Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner
A deeper understanding of disruption and identity emerges from considering the parallels between Frankenstein and Blade Runner - Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner introduction. Compare how these texts explore disruption and identity. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner draw from their context in order to offer insight into the disruption and identity. Disruption in these texts can be obsession, pursuit of knowledge and the price of progress. Aspects covered that relate to identity are humanity, what makes us human, responsibility and the relationship between the creator and created and how that can affect all aspects of our lives.
Whilst Frankenstein addresses the possibilities of progress, obsession and humanity, Blade Runner presents us with the outcomes and how this disrupts our identity. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, there is a warning against value being placed obsessively on the pursuit of knowledge, progress and power. It is against anything natural and disrupts the natural world. Mary Shelley uses scientific developments of the late 18th century as a catalyst to reflect the consequences of an obsession with knowledge and the power associated with it.
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During the late 18th century, the “first robot”, a mechanical duck, was built and bodies of late people were being experimented on. This is clearly reflected in her novel Frankenstein. Victor’s justification for making the Creature was that “Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and a torrent of light into our dark world. ” Victor’s disruptive obsession was evident when he created the Creature as “the moon gazed on my midnight labours”. This resulted with Victor seeming “to have lost all soul and sensation apart from this one pursuit”.
The use of first person narrative helps the reader to personalise this eccentric obsession and understand why certain choices were made. Robert Walton is obsessed with being the first man to reach the North Pole and will risk everyone’s lives in doing so. This can be seen as the main warning of the whole novel. The Romantic Period was a time when many were excited about the possibilities of emerging science and knowledge while others were concerned about the potential to undermine important human values. This is evident in Frankenstein through Shelley’s fascination with he potential of science, yet concern for the outcomes. In Frankenstein’s case, he lost everyone that he loved, his own life, and ultimately the Creature’s. Frankenstein and the Creature were both “lonely and miserable”. This disruption and unnatural obsession is the price of progress when pursued without moral or ethical consideration. Furthermore, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner also warns us about the obsessive pursuit of knowledge, progress and power and how that can disrupt society. Whilst Shelley suggests the possibilities, Scott provides the consequences of those possibilities.
In the 1980’s, there was a new awareness to how humanity affected the environment and the ethical consideration that needed to be measured when progressing. IVF, organ transplants and stem cell research were the new ‘thing’. This is linked to the establishing shot of the film. High rise buildings, a dense layer of smoke and cloud, no natural environment and the foreboding colours of the overcrowded city clearly determine Scott’s concern for these technological advancements. This relates to the fear of nuclear weapons in the 1980’s. In addition, the looming and menacing figure depicted by Gaff is dark, disconnected and intimidating.
Everything that they humans are in 2019. This disturbing prediction of the world in 2019 shows a disrupted world that is irreversibly ruined. As film-noir genre is clarified with the scenes portraying a world of murky streets of crime and corruption. The prevailing idea, Tyrell’s obsession, is made clear that “Commerce is our goal” and it shows the audience that this world of 2019 is consumer driven. There is no distinction between the real or artificial, and isolation seems to be the prominent theme throughout the film. J. F Sebastian uses technology to take the place of genuine relationships and Tyrell uses progress to get power.
The gothic undertone of Tyrell living in ‘a castle far away from mankind’ reinforces the warning that is being stressed by Scott. This dystopian film highlights what is sacrificed in the name of progress. Everyone lives a disconnected and disrupted life. Although Tyrell is portrayed as a weak man, he still has a lot of power. In the 1920’s, there was a temperamental Austrian artist who was doubted by humanity due to his weak appearance. To the shock of the world, Adolf Hitler turned out to be one of the most brutal, powerful and destructive men in history.
In Frankenstein, we as the reader are warned of what may be lost when humanity no longer takes responsibility for their actions. The main trait that can be lost is our identity. Due to Victor’s lack of responsibility towards the Creature, the Creature is forced to make himself the master of the maker. This is a reversal of the assumed identity of the creator and created. This warning against obsession and how it can taint an individual’s identity is a personal warning from Shelley who saw the consequences of obsession. The Creature is “alone, and miserable” and requests only but one favour to his maker.
To create a being “of the same species, and have the same defects”. The Creature longs for a relational connection because relational connections are essential to a sense of self. He genuinely remarks “Shall each man, find a wife… each beast have his mate, and I be alone? ” The repetition of the word “Begone! ” when Victor is talking to the monster communicates to the reader that Victor is not even willing to sympathise and listen to the Monster’s reasoning. The emotive language used by the Creature helps us as the reader to sympathise.
