Frankenstein & Blade Runner Comparative Analysis

Posted on September 12, 2012 by Matrix Education

frankenstein bladerunner

In the elective Texts in Time students are required to undertake a comparative study of texts and context. One pair of texts involves the Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the film Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott. The two texts explore common themes despite a varied treatment that results from the authors’ different contexts.

Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus (1818) by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein: Context

By examining Shelley’s historical context we can see many of the key concerns of her time reflected in Frankenstein.
Written during a time of great change and upheaval in Europe, it functions as a social commentary on the realities of the author’s context.

  • Post-Enlightenment – Involved questioning of religion and the state. Promotion of science, knowledge and reason in the pursuit of inevitable progress, over superstition and religious dogma.
  • Rise of Romanticism – Rejection of science and rationalism, embraced a return to the sublimity of untamed nature and emotional/aesthetic/personal experiences. Mary eloped with Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
  • Midst of the Industrial Revolution – A period of technological advancement where the manual labour based economy was replaced by one where the machine increased production > workers were devalued. Shift from rural to urban – growing numbers left the countryside to find work in city factories leading to growth of slums and poverty.
    Karl Marx later suggested (1844) that this resulted in the alienation of man from the means of production and thus from his alienation from his essential human nature.
  • Post French revolution / War of American Independence – The traditional monarchy was overthrown and replaced with the values of democracy and equality. New industrial middle class; bourgeoisie, threatened once secure aristocracy and strict social hierarchy. Shelley’s father was William Godwin, the foremost English writer on the French revolution.
  • Feminism – Shelley’s mother was Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the feminist work Vindication of the Rights of Women. Her parents encouraged her in intellectual/literary pursuits- unusual for a woman at the time.

Frankenstein: Key Concepts

Humanity

Humans will and should be punished for interfering with the natural order or trying to “play God”. Humanity cannot be replicated or improved by scientific knowledge without disastrous consequences.

Example: Frankenstein represents humanity’s hubris and folly personified when he is horrified by his attempt to recreate human life and punished for it by a life of misery (the creature kills his loved ones: William, Clerval, Elizabeth) and his own death due to exhaustion.“His limbs were nearly frozen and his body dreadfully emaciated by fatigue and suffering. I never saw a man in so wretched a condition”.
Technique &
Effect:
Shelley uses an intertextual reference in the novel’s title to characterise Frankenstein as “the modern Prometheus”. In Greek mythology Prometheus was the champion of mankind who stole fire from the gods and was punished for it with eternal agony (an eagle eating out his liver daily suggested nature was having its revenge for the disruption in the natural order).
By drawing on this fable, Shelley takes on its moral to suggest when humans try to emulate the gods or disrupt the natural order, as Frankenstein does when he tried to create human life, they will be punished.
Shelley gives the moral of her own story credence by drawing an allegorical legend, authoritative because of its longevity.
Example: Frankenstein: “I ardently desired the acquisition of knowledge”.
Technique &
Effect:
Shelley uses the technique of dramatic irony to highlight Frankenstein’s error in the acquisition of knowledge, as the reader is already aware from the start of the novel the failure of Frankenstein’s quest: “I have lost everything and cannot begin life anew”. She suggests that knowledge is dangerous and man cannot be trusted with too much power.

Nature

In line with the ideals of Romanticism, Shelley glorifies/idealises the natural environment and suggests its restorative power to humanity.

Example: Frankenstein: “a cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks … fills me with delight”, “the spirit that inhabits and guards this place has a soul more in harmony with man” and “it was a divine spring, and the season contributed greatly to my convalescence”.
Technique &
Effect:
Shelley uses personification to imbue nature with the human characteristics of “a soul”, “the spirit” and the ability to engage in consciousness-driven actions such as “play”.
This allows her to glorify nature as an all-powerful and eternal force with restorative powers. The religious connotations of the word “divine” suggest that nature is a powerful and God-like.


Science/Technology

Shelley critiques Enlightenment ideals of scientific rationalism and progress at all costs, instead suggest the value of tradition/nature.

Example: Ernest (Frankenstein’s brother) is “full of activity and spirit”, “ looks upon study as an odious fetter; his time is spent in the open air”. Frankenstein: “often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation”. “It was a most beautiful season…but my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature”
Technique &
Effect:
Shelley characterises Ernest as representative of Romanticism and Frankenstein as representative of the Enlightenment. Shelley juxtaposes the two to highlight how their contrasting relationship with nature results in contrasting levels of personal well-being. Ernest is described in terms with positive connotations such as “spirit”, while Frankenstein is described in pejorative terms such as “loathing”. The juxtaposition allows Shelley to critique the Enlightenment and promote Romantic ideals.


