The context of the time of writing is an integral part of a text’s composition and ideas. This notion is evident in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction film, Blade Runner. They both address ideas contemporary at the time, but are both interconnected through a common questioning of what may happen if humans attempt to play god. As a romanticist, Shelley condemns Frankenstein’s intrusive attempt to play the creator. Scott spurns man’s ruthless ambition through a dystopian environment created through ruthless quest for profit by commercially dominant, greedy corporations. Both texts employ techniques such as allusion and characterisation to depict similar dystopian visions ensuing from man’s dereliction of nature.
Composed during the Industrial Revolution at a time of increased scientific experimentation, Shelley warns and forebodes her enlightened society of the consequences which come about from playing god. She uses Victor Frankenstein as her platform, whose self-exalting line “many excellent natures would owe their being to me” represents a society engrossed with reanimation. Recurring mythical allusions to Prometheus, “how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge” portray Victor as a tragic hero; a noble character whose “fatal flaw” of blind ambition ultimately results in his own downfall and dehumanization, “swallowed up every habit of my nature”. In addition, Victor’s impulsive rejection of his grotesque creation, leads to the Monster’s rebellion (“vowed eternal hated and vengeance to all mankind”).
Despite the mismatch in time and context, Scott also incorporates similar elements of horror, but procures a man-made cataclysm that is a product of his own desire to achieve commercial dominance. Unlike Shelley’s moralistic warning, the flames in the opening scene highlight a dystopian world that has already reached an undesirable outcome. Revising Victor’s undermining of God’s prerogative, Scott conveys Tyrell’s capitalist fixation through his mantra “commerce is our goal”. The composer reinforces this through multiple low angle shot of Tyrell’s monolithic corporation, highlighting its command over its depressing urban surroundings. By doing so, Scott denounces the arrogance of corporate giants and their reckless disregard for the proletarians.
Furthermore, Scott’s reflection of a society engulfed within Cold-war paranoia of a potential nuclear disaster is depicted through Tyrell’s violent death at the hands of his own creation, Batty. Here, Tyrell’s scream as Roy ruptures his myopia-riddled eyes, a metaphor of his blind ambition, creates an ambience of utmost horror as responders construe how man’s hubristic desire to achieve utmost power results in his destruction. However, unlike Shelley’s critique of heedless scientific pursuit, Scott’s perspective has shifted to that of man’s capitalist voracity and is a reflection upon the 20th century’s rapid expansion of multinational corporations.
In comparison to Shelley’s discourse, Scott’s manifestation of a plain, industrialised world is his suspicion that technological progression has already discerned man’s divergence from nature. In the film’s opening sequence, Scott portrays his dystopian society through film-noir style of perpetual darkness, where the superficial world’s only source of illumination is from the glow of man-made neon lights. Moreover, the composer’s representation of a world ravaged by technological expansion is symbolised through the absence of authentic fauna and their substitution with artificial fauna.
However, in light of Shelley’s embrace of sublime nature, Scott also conveys how the presence of nature can facilitate the hope of spiritual renewal; proposing its entire restoration. The composer denotes this through his transient but vivid depiction of Deckard’s fleeting unicorn dream. Contrary to Shelley, however, Scott’s depiction of nature within a subliminal dream is metaphorical of his belief that rapid technological innovation has already superseded the position of nature. Therefore the film’s 20th century context encompassing fears ecological degradation evokes his admonition that rapid technological progression may already have made impossible a possible return to nature.
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