Projections - Movie Reviews

Frankenstein

Mary Shelley composed the now-famous story of Frankenstein in the summer of 1816 at the age of nineteen.  Passing a stormy night at Lake Geneva with Lord Byron, Percy Shelley (her married lover whom she eventually married) and her step sister, Byron suggested that they each write their own ghost story.  Without inspiration for days, Mary finally formed the story from the ghastly contents of a vivid nightmare.  The nightmare that became Frankenstein was prompted by a discussion that Mary overheard between Shelley and Byron.  The men were discussing the scientific advances of the day, including galvanism and the possibility of reanimating a corpse.  These ideas unsettled Mary with their disturbing implications, preventing her from sleep and finally resulting in the haunting dream.

I was most pleasantly surprised by this extraordinary rendition of her story.  While it remains a horror film, Kenneth Branagh, the film's Director, has focused on the philosophical and psychological themes of the story.  "For me," says Branagh, "this story is less a horror film than a larger-than-life Gothic fairy tale.  It's full of real psychological insights about family.  It deals with the themes of parenting and responsibility, of birth and death, of man's arrogance in the face of nature and his inhumanity to man."

Although the story dates back to the early 19th century, it succeeds in addressing our present-day fears surrounding genetic engineering and man's growing control over the creation and preservation of life.  While Frankenstein's experiment  - to create life from death - succeeds on a purely scientific level, his failure to consider the moral and spiritual obligation to his creation results in a devastating tragedy.  "When I read the novel," Branagh says, "I was forcibly reminded of why this story continues to have such a strong hold on people.  The idea of man playing God and cheating death is a primal myth and poses several questions: Is it evil for a man to disregard the consequences of bringing another creature into the world?  Who is more evil -- Frankenstein or his abandoned creature?"

In the role of the creature is Robert DeNiro, whom Branagh regards as "an actor of great courage and brilliance."  DeNiro is excellent as the hideous yet sympathetic character.  To create an authentic portrait of the creature, British makeup artist Daniel Parker researched the scientific techniques in effect at the end of the 18th century.  He succeeded in transforming DeNiro's appearance in a drastic way while still allowing the actor to effectively portray the subtle emotions of his character.  Parker admits that this effort was "the most difficult thing I had ever undertaken."  DeNiro may agree.  The application of the full-body makeup required him to be in a chair for up to twelve hours each day, sometimes beginning as early as 3:30 a.m.

DeNiro is joined by an outstanding repertoire of notable actors: Kenneth Branagh (as Frankenstein), Helena Bonham Carter (as Frankenstein's beloved Elizabeth), Tom Hulce, Aidan Quinn and John Cleese.

 
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