Frankenstein and Blade Runner Essay (Contexts and Representation)
Explore the way in which different contexts affects the representation of similar content in the texts Frankenstein and Blade Runner. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, whilst separated by 174 years, feature very similar content which can be seen by comparing the two side by side. Coming from different contexts, they both express their anxieties about technology, which is shown through a man made creature, and they both exhibit a strong valuing of nature. However due to their different contexts, these ideas are represented differently.
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The medium of production is clearly different, as is the representation of the creature and whether or not they are able to assimilate into society. In both texts the responder is meant to sympathize with the creature but through different ways. Frankenstein, published in 1818, presents a monster unable to assimilate into society due to his grotesque appearance. This is reflective of the gothic element of the time, whilst he also exhibits parts of the Romantic Movement as well as the Age of Enlightenment.
In contrast, the 1992 film, Blade Runner, has replicants that are a product of the DNA technology and cloning coming to fruition at the time of the movie’s release. The clear contextual differences effect the final presentation of texts despite the fact they deal with the same universal themes. The contexts of Frankenstein and Blade Runner affect many ways in which they represent their ideas and on the most basic level, a key difference would be their medium of production. Both creators chose to use the most popular medium of their time; for Shelley that was a novel, for Scott, a film.
At some level, this choice also reflects some aspects of their stories. In Shelley’s case, the novel places a value on literature, which is shown in the monster’s discovery of the novels and his own valuation of language, which he considers “a godlike science”. In contrast, Scott clearly felt film was the best medium to display the future and the advancements in technology that would occur. In order to emphasise this, he focused highly on cinematography, vividly portraying the setting through his camera work.
The effectiveness of this can be seen in the opening aerial shot of Los Angeles, in which a slow panning long short of great structures of lighting and advertising overlay the concrete skyscrapers, many of which look reminiscent of buildings from the 1980s. It is worth noting that whilst Blade Runner is based on Philip K. Dick’s 1969 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Blade Runner achieved a must higher level of recognition. This could quite possibly be due to the fact Dick chose to express his idea in a novel rather than a film.
In this way, the texts different contexts show that whilst they have the same aims, they are presented differently for in order to reach the greatest amount of people. Despite the contextual influences that are very apparent in both these texts, they both use a man-made creature as a centrepiece for their work. Regardless of the fact 170 years separated the texts both Shelley and Scott were fascinated by the notion of humans creating life. In both cases, this seems to have stemmed from an anxiety about technology.
In Shelley’s instance, the Romantic Movement had been progressing for twenty years as a reaction to the age of enlightenment and reason. With the industrial revolution coming to fruition in the late 1700’s, many people had growing apprehensions about technology and the fact it could replace humans. Shelley uses this idea with regards to Frankenstein’s monster and his creation stems from galvanism, a scientific theory being explored at the time, involving the use of electricity to bring about movement in a dead creature’s muscles.
The result of this is a creature that cannot assimilate into society, as is seen in his first thought upon seeing the monster in chapter 5 “No mortal could support the horror of that countenance… ” This vivid explanation is a feature of Gothicism, not unlike the style of Edgar Allen Poe. His inability to assimilate into society is also a feature of Gothicism, which dealt with many supernatural elements and creatures that were easily discernible from humans such as werewolves and ghosts.
The grotesque appearance of this character is used to show part of Shelley’s apprehension about technology and is expressed differently to Scott’s interpretation due to the contextual influences. Scott’s depiction of the Replicants in Blade Runner is very different from Shelly’s depiction of Frankenstien’s monster as a result of its different context, however, this representation is equally sceptical about the advances in technology. Whereas Shelley created a creature that was unable to assimilate into society due to his grotesque appearance, Scott uses creatures which are described as “more human than human”.
This is reflective of the unprecedented growth in technology during this period, particularly in communicative and medical fields. DNA testing was first used by Sir Alec Jeffreys in 1984 and mice were the first mammals to be cloned in 1986. Scott was clearly influenced by these advances and believed that we may definitely reach a stage in which we had to delve into a psychological test, the Voight Kampff test, in order to distinguish between human and replicant. The fear society has of them is evident in their treatment, and the derogatory terms such as “skin-jobs”.