Victor’s “irksome and almost intolerable” practises lead him to an “irksome and almost intolerable” life. This life was a life without Elizabeth, William, Justine, Clerval and his father. Victor’s identity was no longer that of an intelligent, prominent and promising young man, but that of a spiteful, bitter and very lonely man. Humanity is undistinguished in Frankenstein due to the lack of and constant change of identity. Whilst Elizabeth reflects amiable qualities such as patience, submission and dedication, Victor reflects monstrous qualities. He ignores the Creatures plea for a mate, seeks revenge and shows no compassion.
The Creature on the other hand, is more human than Victor a reflection of Shelley herself. He appreciates nature, patiently confronts Frankenstein and offers reconciliation several times. All males for the Creature are portrayed as negative role models, as was Shelley’s reality. Shelley’s mother died when she was young and the Creature never had a mother. In addition, Shelley felt a sense of abandonment when her father remarried whilst the Creature felt abandoned by Victor as well as Justine being abandoned by justice. The Creature asked for Victor to “Do your duty towards me” and was ignored.
There is a connection between the use of the biblical allusion, “Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other human being in existence” and the industrial revolution where the working class demanded that their basic human rights be recognised. This clearly shows that a new species would not “bless me as its creator” but suffer the consequences of a monsters actions. Unlike Frankenstein, Blade Runner shows us the result of humanity when we do not heed the warnings that are expressed in Frankenstein and maintain a clear sense of identity. This was also a concern in the 1980’s.
In the world of Los Angeles, there are no genuine relationships. Identity was seen as doing what everybody else did to ‘fit in’ rather than to be original and ‘stand out’. Roy is the perfect model for a human being who shows mixed emotions. He is upset when Leon and Zhora are killed, he is manipulative and menacing when he wants something and he loves Pris. Rachel also experiences and shows emotion far greater than any human in this film. She is devastated by Deckard’s claim that she is a Replicant; she is peaceful when she has Deckard to love and she is patient with Deckard’s continuous rude and detached nature.
This is contrasted to Deckard who is devoid of any emotion and brutally tells Rachel that “they are not your memories… they are implants. ” The only reason Deckard finds redemption is because of Roy and Rachel. The Replicants are “more human than human” as they experience and communicate vital emotions such as empathy, passion, anger and love. This is contrasted to the human race or “little people” who are arrogant, disconnected, emotionless and physically disfigured. In addition, we know all the humans by their last name which gives a sense of disconnection and lack of trust.
The Replicants are all known by their first name. When Roy genuinely asks if Tyrell can “repair what he makes”, Tyrell communicates a sense of indifference and refers to Roy as the ‘prodigal son’. Like Frankenstein, there is the use of a biblical allusion to convey a message. The kiss signifies the betrayal made to the creator. At first, it is assumed that Roy betrayed his maker because he killed him, but his maker betrayed Roy in that he failed to carry out his responsibility as creator.
The close up camera angle reinforces the intensity of the scene and Roy’s determined battle to extend their life. Roy’s identity is that of an unwavering and indomitable Replicant who will stop at nothing. Roy is “more human than human” because he knows that he shouldn’t be alive. When something is not deserved, we appreciate it more. Divergent to Frankenstein, what makes us human and have an original identity is easily distinguished in Blade Runner. In Zhora’s scene, the close up angle shows the look on her face is of pure fear and desperation for life.
Her clear coat is a symbol of vulnerability and powerlessness, a lot like Deckard when he is hanging from the top of the building in the last scene. The non-diagetic sound of Zhora’s heartbeat increasing and then suddenly stopping gives the audience a sense that although she was made artificially, she still had emotions, a heart and an identity like any other human being. When Deckard is hanging from the top of the building in the last scene, there is also a vulnerability and powerlessness portrayed by the ‘high dramatic angle’ looking down on him.
This shows the height of the building and just how small and insignificant Deckard is to the world. As Deckard is hanging, he realises his longing for life- his true identity. When Roy rescues Deckard, he is finally able to relate to Roy in yearning for life. A mutual understanding is achieved and Deckard finally comprehends that humanity is defined by the longing of life. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner draw from their context in order to offer insight into the disruption and identity.
Disruption in these texts can be obsession, pursuit of knowledge and the price of progress. Aspects covered that relate to identity are humanity, what makes us human, responsibility and the relationship between the creator and created and how that can affect all aspects of our lives. Whilst there are many challenges in both of these texts for society, the overall challenge is when value is placed obsessively on the pursuit of knowledge, progress and power, people may risk disrupting and losing their identity.