Fredrick Frankenstein is a young brain surgeon and medical lecturer trying not to live in the shadow of his infamous grandfather, Victor Von Frankenstein. However, this proves to be difficult when he is taken to his grandfather’s estate in Transylvania to collect his inheritance. He continues to be determined to estrange himself from his grandfather’s legacy as a scientist who created a monster. However, upon discovering a book by Victor entitled “How I Did It”, he decides that his grandfather’s work was not such idiocy, and decides to try and create his own legacy for the Frankenstein name.
He accomplishes this with the help of his two comedic sidekicks – the assistant Igor and the pretty young Inga. However, the world is not ready for such a scientific advancement, particularly after the disastrous results of Victor’s experimentation, and Fredrick and his creature experience much discrimination at the hands of the creature. However, after Fredrick further experiments in the sciences, the creature is made more socially acceptable and allowed to live life with his bride, Elizabeth. Explanation:
Young Frankenstein is a challenge to the way both the traditional Frankenstein text is read, as well as the whole gothic film genre. It parodies all the aspects that are considered “traditionally Frankenstein-esque”, such as the mad scientist shouting, “It’s alive! ” and the lumbering, groaning creature. However, as a text, it recognises the value of the classics, and not only satirises, but pays homage to them also. “It wasn’t about saying ‘how can we make it fun? ‘, but ‘how can we make it real, which will make it more fun?
‘”1. By recognising the artistic value but also the ultimate ridiculousness of traditional Frankenstein films, Brooks allowed Young Frankenstein to not have to resort to continuous slapstick in order to gain its hilarity. The text was written in the context of the early 1970s, where people were more inclined to doubt and question the norms put forward by Hollywood and the media in general. Brooks, as a composer, has recognised this cynicism and used it to extract humour from a great modern classic.
Unlike many of the predecessors of the Frankenstein genre, Young Frankenstein questions the original values of Shelley’s text and explores many themes which had traditionally been ignored by previous Frankenstein films, such as the creature’s ability to love and be human. It does not follow the exact storyline of the original text, choosing instead provide commentary on the preceding Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, and Bride of Frankenstein; to have a grandson who has not learned from his grandfather’s mistakes.
Aside from the monster itself, the majority of characters in this text have been changed. However, Fredrick is much like his infamous grandfather – a scientific genius, and engaged to a beautiful young woman named Elizabeth. This pays homage to the protagonist of the original text, which still maintaining its status as a parody. These changes have been made to demonstrate the ultimate ridiculousness of the original Frankenstein, while still being able to examine its many themes through the use of humour. Young Frankenstein is not meant to be a serious appropriation of Shelley’s text.
Its main purpose is to challenge the traditional Hollywood interpretation of the Frankenstein monster, and to “have a little fun in the process”2. However, through its use of humour and satire, it manages to explore the deepest theme of Shelley’s text – what shapes and defines us as humans? This text is valued in a number of contexts. It is considered one of the greatest comedy films of all time, and remains highly popular nearly 30 years after initially being composed. A secret government program called ‘The Initiative’ is capturing demons and other mystical creatures in order to experiment on and neuter them.
One of the leading scientists involved in the project, Professor Maggie Walsh, is experimenting with different body parts, of man, machine and demon in order to create a being – Adam. He is intellectually and physically superior to man, and kills his creator, only to reanimate her as a worker. Buffy Summers, a girl chosen from birth to fight supernatural forces, is determined to overcome Adam, despite his superior physical strength. A vampire in alliance with Adam, Spike, works to defeat her by estranging her from what she draws strength from – her friends.
However, Buffy overcomes this estrangement, and rebuilds her friendships. They then band together to destroy the source of Adam’s power, succeeding by combining their most human elements – heart, mind, spirit and body. Explanation: There are three central figures to this story arc – the scientist (Maggie Walsh), the experiment (Adam, and to a certain extent, Riley Finn), and the hero (Buffy Summers). Although, like the original text itself, there are a number of other characters, the storyline depends primarily on the actions of these three figures.
In many ways, the Adam story is almost entirely true to the original text, in that it focuses on two main issues of Shelley’s text: the nature of isolation, and the effect of man overstepping scientific boundaries. Additionally, it partially examines the nature of behaviour, namely whether evil is intrinsic or circumstantial. The creation’s name – Adam – a direct inter-textual reference, referencing Milton’s Paradise Lost -“I ought to be thy Adam” (p128) and the Bible story in Genesis, which articulates ‘Adam’ as the first man.
Regardless, his name, meaning ‘first born’ is significant because, like Frankenstein’s creature, he is the first of his kind, and remains the only one of his species. Like the original text, he learns of himself through his creator’s diaries. “I’m a kinematically redundant, biomechanical demonoid. Designed by Maggie Walsh. She called me Adam and I called her Mother . . . Mother wrote things down. Hard data, but also her feelings. That’s how I learned that I have a job here. And that she loved me. ” (“Goodbye Iowa”).
The issue of intrinsic evil is potently illuminated here. Unlike Frankenstein’s creation, who is abandoned by his creator and shunned by society, Adam himself says “she loved me” and was considered his mother, but he kills her regardless. The original plan for his existence had been to create a race of those like himself, to diminish the U. S. A. ‘s military vulnerability. He also offers the demons something humans cannot – full use of their power, thus strengthening the army he is building to bring his ‘new race’ into power.
Throughout many of the episodes in which Adam features, it is implied that he was built for the purpose of creating a new, indestructible species. In “Primeval”, he says to Riley “This is how [Mother] planned it… Only she thought she’d be alive. ” Like Victor in the original text, she is a victim of her own vision, drive and selfish lust for success. “Maggie Walsh’s vision was great, but ultimately insupportable. ” (Primeval) She has altruistic intentions of wiping out death and weakness in the human race, like Victor, claiming, “This is for the greater good”. (The I in team).
However, similar to Victor, she has no real sense of the moral implications this entails. She is different to Victor in that she has some sense of the consequences of her actions. However, both are unable to face those consequences. This represents the idea of the scientist with no idea of the moral implications of playing with the natural order of life. Both in an 18th and 21st century context, the idea of leaving the natural order alone is discussed, implying that although between Shelley’s time and now there have been a great number of scientific advances, some boundaries remain philosophically rigid.