Truth

Shelley rejects the Enlightenment understanding of an objective truth that can be determined through logical reasoning. Instead she embraces the subjective, experiential understanding of “truth” popular in Romanticism.

Example: “Frankenstein discovered that I made notes concerning his history; he … corrected and augmented them … ‘Since you have preserved my narration,’ said he, ‘I would not that a mutilated one should go down to posterity”.
Technique &
Effect:
Shelley employs an epistolary novel to present multiple narratives with multiple viewpoints on the same events. The reader’s awareness that they are getting the 2nd or 3rd hand version of events allows Shelley to suggest that meaning is confused and there is no one single interpretation of events. Her rejection of the traditional narrative device of the omniscient narrator in favour of first person confessional documents, allows her to explore the emotional motivations of different characters. These multiple layers and retellings bring the Enlightenment’s objective understanding of “truth” into question. Shelley highlights that there is no one correct truth, but that truth is understood only through the subjective, personal and experiential.

Blade Runner (1982) directed by Ridley Scott

Blade Runner: Context

Scott grew up in the grim depressing industrial landscape of north-east England before moving to America. The 1980s were a time when many Americans feared there country was in a great decline.

  • Reaganism – Ronald Reagan was President (Republican party). He employed a new conservatism, attacking liberalism for the context’s economic and social problems (crime, drugs, sexual immorality). Saw the restoration of traditional morals and family structures
    as a solution. Belief that the free market would solve all problems – increased defense spending to spur economic activity. Anti-immigration despite the reality of an increasingly multicultural society.
  • Wall Street Power – Unfettered capitalism, “greed is good”, trickle-down economics, progress at all costs will be for the “greater good”, big business/large corporations had great power
  • Asian economies – These were becoming increasingly powerful in the world economy – cheap mass made products were flooding world market.
  • Rising power of multi-national corporations while power of individual nations declined.
  • Technological Advancement – Start of the computer age.
  • Medical Advancement – Genetic modification, doctors “playing god”
  • The Blade Runner context is the science-fiction dystopic future of Los Angeles 2019. Scott’s heightens aspects of his context (mentioned above) to suggest that the context in Blade Runner is our future.

Blade Runner: Key Concepts

Humanity

Exploration of what makes us human and whether humanity can be replicated.

Example: The replicants represent an attempt to recreate humanity. Roy: “we’re not computers Sebastian, we’re physical”
Technique &
Effect:
By giving the replicants unique and distinctive identities and showing them demonstrate human emotions such as desire, love and hatred, Scott encourages us to emphathise with them as “human” victims.
Example: Pris: “I think Sebastien, therefore I am”
Technique &
Effect:
Scott blurs the boundaries between humanity and artificial humanity by characterising the replicants as “more human” than Deckard. Juxtaposing the replicants and Deckard highlights their hunger for life; “I want more life fucker, in contrast to his detached apathy. Pris’ intertextual reference to philosopher Descartes, “I think, therefore I am” allows Scott to suggest that she is a free-thinking, rational being, as human as anyone else.

Society

In this dystopia, society is in demise. The future is depressing.

Example: Bryant: “If you’re not cops you’re little people … no choice pal”.
Recurring search lights and shadowed bars across the characters faces.
Technique &
Effect:
The repeated visual lighting technique is symbolic of a society under constant surveillance, the culmination of Freud’s super-panopticon. The lighting technique of shadowed bars across the characters faces suggests their free will has demised and they are imprisoned by the rules of their society.
Example: Dark mise-en-scene with low-key lighting. Extensive use of smoke and fans. Jazz music. Rachel as the femme fatale. Deckard as the morally ambiguous “anti-hero”. Slow-pace of the film.
Technique &
Effect:
Scott consciously takes on these intertextual references to film noir to mirror that genre’s portrayal of society as a dark, dismal place full of self-serving individuals. The hero/villain dichotomy is also blurred with Roy’s sarcastic mocking of Deckard: “aren’t you the good man”.

Nature

When nature and the natural environment recede the consequences are dire and depressing.

Example: “I’ve never seen a turtle before”.
“Of course it’s [the snake] not real”
The artificial owl “must be expensive”.
Technique &
Effect:
The repetition of animals within the context being artificial and expensive highlights that nothing natural remains and the natural has been taken over by commerce. Scott uses the animals to symbolically represent the entirety of the natural landscape, suggesting it has entirely receded.

Access the full article by logging onto the Matrix Online Resources where students can view sample Band 6 responses from tutors and previous students. You’ll be able to see what it takes to write an outstanding essay.

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