Frankenstein and Blade Runner Faced with similar challenges against long held values both Frankenstein and Blade Runner express similar concerns and developed concepts that were almost the same as they tried to stop science and technology from eroding fundamental values. However, given the almost 200 year difference it is inevitable that they express their concerns differently. Both Frankenstein and Blade Runner examine the consequences of Man usurping God’s role as creator and the distancing of humanity from a once harmonious relationship with Nature.
Romanticism was a reaction against the scientific values of the Enlightenment which spanned from 1650 to the 1800s. It became a movement seeking to end the rationalisation of the Enlightenment and sought a return to a communion with fellow Man and Nature. Frankenstein was written by Mary Shelley in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and it espouses the values of Romanticism; emotion, spirituality and harmony.
It serves as a warning against the unchecked scientific progress that was taking place around Shelley. Shelley develops the concept of Man usurping God’s role as creator through her characterisation of Victor. The heavenly imagery “It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn” characterises Victor as disrespectful of God’s Laws, his arrogant ambition a symbol of the irreverent scientists of the Enlightenment.
Creation once was something biblically pure and reserved for God but Victor ignores this and his work becomes a mockery of purity “I kept my workshop of filthy creation,” the oxymoron undermining the implied sanctity expressing the depravity of Victor’s ambition. The pervasive use of irony is evident in the juxta positioning of Victor denying his creation friendship and the companionship he seeks with Clerval “nothing could equal my delight on seeing Clerval,” he hypocritically denies the Monster the very thing he recognises as vital, friendship.
This irony is also developed through Victor’s ignorance of his crime against Nature “the very winds whispered in soothing accents, and maternal nature bade me weep no more,” he recognises the power of Nature yet doesn’t understand that he has broken the ‘immutable laws’ of that which inspires him. Shelley presents a warning against science and technology dominating existence through the cautionary tone of “greater than his nature will allow,” Victor challenging the bounds of humanity will ultimately lead to destruction.
The Monster is contrasted to Victor as someone of depth and emotion, Shelley reveals him to be the embodiment of the Romantic values. It is the Monster who poses the moral questions regarding Victor’s ambitions “how dare you sport thus with life? ” this philosophical questioning of science and technology is further highlighted in “But where were my friends and relations?… What was I? ” this essential questioning is not done by the human, Victor but by his creation whose sensitive and philosophical values elevate him above humanity.
Once again Shelley’s use of irony highlights the differences between Victor and the Monster “I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel” the biblical allusion illustrates the ironic treatment of the Monster; it should really be Victor who is abhorred for his challenge to God’s authority. The intertextual reference to “Paradise Lost” exhibits the lost connection between Man, fellow Man and Nature because of the unbridled advances of science. The Monster is contrasted to Victor because of his capacity for love “my soul glowed with love and humanity; but am I not alone, miserably alone? it was only because of the callousness and brutality of Victor denying him companionship that he became miserable.
Conceptually Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott 1992 is very similar to Frankenstein; it too explores the consequences of Man overstepping the bounds of his existence and the moral dilemmas that arise because of science and technologies rampant, unhindered developments. However, the film can be seen as the result of the world ignoring the Romantic’s warning, it is the result of science and technology.
The 1970s and 80s saw rapid increases in cloning technology, the environment was at threat from pollution and globalisation was taking hold. It was out of this destruction of the Romantic values of emotion and connection with Nature that Blade Runner emerged. The opening scene immediately condemns science and technology, the continuous rain, the erupting fire pits and darkened film noir palate create the impression that the once beautiful Los Angeles, the ‘City of Angels’ has become a hellish scene out of Milton’s Paradise Lost.
The towering buildings dwarf Man symbolising the enslavement of humanity to science and technology. This opening validates the Romantic ideology warning against the uncontrolled developments in science and technology; however unlike Frankenstein in which Nature was preserved, the landscape has been completely destroyed. Science and technology are identified as the causes of the erosion of humanity and Nature, Tyrell becomes a symbol of science and thus the cause of the destruction.
Like Victor he is characterised as cold and callous, Scott expresses this through Tyrell’s costuming, his clinical white robe and glasses emphasising his sterility and inhumane nature. This lack of human empathy is furthered through his cold language “commerce is our goal here” which also symbolises the loss of humanity in the human race as a whole as they are dictated by commerce, not morality. This loss of humanity is also represented in the characterisation of J. F Sebastian as weak and lonely, his symbolic statement “I make friends” represents the lack of empathy, true friendship and community.
Tyrell and Sebastian are damning examples of humanity’s loss of the very things that make them human; Replicants can be more human that human because Man has lost its humanity due to science and technology. The replicant’s emotion and passion contrast the lifeless examples of humanity. The death of Zora positions the audience to accept the replicants as human, the use of slow motion accentuates her desperation and in conjunction with the slowing heartbeat, melancholic music, blood and close ups of her face in agony elicits empathy from the audience as they recognise her as human and her killer, Deckard as inhumane.
The highly symbolic intertextual reference to Descartes “I think therefore I am” represents the replicants ability to think, feel and be passionate as what raises them above machines and ironically above humans, who have lost these basic qualities. This harks back to the contrast between Victor and the Monster, Victor’s arrogance destroyed his basic human qualities where as the Monster exemplified these values.
Courtney from Study Moose
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