Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been made into film many times. The novel holds potential for adaptation to spectacular film versions, because of its dramatic and visual aspects. However, some of the Frankenstein films focus more on the horror effects than the universal elements of the story.
Working with the Film
A movie that has taken care of these elements in a successful way is the Kenneth Branagh version from 1994. This version is, by critics and literary scholars, seen as being the version which is most true to Mary Shelley’s original story. It casts a line of celebrated stars: Kenneth Branagh (who also directed the film), Robert De Niro, John Cleese, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Hulce to mention some of the most famous of them.
Note: To give an adequate analysis of a film is difficult after the first viewing; there is simply too much to take in. So, to answer the tasks below, it is recommended to watch the film at least twice. You will probably also need to select particular scenes to watch again to get a full understanding of how the film is put together. (E.g. lighting, editing, camera angles, symbols etc.)
- How does the film carry elements of the ideals of the Romantic age?
- Mention examples of how the film is true to the Gothic tradition in Romantic literature.
- When Frankenstein creates his monster from organs and body parts taken from corpses (“just material”) – whose brain does he take? Is there a symbolic significance here?
- In which scene(s) do we feel sympathy with the monster, and why?
- Discuss the setting and the use of symbols in the scene when Victor and Elizabeth make up after the break and decide to get married the next day.
- What is the symbolic meaning of the way the monster kills Elizabeth?
- Discuss the use of lighting in the film and its symbolic effects. (Why are there so many dark scenes?)
- Follow the camera angles in the film. Do they add anything to the way we see the story? Check, for example, the scene when they carry home the body of the child that was killed by the monster.
- Do you note the use of contrasts in the film? (Not only visual contrasts, but also contrasts in the way the film is edited.) What is the purpose and intended effect of juxtaposing these scenes in that particular order?
- Explain how the narrative of the film is kind of a “story within a story”. What is the purpose and effect of such a technique?
- Discuss and give examples of how and why there is a focus on the basic elements of nature in the film (e.g. fire, ice, water, temperature, weather). For example, where did Frankenstein and the monster meet to talk and Frankenstein make a promise?
- It is a colourful film production, but the colour red seems to reappear over and over. Give examples of where, and discuss its symbolic meaning.
- Go to the sea captain’s speech at the end (when Frankenstein has died) and explain and discuss what he really says. (These lines are taken directly from the original text in the book from 1818.)
- How did Frankenstein die? (What is the symbolic meaning of the fact that he was not killed by the monster?) In what way is this related to the theme of the story?
- Discuss the last scene of the film. How did Frankenstein and his monster reach some kind of reconciliation? How is this related to the theme?
- How does it show that the film is a Hollywood production? (Is it possible to point out some features in general that will separate a Hollywood production from an independent or a European production?)