The similarity in the way society views these creatures and Frankenstein’s creature is uncanny, despite the different contexts. The notion of morality and ethics also plays a strong part of both Frankenstein and Blade Runner and the questions posed by the text’s authors are conveyed in very similar ways. The question relates back to the advancements in technology, asking whether “just because we can do this, does that mean we should? ” In Frankenstein, Shelley poses this question through the monster’s narration in the central chapters.
The hatred he portrays for his life can be shown in his quote “Cursed, cursed creator. Why did I live? ” which he uses to open Chapter 16. This notion is also explored due to the fact Shelley positions the reader to feel sympathy towards the monster rather than Victor. When the monster begins his tale in chapter 11, his story evokes sympathy from us with his emotive and poetic language. His story makes us feel empathetic towards him, rather than Victor. From the beginning of the monster’s narration “A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me… Shelley writes the monster’s dialogue as sophisticated, poetic, contemplative and also logical, which combines traits of romanticism and the age of reason into one. The sophistication and thematic structure of his words is clearly part of the Age of Reason, as opposed to the exploration of his sense, which pertains to the influences of Romanticism and this combination of the two prominent philosophy groups of the time helps to make him appealing to both social spheres. This helps to make create empathy for the creature and in turn, evoke moral and ethical questions about his creation and treatment.
Similarly to Frankenstein, Blade Runner puts forward the moral and ethical questions associated with creating life and advancing technology in general. In the same way Shelley evokes sympathy for the creature in her novel, Scott also makes his replicants more deserving of our sympathy. In the scene used to depict Zhora’s death, in which a slow motion camera captures the terrifying scene of Deckard shooting her in the back as she smashes through glass walls in a desperate attempt to live. The eye-level shot used here gives the feeling that the viewer is really observing the “retirement” and the inhumane way in which she is killed.
This desperate attempt to escape and live, shows how the replicant’s value their life so much more that the humans. A good contrast to this is Tyrell’s death in which the camera gives us a close up of Batty picking up Tyrell and killing him. Whilst Tyrell screams in agony at the pain Batty causes him, he makes little to no attempt to live. The icing on the cake is in the film’s climax, when Batty selflessly saves Deckard from death, even though moments earlier, Deckard had shot and killed Pris. This act of empathy defies the humans stereotype that the replicants are unable to show empathy for other living creatures.
Scott also uses the Post-Modernistic technique of intertextuality “I think Sebastian, therefore I am” to make us question what the difference is between humans and replicants. These questions of morals and ethics are very similar to the ones posed in Frankenstein, however due to their contextual differences, they are expressed through different means. The importance of nature is also a mutual theme that is expressed differently due to the different contexts of the two texts. In Frankenstein, Shelley uses the romantic style of poetic imagery and Victors first person narration of the scenery to emphasize the beauty of his surroundings.
He tells us that the Alps “gave wings to the soul and allowed it to soar from the obscure world to light and joy. ” Contrasting to this is Scott’s emphasis on nature and the lack thereof. From the opening pan of a decaying and burning city, we see very little flora and fauna throughout the entire movie. The wealthy are able to afford real animals as pets and the rest buy counterfeits. It is also worth mentioning that the Voight Kampff test always centres around nature, showing that the humans clearly value it, and expect that the replicants do not.
The use of this lack of nature stems from the emerging beliefs of the 1980’s that the environment was decaying due to global warming, and that it was also being destroyed for city areas as part of the new wave of globalisation. Both these ideas of nature’s beauty come from different contexts and are presented differently, but have the same overall message of how beautiful and precious nature is. The texts of Frankenstein and Blade Runner, whilst created in different era’s, convey mutual concepts a nd concerns about the future of humanity.
Though presented through different mediums, they both deal with the concept of creating life and the ethical and moral issues raised by doing this. In both cases these questions are raised by evoking some sort of sympathy for the creature rather than the creator. Finally they both deal with the beauty and value of nature in very different ways, and this stems from their contexts. The similarities in context, juxtaposed by their representations due to context are made clear once we evaluate these texts side by side.