Frankenstein and Blade Runner

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An exploration of the marked differences in textual form of Mary Shelley’s novel ‘Frankenstein’ and Ridley Scott’s film ‘Blade Runner’, further enhances the parallels between the two. The transition from early 19th century England to late 20th century America, greatly influenced the composition of both texts. In comparison to F’s epistolary form heavily influenced by the Romantic and gothic ideologies of the time, BR’s cinematic approach was more focused on the influence of film noir and crime fiction. Despite this, both texts explore the themes of monstrosity and humanity and the unnatural pursuit of knowledge by man’s hubris.

The parallel concept of humanity is highlighted through different paradigms. Shelley employs the mise-en-abyme and gothic horror form to highlight how monstrosity (and ultimately humanity) is not defined by the physical, whilst Scott emphasises this in BR through the crime fiction elements which focus on the grey areas of humanity through the simulacra replicants. The physical monstrosity of the creature is juxtaposed with the internal monstrosity of F through the combined mise-en-abyme and gothic form of the novel.

The dark and gothic imagery employed to describe the monster in F’s perspective: “his yellow skin… watery eyes… shrivelled complexion and straight black lips” repulses the audience. However, through the mise-en-abyme form, readers are able to empathise with the monster’s pain: “I was a poor, miserable wretch”. Consequently, F’s humanity is questioned as Shelley delves deeper into the monster’s character, to the extent that F becomes the real monster even though he is not physically monstrous. This paralleled theme is further enhanced in BR through the ambiguity of the crime fiction form.

This is shown through the simulacrum nature of the replicants and is juxtaposed to the monstrosity in F, as there is no now physical distinction of humanity. This “More human than human” approach is highlighted not just physically, but also mentally. Even though the replicants are not considered human, they show more humanity than humans themselves, displaying the only ‘family’ in the entire film. For example, when Roy mourns Pris’ death the close up shot of his crying face captures the pain in his eyes. Although his howling appears completely unnatural and almost animalistic, the raw human emotion is evident.

This show of humanity is much more than any other human character in the film. Another parallel drawn from both texts is their cautionary tale about man’s unrestrained hubristic nature and the subsequent unnatural thirst for knowledge. This theme is further enhanced through the contrasting of Shelley’s employment of Romanticism with Scott’s use of film noir. In F, the epistolary form is employed by Shelley to emphasise the Romantic focus on the individual’s unnatural pursuit of knowledge resulting in a transgression of the natural order.

Both F and Walton personify humanity’s hubris, where F attempts to surge beyond human limitations and access the secrets of life and Walton tries to surpass previous explorers by endeavouring to reach the North Pole. F’s hubristic scope, shown in first person, is seemingly without bounds: “One man’s life & death are but a small price to pay for the furtherance of my enterprise”. The destruction of his life and subsequent death “is a warning not just against an unnatural thirst for knowledge, but the scientific potentialities of the new science”.

Romanticism is juxtaposed with the film noir influence from the 1980s in BR, as it explores beyond the individual impact and emphasises the negative impact of man’s hubris on the whole of society. These devastating effects are illustrated visually in the dystopian landscape of LA 2019 through film noir techniques of dreary rainfall, dark lighting and polluted smoke, in the establishing shot and throughout the film. The constant rain is symbolic of nature mourning for its destruction by the magnitude of man’s uncontrolled hubris, and thus, warns against an unnatural thirst for knowledge.

Man’s hubristic drive is also emphasised through the crime fiction theme of paranoia shown through the eye motif. Tyrell’s costume of overly thick glasses stresses his metaphorical blindness to responsibility. Through his death, this emphasises the film’s message that man’s hubris through the pursuit of knowledge can lead to dire consequences. The contrast of F’s combined Romantic, gothic and epistolary form to BR’s crime fiction and film noir form, serves to highlight the didactic warnings of the human condition, and enhance the paralleling themes of what constitutes humanity and the consequences of man’s hubristic thirst for knowledge.

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