Over the course of the semester, I’ve become most interested in the usage of language and communication, both as tools to reach an ideal “I”, and as a way for different literature to communicate with each other. To me, the idea of language as both a tool and a barrier that we use to try to embody the symbolic is deeply fascinating, affecting us not only on a person-to-person scale, but on a cultural scale. There’s some pure form behind Frankenstein, out of the reach of the novel and the films. Words, Lacan reminds us, are just approximations. These works constantly speak to each other, trying to build towards that imago, that idealized pure form they want to be. Kenneth Branagh’s film tried to exceed the novel — and yet his Creature, designed to be sympathetic, came out as little more than a sadistic monster by the end of the movie. The lack of sympathy felt towards the Creature is due to it’s total lack of the novel’s psychodynamic linguistic elements.

Language, and particularly the Creature’s linguistic development, play a key role in the novel. His narration offers a window into his psyche, and it reveals his deep adoration for the De Lacey’s. It displays the nature of his development, showing how the Creature identified the De Lacey’s as his ideal “I”, rather than his own reflection. When the De Lacey’s betray him and he realizes his imago is a lie, he is  submerged in the Real. His violence becomes not just a response to society rejecting him, but a result. In the film, this adoration is made unclear. Branagh removed the narration but failed to compensate for the lost window. The De Lacey’s are never made into his imago, and the Creature’s turn from docile to hostile becomes far more one-dimensional than the complex motivations of the character in the novel.

The film, rather, tries to communicate and outdo the novel by heightening the intensity of the conclusion by including the composite female body. Diverting from the novel after following it (mostly) faithfully for it’s duration is a direct comment on the novel; the film, looking back through time seems to say “Hey! It’s the 20th century! We can give women a choice!” However, this choice falls flat. It essentializes women, instead: it combines two starkly different women–servant Justine and aristocratic Elizabeth–into one body in an attempt to unify all women. The message comes out muddled, and the film seems to say that all women want choice. The novel, however, resists such temptations. Such is the nature of aspiration and competition. While it can lead to profound success, it can also destroy the fine balance of an existing literary work. In the end, Kenneth Branagh’s film shows just how minute of a tight-rope Shelley walked when writing Frankenstein. The story she was trying to reach is within her grasp, so much so that I doubt anyone will ever use language to get closer.

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