Frankenstein’s Monster is such a tragic character. I have always had such sympathy for him, in practically all his incarnations, but perhaps the one I am most sympathetic with is Boris Karloff’s movie version.
Think about it…the Monster, while being frightening-looking in most views, is nothing but a child. Dr. Frankenstein says it himself in the movie: “This body is not dead…this body has not yet lived”. He created this body, and consequently this life, by assembling it through various bodies he had stolen, and animated it through electricity. Sure, he mistakenly gave the body a criminal brain, but it was a fresh new life he created, like giving birth to a new living being.
After realizing that his creation is not perfect because of its violent outburst that results from its fear of fire, the doctor chains the Monster up and essentially forgets about him. It is the doctor’s irresponsibity…his refusal to take responsibility for the life he created, that is the true fault behind what is done by, and what becomes of the Monster.
What sort of parent would turn his or her newborn child out into the world without first teaching everything from speaking and walking to right from wrong? A young child doesn’t know you aren’t supposed to throw another child into a lake like a plucked daisy, and neither does Frankenstein’s Monster…only difference being a small child wouldn’t be physically able to do so.
When Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley first wrote the novel that would eventually become the franchise that is Frankenstein, it was subtitled The Modern Prometheus. Prometheus was one of the Greek Titans who enraged Zeus by stealing fire from the Gods and presenting it to human beings. Before this gift, humans were nothing but essentially stupid, animated lumps of clay, but with the power of fire came knowledge of how to do things for themselves. The gift of fire is usually essentially equated with the gift of knowledge and life. Out of vengeance, Zeus created Pandora, who married Prometheus’ brother…and we all know Pandora’s claim to fame. By opening the infamous box (or jar), she unleashed evil upon the world.
Dr. Frankenstein exclaims “Now I know how it feels to be God” once he realizes his experiment has worked and his creation is alive. He is Prometheus bestowing new life upon what had previously been nothing, and he becomes his own Pandora when he fails to take responsibility for what he has done.
Now, the Monster in Mary Shelley’s novel is much more “sophisticated” in many ways than the Monster of the movies. He learns to read and write while off on his own, and unleashes a conscious and willing vengeance upon the doctor like you wouldn’t believe (stalking the doctor to all ends of the earth, killing his wife, etc).
It is Karloff’s childlike, unsophisticated Monster who tugs at my sympathetic heartstrings. How can one not feel sympathy for the huge beast as he is mercilessly teased with a torch of fire by the creepy little hunchback assistant, Fritz? (But HA! Fritz get’s his when he makes the Monster angry enough, doesn’t he?) How can you not think “aaawhh!” when the Monster cracks an innocent, child-like smile when the little girl, Maria, takes his hand and presents him with a daisy. Okay, sure she is repaid with a toss into the lake, but we realize that the Monster didn’t intend to harm the little girl. And how can you not secretly root for the Monster when he goes after Dr. Frankenstein’s fiance on their wedding day? It was her, afterall, who the doctor had been spending all of his time with while the Monster was off forgotten.
Perhaps one of the most disheartening scenes in the movie is one of the final scenes…where the Monster is trapped inside an old windmill where he had brought Dr. Frankenstein after being chased by the villagers. Dr. Frankenstein is dropped from the top of the windmill’s body, bounces off of one of the spindles, and then falls to the ground. The villagers promptly set fire to the windmill, and the last we see of the Monster, he is wailing pitifully, being engulfed with fire…the element he so fears, which really was the element that initially gave him life (for essentially, electricity is fire).
In the final scene of the movie, we see that the “good” Doctor actually survived his ordeal, and we are left with an image of his father drinking an expensive glass of wine, toasting the “son of the house of Frankenstein”…and we are left thinking…”that BASTARD!”…or at least I am.
Why am I so sympathetic to a monster in a movie? Am I the only one? Maybe it is because, like I have said, the Monster is just a big child, hungry for affection and knowledge, turned out into a cruel world with no guidance by the very one who is, in all intents and purposes, his father?
Or maybe it is because we all can see a bit of ourselves in the Monster. Who of us have never been turned away by someone who should take care of us or love us? Whether it be a friend, a parent, a significant other, a family member, what have you…we all recognize that look of despair in the mangled visage of the Monster’s face…we recognize the glimmer of hope in kindness in the smile sparked by Maria’s flower…we understand the deep-seated desire for revenge.
We have all been discarded and forgotten at one point in our lives…all the more hurtful when it is done by someone who has added to your life in some way. When you have spent a part of your life with someone, you collect pieces of their lives…you become assembled of their world in a way…like the Monster…and then you are rejected, sent out into the world with nothing left but pieces of what you used to be sewn onto you like a corpse’s used arm or a criminal’s discarded brain.
We have all been the Monster in some form or another, and it has made us angry…it has made us want to flail our arms wildly around and terrorize the one who did this to us…so we sympathize with the Monster…we forgive him his transgressions of tossing the little girl into the lake because he thought she was as beautiful and gentle as a daisy…we forgive him for beating down that little bastard Fritz for waving a lit torch in front of his face. We probably actually are secretly pleased when he tosses Dr. Frankenstein’s body off of the windmill, because most of us never got the chance to toss the body of the person that did us wrong off of any sort of edifice.
We are the Monster…the underdog…the forgotten child…we want to kick the shit out of all the Dr. Frankensteins of our world…so its more than natural to root for the Monster doing it for us on the silver screen. Perhaps its even cathartic, in a way…anything that keeps us from chucking little girls into a lake is a good thing.
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