class in society; he is above all other citizens. There is little differentiation between the upper class (Tyrell Corp.) and the lower classes; the proletariat and the replicants. This links with Scott’s warning against Reaganism where corporate dominated, centralised governments created social division and injustice.
Scott, in both his warnings against Reaganism and Thatcherism, similarly to Shelley presents a critique on capitalism for its disruption in the natural order which affords social injustices upon citizens. From the immediate opening of the film all the responder sees is industry. Here, in this 2019 Los Angeles, commercialisation and commoditisation encompass all facets of society. The inhabitants live constantly overwhelmed by building sized advertisements from massive companies such as Coca-Cola, neon lights are omnipresent and dark towers of factories block out the sun. Scott presents a world under extreme capitalism that is completely devoid of nature that even beauty, pleasure and life are commodities with production value. Replicants and animals are not born but manufactured and produced where their value is determined by their labour. In this world, humanity is disturbingly stifled.
Fundamental need to sustain the natural world:
Nature is linked to humanity itself for its nature that gives life. The natural world is inextricably linked to the human condition and provides support, both resourcefully and emotionally. Shelley warns that removing nature is like extracting part of the soul. The relationship between nature and human is emphasised due to Shelley’s Romanticist connections and influences where the Romanticist Movement at the time sought to restore the importance and beauty of nature, championing of human emotion, feeling and human connection. The romanticist movement grew from the dissatisfaction of the lack of ethics the industrial revolution began to afford.
Victor removes the natural elements in creating the monster which can be seen as a sin against nature. Because of this he is punished. This is can be seen through the literary allusions to Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner where the mariner sins against nature in shooting the albatross. Hanging it around his neck as a good omen for his sailors, this begins the destruction of his journey and life. Shelley directly alludes to this as Victor considers his marriage to Elizabeth, saying “Could I enter into a festival with this deadly weight hanging around my neck and bowing me to the ground.” Shelley employs the use of metaphor to make the reference to Coleridge’s romantic poem. Shelley’s warning is clear, removing ones link to nature, as Victor did results in the removal of one’s ethical system and thus that person will be punished for doing so.
The need to sustain the natural world is furthermore explored through the way nature temporarily reconciles Victor from his torment.
“My health and spirit had long been restored, and they gained additional strength from the salubrious air I breathed.”
“My spirits were elevated by the enchanting appearance of nature”
Here, as the romanticists believed, nature becomes restorative of his torment. It is critical in maintain his sanity for much of the novel.
While Shelley explores the importance of nature and its connection to the human condition by presenting positive aspects of nature, Scott similarly does this, however, through the absolute negation of anything natural. By removing any natural elements from his film, Scott warns against the lack or values and morality this ensures. (Compensations will be made – often leading to violence.)
The promotion of capitalism was enforced through the political policies of United States President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Thatcher during the 1980s. Such policies sought to deregulate corporations amidst the fear of communism. As a result of living during this time, Scott used his film to provide a prediction of what the future would be like if corporations were given increased amounts of authority.
Such warning is presented through unrestricted commercialisation of the Earth where ‘off worlds’ are exploited for economic expansion. Scott employs low angles to show the flying advertising televisions which display commercials for brands including ‘Coca Cola’ and ‘Atari’. This ubiquitous advertising indicates the unrestricted and over commercialisation of the Earth.
Film noir techniques such as lack of lighting present the physical and ethical decay of society that resulted as a consequence of over exploitation by corporations. The film opens with an extreme long shot which affords the responder a view of the dystopian landscape and environmental degradation. The landscape, dotted with flames is symbolic of what hell may look like.
Scott furthermore warns of the potential of corporations, if given sufficient authority will overpower government and establish themselves as corporate forms of government. This is explored through the projection of the Tyrell Corporation as the dominant corporation. Scott uses the camera to zoom over the ziggurat style building, showing it as the highest, thus establishing it as a corporate form of government. Only from the top of the Tyrell building can the sun be seen. Scott uses this image as a warning that corporation, if unrestricted will take what belongs to nature – the ability to give life.
Romanticists, such as Shelley, hated industrialisation for the unnatural life it afforded those who had to work in the factories. Humanity was being sacrificed in the race for mass production and profit. This challenged the values of compassion and community. In company with Shelley’s romanticist allusions, her warning about the dangers of industrialism is shown through her presentation of Ingolstadt. It is at this industrialised city that Victor creates the “wretch” and is the genesis of all the evil that comes upon him. The city symbolises her rejection of industrialism.
Romanticism and Industrialism may be explored together. It was the Industrial Revolution that began to reform society which saw the Romanticist movement evolve. Romanticist allusions symbolise Shelley’s rejection of industrialisation and her rejection of industrialisation comes as a result of her being a romanticist.
In reaction to the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ and ‘Industrialism’ which sought to reform society intellectually, Romanticism promoted liberalism and heighten emotion. Shelley’s closest friends were Romanticist writers. This is shown through her various allusions to Romanticist works including Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. “Because a frightful fiend doth close behind him tread” – This literary allusion foreshadows the trauma Victor will endure, paralleling the mariner killing the albatross which, in disturbing the natural order he is consequently tormented for life.
Romanticism saw a movement back to nature; away from the rapid commercialisation of cities. Natural landscapes are presented in Frankenstein as places where peace is sought. “…bending my steps towards the near Alpine valleys, sought in the magnificence.” – Emotive language, visual imagery.
Being well educated, Shelley read about Luigi Galvani’s experiments where he electrically shocked frogs into animation. Galvanism as it became known as is what Victor uses to “infuse a spark of being” into the creature – Metaphor describing the influence of galvanism and thus context on her character’s actions.
Thematic Concepts in Frankenstein:
Overreaching: The alternative title for Frankenstein was ‘The Modern Prometheus’ which says that Shelley saw a direct link between Victor and Prometheus. Overreaching is essentially going beyond one’s ordained position in the greater scheme of things. Like Prometheus, Victor begins with noble intentions, but his actions lead to dreadful consequences. Like fire in the Prometheus Myth, the monster is at first something good. However, through the actions of mankind becomes an evil force. The monster becomes Victor’s ‘eagle’ that punishes him for going beyond his ordained position to create life.