My first involvement with the Theatre—and note the spelling here; “TheatRE” with an R-E at the end signifies the stage and live performance, whereas “theatER” ending with an E-R means the cinema, as in a movie theater—was in college, when I appeared in a production of Shakespeare’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING that was set in the Old West. We wore cowboy boots and hats, and the “war of little report” from which the soldiers were returning was the Spanish-American War. It worked. Shakespeare can be set in any century, because the stories are timeless. The same is true of all great Literature, and is truer of Mary Shelly’s story FRANKENSTEIN than in other cases. The cautionary tale that serves as the foundation and crux of the story is even timelier today, in our age of advanced technology, than it was when Shelly crafted it some two centuries ago. For this reason, I was so excited to see the modernized version of FRANKENSTEIN, written and directed by Bernard Rose. And it is for this reason that I was so terribly disappointed by it.
The movie is beautiful to look at, beautiful in all its horrific glory. It is a blood-spattered tapestry of high art, supported by fine performances and a solid storyline. Rose eschewed the standard casting choice of putting a big, hulking guy in the role of the Monster. Instead he went with a short, scrawny pretty boy.
Yet it worked. Xavier Samuel is superb in the lead, and Tony Todd, as the Monster’s obligatory blind friend, gives what may be the performance of his career. There are no weak links in the cast, save one, possibly—but we’ll get to him in a second.
If the acting, cinematography, production values, pacing, etc. and etc. are all top notch, why then the disappointment on my part? Let us say that FRANKENSTEIN is two-thirds of a damn fine movie. The final third is missing. I understand completely that this version of the story was meant to be told entirely from the Monster’s viewpoint, but having him incinerate himself before delivering the moral of the tale felt like a cheat. It left me feeling a lack of closure. The doctors Frankenstein are almost a non-entity in this version, yet even so we, the viewers, MUST see the confrontation between creator (or creators) and created. The Monster MUST confront the scientist. Samuel’s Monster does find his maker, yes, but the actor portraying Victor (Danny Huston) here lacks the gravitas to pull off the emotional breaking point of existential despair that Frankenstein must feel to drive the point home.
Instead, we get Mrs. Frankenstein (we assume she is married to Victor) accidentally killed, Victor (out of focus) hauling ass, and the Monster leaving to go torch himself and his “mother.” The lesson is incomplete. Where was the damn denouement? Where was the POINT of the story?
The movie still serves as a cautionary tale, in a way. By forcing us to follow the Monster on every step of his journey—the director is sadistic in driving home the inhumanity of our race, so much so that it becomes a masochistic experience for the audience—he seems to be warning us to tread carefully with our Science, lest we create something so pitiable, and shame on us if we do. That seems to be the moral to this story, the underlying lesson for us all to take away. But the story Mary Shelly created, the one told time and time again on stage and screen with greater or lesser degrees of variation, is that we, human beings, Man with a capital “M,” must be careful, lest we create something that will destroy us. It is a far more profound lesson than the one delivered here. Rose succeeds at making us feel pity for the Monster in spades, but he rolls the end credits before we get to share in the Monster’s apotheosis and Victor’s comeuppance.
What I wanted to see was the Monster, which was created basically by a 3D printer in this version, and seemed incapable of being killed—it survives getting shot in the head at point blank range, having its throat slit, a lethal drug dose, being soundly beaten about the head by countless 2X4s and baseball bats, and getting dragged behind a tractor—come out of the bonfire it constructs for itself still alive and kicking, and that it would then go after Victor for revenge. Sadly, Rose elected not to give us this necessary chapter, and the result is a movie that feels wearily incomplete and an audience that feels unsatisfied.
I had to pop the classic Boris Karloff version in the old DVD player after watching this version, just to see Dr. Frankenstein get tossed off that windmill by his creation—which is the way any proper Frankenstein story ought to end.
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