“A text transcends the age in which it is created by reflecting what is constant in human nature. Do you agree?”
Texts are a reflection of human concerns which remain universal despite the varying contextual influences in which authors of different periods are subject to. This is evident in Mary Shelley’s gothic romantic novel, “Frankenstein” (1818) and Ridley Scott’s film “Blade Runner” (1992) both of which address universal issues and concerns of man’s hubris, and the deterioration of humanity as a result of industrialization and technological innovation. Shelley utilizes narrative form to comment upon the fears of society towards the unknown boundaries of technological innovation through projected ethical deterioration and moral ambiguity. Similarly, Scott projects a dystopic, futuristic world where the commodification of humanity is a commentary upon the resultant effects of commercialism. Thus it is evident that despite the passing of time societal concerns remain prevalent.
Shelley’s context of the emerging industrial revolution, a time of radical change where romantic values and views were challenged, directly influenced her gothic novel.
The growing concerns of the romantics is epitomized through Victor Frankenstein, whose abuse of scientific knowledge results in unattainable God-like powers, destroying the romantic belief of a balance between God, nature and humanity. Shelley describes the insignificance of man “like a child picking up shells beside the great and unexplored ocean of truth”, with the symbolic nature of the ‘ocean of truth’ emphasizing the supernatural, and unattainable nature of God. The ideology of the unattainable nature of Gods power is illustrated through the imagery “penetrate into the recess of nature…acquired new and almost unlimited powers”, emphasizes the negative connotations of technology and industrialism and emphasizes the unattainability of such a high power. The hubris of scientific advancement is emphasized through the juxtaposition of “a sudden light broke in upon me” to “nothing but a sense and frightful darkness” illustrating the negative consequences of Victor ‘playing God’, and further affirming Shelley’s warning against crossing the boundaries of nature. Hence, it is evident that Shelley warns humanity of the consequences of unchecked ambition and the corruptive influences of technology and industrialism.
Despite the variance in contextual influences to Frankenstein, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner also relays the director’s fears of the consequence of unmonitored scientific pursuit and technological advancement. Scott projects the consequence of technological hubris through the projection of a bleak dystopic world, masked in perpetual darkness. Juxtaposed to the natural landscape imagery employed in Frankenstein, the mise-en-scene of panoramic panning shots illustrates the absence of nature and reiterates the bleak future of humanity. Coupled with the awe and horror of the synthesized artificial music, Scott conveys the paradox of man’s capabilities – to create such innovative technology which is ironically unsustainable. The symbolism of the extreme close up of a disembodied blue eye, a dystopic vision places the culpability of this existence upon the onus of humanities scientific pursuits. Like Shelly, Scott wants to construct a world ‘penetrated by no light’ as a result of human intervention and destruction of nature. Echoes of film-nor aesthetics are utilized to contrast a neon-light cityscape with negative internal space – using darkness as a primary motif and filling it with synthetic lighting. Scott conveys the message of the severance of man and nature and thus the reduction of man into a dehumanized being living in darkness. Therefore Scott successfully conveys the consequences of man’s irresponsible commercial and technological pursuits, reflecting the 1980s fear of rising Asian economies and the proliferation of consumerism and commercialism.
Another concern shared by both composers is the dehumanization of man through periods of rapid industrial and commercial growth.
The gothic romantic definition of humanity lies in man’s ability to feel emotions. Shelley reflects the humanity expressed by the creature through his love, admiration and self-sacrifice which are characteristics believed to define humanity during the romantic era. This is emphasized through the creature’s ability to relate to literature, including “Paradise Lost” a volume of “Plutarch’s Lives” and the “Sorrows of Werter” which evoke his emotions. They “raise [him] to ecstasy…[sunk him] into the lowest dejection”, demonstrating the perception of the Romantic ideology that man is characterized by their ability to empathize. His passionate and destructive nature as a result of his unnatural galvanized origins is highlighted in the rhetoric, “where can I find rest but in death?” conveying his adoption of gothic romantic beliefs. In order for the creature to purify his soul he must destroy the unnatural, the imagery of “ascend my funeral pile…flame…my spirit will sleep in peace” highlighting the creatures humanity through his self-destruction. Thus, it is evident that the definition of humanity is a universal concern allowing Frankenstein to be a relevant, transcendent text.
Similarly within a contemporary context, Blade Runner explores the universal question of what defines humanity by emphasizing replicants will to live. This is seen as an effect of a globalized community where the commodification of humanity has rested in moral and emotional decay. Scott reiterates this through Priss’s dehumanized death, the use of a medium shot of Priss’s silhouette spasmming on the ground coupled with chiaroscuro lighting and her echoing shriek creating moral ambiguity which resonates in the audiences mind. This demonstrates the dehumanizing effect of commercialization, while in addition serving as a parallel to Shelley’s monster, being unworthy of existence. In contrast, Roy’s death is seen to be humane and spiritual as he atones for his sins, saving Deckard and expressing emotions of empathy and forgiveness. Scott conveys the highly spiritual and cleansing nature of his death, through the first rays of natural light and an extreme close up of his resolved expression. As he ascends to the heavens, a white dove is release, the biblical allusion emphasizing the cleaning nature of his death. Ironically, this ‘glimpse of heaven’ is framed by the globalized industrial building and brands, highlighting the commercialization indented within the film. Therefore it is evident that Scott also questions the definition of humanity through the juxtaposing deaths of two replicants. His representation of human life an extrapolation of the same enquiry by Shelley.
Thus it is evident that Mary Shelley’s gothic romantic novel, “Frankenstein” and Ridley Scotts film “Blade Runner” convey the universal human concerns and the effects of such hubris. Through both composers and the use of filmic and literary techniques, they both explore the definition of humanity in light of technological advancement