Thursday, October 30, 2014
Frankenstein (1931): A Libertarian Film Review
Last night I had the wonderful opportunity to take my nephew to see Universal’s timeless classic, Frankenstein, on the big screen. It was a great time and we both enjoyed the movie. I felt privileged by the fact that both of us were seeing it for the first time in theaters, and that it was the boy’s first time seeing an eighty-three year old masterpiece.
Seeing Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s “monster” for the first time in years had a powerful effect on me. With the limited audiovisual and special effects capabilities of the time (1931), this movie is entirely driven by individual performance. Even Karloff’s almost-comical simplicity in portraying the monster is driven by emotion and strong character acting. I could sense desperation both in the monster and the humans who hate him. Beyond that, the movie touched on my values, especially the sanctity of human life.
In Henry Frankenstein’s obsession with creating life from dead tissue, he likens himself to God for giving life. This is the ultimate arrogance in a human being, and such arrogance wreaks deadly consequences on the community once the “monster” escapes. At first Frankenstein is committed to preserving and cultivating the life he has artificially brought into the world. Over a short amount of time, Frankenstein’s monster proves to be beyond control, killing at least four people in the creation’s short existence.
This image terrifies us deep down, knowing that people’s final resting places were disturbed, their corpses violated and mutilated without their consent. Even the dead have rights; this is something we recognize in people’s final will and testament, by which their exact instructions for their persons and property are enforceable by law. Living life in a world where people’s rights are violated every day, it’s disturbing to think of our civil liberties and property rights being violated after we pass on. Even worse is the idea of your own corpse being used—without your consent—to create something that will brutally kill innocent people.
Quite honestly, it was also very uncomfortable to see the monster in its moments of despair and anguish. It’s known that the creature possesses an abnormal (developmentally stunted and homicidal) brain and warrants his own destruction by his deadly actions. At the same time, the viewer knows this new life—while possessing some form of memory in its formerly dead, damaged brain—knows next to nothing but torture. While it should never have been created—Frankenstein had no right to do so—the creature is alive and awake. This new life enters the world and is kept in shackles and darkness, a scene directly from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. When the angry mob comes to destroy the creature, this child-like life form will know fear, pain, agony, and true suffering.
The way Dr. Frankenstein degrades human life to the subject of a science experiment reminds me of the ways governments are run by men who play God with their citizens. The history of the world reveals numerous episodes wherein lives, liberty and property were taken away, wherein people suffered and died, because governments made grand experiments. These episodes are filled with lives and fortunes destroyed via public policy.
Furthermore, nation-states like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Red Cambodia are symbolic of monsters—created on lofty ideals and mad delusions—out of control and causing untold death and destruction. Moreover, the illusion painted by governments, in which there is a monster lurking in the bushes, countless times served as the justification for keeping citizens in a political state of bondage. The recent NSA mass-surveillance scandal is a painful indicator that our American Constitutional republic can also slip into something decent people regard as evil.
Films like the 1931 adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein serve to entertain audiences, in no small part through prompting an emotional response (hence the inspiration for this review). Scary tales like this one serve as powerful metaphors, ever reminding us of the sanctity of human life. They also remind us to teach our children the value of life, and to respect that which does not belong to us nor is ours to violate.
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Universal Studios' photo of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster is in the public domain and was obtained from Wikipedia.