How Victor Frankenstein Attempts to Revive Shelley’s Classic
Guest Post by Maria Ramos
Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. You can follow her on Twitter @MariaRamos1889.
How Victor Frankenstein Attempts to Revive Shelley’s Classic
Frankenstein’s undead monster has been depicted on film over 70 times, each a little different than the last. The galvanist experiments of physicist Giovanni Aldini first popularized the notion of reviving the dead via electric current. These morbid experiments later inspired Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. Since its publication in 1818, Frankenstein has served as source material for theatrical productions, movies, songs, and even video games on top of being a pop culture phenomenon years after it first appeared on the page. Victor Frankenstein, starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe, adds a fresh new perspective to this oft-told tale by majorly focusing on Frankenstein and his assistant, Igor’s relationship more than anything else.
The original Frankenstein depicts the trials and tribulations of Victor Frankenstein, a university student determined to unlock the secret of life and mortality. Upon discovering the process for reviving the dead, Victor reanimates a corpse composed of body parts taken from a graveyard. Victor’s monster wreaks havoc on his life and murders his loved ones, leading readers to question the morality of “playing God” through scientific experimentation.
The newest film to depict Frankenstein in all his glory, Victor Frankenstein seeks to retell Shelley’s classic horror story from the perspective of Igor, the misfit assistant of Victor Frankenstein which, at first, seems like a refreshing change from the original tale. Igor (Radcliffe) is meant to be the film’s voice of reason, challenging Frankenstein (McAvoy) and questioning his outlandish attempts to revive the dead. The film focuses on the budding relationship between Victor and Igor, relegating the story of Frankenstein’s monster and what it represents to the background.
Paul McGuigan‘s interpretation of Frankenstein bears more resemblance to other cinematic depictions of the tale than it does to Shelley’s revered novel. In the original tale, Victor Frankenstein works alone – no character named Igor is depicted in the novel at all. Rather, Igor is a composite character, based on different hunchbacked assistants and mad scientists featured in Universal’s Frankenstein films produced throughout the 1930s and ’40s.
Victor Frankenstein places Igor firmly in the film’s foreground. In this incarnation, Igor is a hunchbacked freak discovered by Frankenstein during a visit to the circus. When Frankenstein sees Igor save trapeze artist Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay) after a horrific fall, he decides that Igor is the assistant he’s always needed and takes him in, fixing his deformities. The film continues to explore the relationship between the two men, their quarrels with a police inspector, and Igor’s budding romance with Lorelei.
Radcliffe, McAvoy, and Findlay all give commendable performances in the film. McAvoy portrays a comically unhinged Frankenstein, shooting spittle with each of his booming proclamations. Radcliffe puts in a solid performance as Igor, the voice of moral reason tempering Frankenstein and his wild ambitions.
Unfortunately, Victor Frankenstein neglects to explore the most fascinating element of Shelley’s tale: Frankenstein’s monster himself. Is Frankenstein’s monster a natural-born killer or did Victor’s neglect make him one? This intriguing question is central to Shelley’s novel. Though the monster commits numerous gruesome acts throughout the tale, Frankenstein’s own moral failings and dreams of conquering death are perhaps even more heinous than the monster’s bitter rebellion.
Instead of subtly leading us to contemplate Victor’s own monstrous tendencies, Victor Frankenstein relies upon Igor to voice the audience’s moral qualms. This heavy-handed moralizing, coupled with the film’s neglect of Frankenstein’s monster, are perhaps Victor Frankenstein‘s two biggest failings.
Though the film offers a new perspective on Shelley’s novel, the film is hardly among the best interpretations of this timeless story. Universal’s 1931 classic Frankenstein and Mel Brooks’ farcical Young Frankenstein (1974) are far more engaging depictions of the tale. Both Frankenstein and Young Frankenstein take many liberties with Shelley’s source material. The 1931 film, for instance, includes a hunchbacked assistant named Fritz, portrays the monster as a mute savage, and attributes the monster’s behavior to his criminal brain rather than to Victor’s neglectful behavior. Young Frankenstein tells the tale of Frankenstein’s grandson, Frederick, and comically depicts the relationship between Frederick and his creation. The film’s happy ending vastly differs from the tragic conclusion of Shelley’s work and you can still check out this ‘70s classic on television (more info here).
Though many films have interpreted Shelley’s novel in unique ways, they maintain a focus on Frankenstein’s monster. By naming Victor and Igor the stars of the show, Victor Frankenstein abandons the very best part of the Frankenstein story. Indeed, critic and viewer appraisals of Victor Frankenstein have ranged from lukewarm to abysmal. Even the most dedicated Franken-fans will be disappointed by this mediocre movie.
Despite its creative retelling of Shelley’s novel, Victor Frankenstein fails to live up to the successes of its many predecessors. By neglecting to tell the tale of Frankenstein’s monster, McGuigan’s film loses the very element that made Shelley’s Frankenstein so great. One can only hope that future Frankenstein films will learn from the failings of Victor Frankenstein. The story of Frankenstein’s monster is the tale that truly needs to be told.