Educational objectives: 1. Identify gothic elements in Romantic era literature as evidenced in the movie version of the literary gothic novel by Shelley, Frankenstein.
2. Identify social prejudice as it manifested in 19th-century England and in 20th-century America.
3. Evaluate themes of man’s quest to control life versus the benefit of allowing nature to prevail. Evaluate the concept of “monster” from the viewpoint of multiple social worlds, including pre-industrialized England, pre-WWII America, and post-modern America.
The movie clearly shows the gothic elements that are iconic to the genre: fire, stormy night, supernatural events, mystery, hidden knowledge, grisly death, soaring architecture, helpless females in terror, caves, malformed creatures, and the list goes on. The fun comes from each student announcing a gothic element as it appears while the movie progresses. Also “edutaining” are the captivating special effects of the monster’s creation and birth, his murder of Elizabeth, the way an experimental frog kicks hard enough to break its petri dish at an unexpected moment, etc. The movie presents the intellectual arguments that inform the novel, presents the use of complex British syntax, and presents the society of the time in compelling ways that all allow the high school student to grasp the historical background social context quickly. The literary device of gothic elements and the birth of the genre is quickly understood and made explicit. Then the teacher’s job is much easier to engage the logic and intellect in the philosophical examination of prejudice and social satire that mirrors complex life today.
A second movie, Young Frankenstein, or excerpts thereof, shows through satire the various assumptions society has about the story, the use of gothic elements in cinema, and about “monstrous” types in everyday life. It’s definitely worth a critical viewing as a followup to the emotionally affecting dramatic version.. I have also included the video questions I have students answer during the viewing, which helps engage not only their right hemispheric cognition, but also makes explicit the facts about the story, so that they can access these for further discussion, later in the evaluative segment of the lesson.
Movie #1 – clip and synopsis ofMary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Dr. Frankenstein creates a simple creature from various body parts. The creature turns into a monster when Dr. Frankenstein rejects him. Sticking close to the original novel, Kenneth Branagh, as Victor Frankenstein, guides us through the story of man’s quest for knowledge and his creature's search for his "father." Robert De Niro plays the Frankenstein monster as Mary Shelley had intended it to be played. This movie follows the story almost exactly and is one of the few accurate portrayals of the monster in film.
Robert Walton, the captain of a ship bound for the North Pole, is soon interrupted by seas full of impassable ice. Trapped, Walton encounters Victor Frankenstein, who has been traveling by dog-drawn sledge across the ice and is weakened by the cold. Walton takes him aboard ship, helps nurse him back to health, and hears the fantastic tale of the monster that Frankenstein created.
We see Victor’s happy early years, the arrival of his adopted sister Elizabeth, the birth of his little brother, his experiments in electricity. When Victor’s mother dies in childbirth, Victor becomes consumed with preventing death. He enters the university of Ingolstadt to study natural philosophy and chemistry and other heretical teachings on the origins of life, specifically the experiment on vermicelli worms by an uncle of Charles Darwin.
We see the first smallpox vaccinations being given to dirty, superstitious population of a debtor’s prison, where Victor buys amniotic fluid and body parts from executed prisoners and spends months feverishly, in the secrecy of his apartment, bringing acreature to life. When he looks at the monstrosity that he has created, however, the sight horrifies him. The monster runs away, and Victor falls into a feverish illness, sickened by his horrific deed. His fiancée Elizabeth arrives to bring him home.
Meanwhile, the monster, played by De Niro, goes into the woods, finds shelter and a bit of companionship with an old blind farmer and tries to help the farmer’s poor family. The monster is seen and driven off, and the murder of the old farmer is mistakenly blamed on him. Desperate and lonely, the monster decides to take revenge for his miserable life on the one who gave him birth, the man whose diary the monster finds in the coat he grabbed.
The monster learns who Victor is and first kills Victor’s little brother Willie. Arriving in Geneva, Victor finds that Justine Moritz, a kind, gentle girl who had been adopted by the Frankenstein household, has been accused. She is tried, condemned, and executed, despite her assertions of innocence. Victor grows despondent, guilty with the knowledge that the monster he has created bears responsibility for the death of two innocent loved ones.
Hoping to ease his grief, Victor takes a vacation to the mountains. While he is alone one day, crossing an enormous glacier, the monster approaches him. The monster admits to the murder of William but begs for understanding. Lonely, shunned, and forlorn, he says that he struck out at William in a desperate attempt to injure Victor, his cruel creator. The monster begs Victor to create a mate for him, a monster equally grotesque to serve as his sole companion.
Victor refuses at first, horrified by the prospect of creating a second monster. The monster is eloquent and persuasive, however, and he eventually convinces Victor. After returning to Geneva, Victor works reluctantly at repeating his first success. One night, struck by doubts about the morality of his actions, Victor glances out the window to see the monster glaring in at him with a frightening grin. Horrified by the possible consequences of his work, Victor destroys his new creation. The monster, enraged, vows revenge, swearing that he will be with Victor on Victor’s wedding night.
Shortly after returning to Geneva with his father, Victor marries Elizabeth. He fears the monster’s warning and suspects that he will be murdered on his wedding night. To be cautious, he sends Elizabeth away to wait for him. While he awaits the monster, he hears Elizabeth scream and realizes that the monster had been hinting at killing his new bride, not himself. We see the monster attack Elizabeth and rip out her heart and hold it up for Victor to see as Victor lurches into the room a second too late. Victor returns home to his father, who dies of grief a short time later and works feverishly to bring Elizabeth back to life. The female monster that results becomes the object of a tug of war between the monster and Victor, who both want to possess her. She sets herself on fire, instead, and destroys Victor’s ancestral home as well. Victor vows to devote the rest of his life to finding the monster and exacting his revenge, and he soon departs to begin his quest.
Victor tracks the monster ever northward into the ice. In a dogsled chase, Victor almost catches up with the monster, but the sea beneath them swells and the ice breaks, leaving an unbridgeable gap between them. At this point, Walton encounters Victor, and the narrative catches up. Victor, already ill when the two men meet, worsens and dies. When Walton returns to take away the body, the monster is weeping over Victor, telling Walton that Victor was his father. We see a funeral pyre on the misty ice, and the scene’s last frame is of the monster’s face full of suffering, hatred, remorse and, yes, triumph, surrounded by the flames from the torch he cast upon the pyre. He too can end his suffering in death. Walton then summons his shipmates and abandons his compulsive quest for the pole and heads for home.
– Source: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/frankenstein/summary.html
Movie #2 – clip and synopsis ofYoung Frankenstein,by Mel Brooks
Young Frankenstein (satire)
This movie of 1974, one of the most successful parodies of the horror film genre, was co-written by director Mel Brooks and star Gene Wilder, who plays a brain surgeon and descendant of Victor Frankenstein, Frederick Frankenstein pronounced Frahnkensteen). It draws on the entire tradition of Frankenstein movies, but especially on the first three Universal movies starring Karloff: Frankenstein (1931), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and The Son of Frankenstein (1939). Frankenstein, a brain surgeon who scoffs at the activities of his famous ancestor, travels to Transylvania, and there discovers the secret of creating life. Brooks used Kenneth Strickfaden's original electrical equipment from the 1931 Universal Frankenstein. The cast included Wilder, Peter Boyle (the Monster), Marty Feldman (Igor, pronouncedEye-gor), Cloris Leachman, Terri Garr (in one of her first major roles), and Kenneth Mars.