As indicated by its subtitle ‘The Modern Prometheus’, a reference to the Greek Titan who stole fire from the Gods and suffered greatly in consequence, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein serves as a warning to her readers, a warning never to usurp the powers of God, specifically the capacity to create life. From the very beginning of the novel, the framing narrative structure establishes the text as such an allegory. Upon meeting Walton, and hearing of his quest to conquer the Pole, Victor asks him, ‘Do you share my madness? Have you drunk also of the intoxicating draft?
Hear me – let me reveal my tale, and you will dash the cup from your lips! ’ Here, Victor criticises both himself and Walton for their Enlightenment thinking, their arrogant desire to understand the world and unpack its mysteries.
The metaphor of the ‘intoxicating draft’ highlights the addictive nature of the Enlightenment quest, but frames the desire for knowledge as ‘madness’. In suggesting that his story will lead Walton to ‘dash the cup from your lips’, Victor implies that the quest for knowledge without consideration of its consequences is an attitude to be avoided at all costs, a central message of the novel.
By returning to Walton’s narrative at the end of the text, Shelley continues to explore this allegorical message. However, her characterisation of Victor appears somewhat altered. Upon hearing that the sailors intend on abandoning their mission, Victor encourages them otherwise, leading them to believe that ‘these vast mountains of ice are molehills, which will vanish before the resolutions of man’.
The metaphor suggests that he has not learnt his lesson, that he clings to his arrogant belief that it is possible to tame nature, to reduce it from the ‘mountain’ to the ‘molehill’ through the application of the mind.
However, the text hints at another reason for his urging on the sailors. When Walton capitulates to their requests, he says, ‘You may give up your purpose, but mine is assigned to me by Heaven, and I dare not’. Here, the subtext is that Victor’s desire to go forward is motivated simply by the selfish desire to exterminate the monster. Victor appears to have learnt nothing: he still places his own desires before any ethical considerations. His final words to Walton before death reinforce this point: ‘Farewell, Walton! . . . avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science . . .
Yet why do I say this? I myself have been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed’. The internal contradictions in these words reflect those within his thinking; he cannot utterly abandon his desire for scientific discovery, even in spite of his tortured Promethean existence. By constructing Victor’s character in this way, Shelley cues her readers to admonish Victor for his moral weaknesses, reinforcing her critique of Enlightenment thinking. Whereas Frankenstein constitutes a warning to man never to create life, Ridley Scott’s postmodern film Blade Runner suggests that there may be advantages inherent to the process of replication.
In the final scenes of the film, this idea is represented through the battling personas of Deckard, the Blade Runner; and Roy, the ultimate replicant. In many ways, the scene presents the idea that replicants are superior to humankind. When Roy muses, ‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe’, he returns to the eye motif central to the film, suggesting that although he perceives the world through engineered eyes, his perception of the world is superior to the human experience. In contrast, the Creature in his final speech talks about leaving behind a ‘the last of humankind whom these eyes will ever behold’.
Unlike Roy, the Creature appears to view his eyes as somehow separate to himself, a means through which he has only experienced negativity and corruption. Before he dies, Roy does on to say that he has ‘watched c-beams glitter in the dark . . . [and that] All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain’. In addition to employing a language rich with evocative visual imagery, Roy’s ‘tears in rain’ simile highlights both his poetic mindset, and his ability to appreciate the irony of his situation as the rain falls upon him.
All of these distinctively human qualities are displayed by a replicant, and never by any of the human characters in the film to quite the same degree. However, although Roy’s death is depicted as a very human experience, the Creature in Frankenstein meets a very different end, reflecting the difference in the central message of the texts. At the end of the novel, the Creature resolves to ‘consume to ashes this miserable frame’ so that it will impossible for anyone ‘to create such another as I have been’, giving up on himself and a society which is not ready for him.
In contrast, Blade Runner suggests that fighting change is short sighted, and that society must adjust its moral values in keeping with a postmodern world, where boundaries between human and replicant are fundamentally blurred. This idea is ultimately embodied in the apotheosis of Roy, a motif first introduced when he inserts a nail through the palm of his hand to prolong his life, a clear connection to the wounds of Christ.
Roy goes on effectively to sacrifice his own life in order to save the life of Deckard. In this futuristic society, replicants represent the salvation of man, a means by which an ethically barren society might ultimately be saved. Unlike Frankenstein, which warns society never to usurp the power of God, the central message of Blade Runner is the suggestion that replication is inevitable, so mankind must adapt its moral code to the realities of technological advancement.