Texts reflect the changing values and perspectives of their times. How is this shown in the two texts that you have studied? In your response make detailed reference to both texts.
Through the composer’s construction of a text, the changing values and perspectives present at the time are reflected in its core. This is particularly evident in Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein (1818), and Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut (1992), as both their authorial warnings of challenging conventional thought and the effects of radical scientific advancements on the morality of humanity stem from the shifting attitudes of their time. Shelley’s critique of scientific advancement suggests the rejection of Enlightenment values and communicates her fears of unbridled scientific experimentation as well as the re-establishment of Romantic values of connection with nature and individuality. In contrast, Scott’s commentary reflects the globalisation of the late 20th century and the potential destruction of the worldscape through the over-development of scientific and technological advancement. By considering the shifting ideologies on science and conventional thought in the time of Shelley and Scott, both texts construct authorial warnings reflecting the impacts of these changing values and perspectives on the morality of humanity.
The technological advances influencing Shelley’s Frankenstein illustrates the shifting Romantic ideals of holistic ties between man, nature and spirituality through the destructive power of scientific experimentation. This secularization of faith and the perception that man seeks to supplant God is seen through the allusion to galvanism, “I collected the instruments of life … I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing.” This is reflective of Shelley’s varying scientific context where the representation of the act of creating life was immediately a taboo, defying the Christian culture and a clear violation of man’s boundaries. Shelley emphasizes the irresponsible application of science is emphasized through her use of the light motif, “a sudden light … a light so brilliant and wondrous …. broke in upon me.” The irony of this as Victor “acquires new and almost unlimited powers,” results in his misery and corruption as portrayed through the Biblical allusion in, “I felt as if my soul were grappling with a palpable enemy.” Furthermore, Shelley’s warning is poignantly demonstrated through Victor’s confession of regret, “I saw around me nothing but a dense and frightful darkness, penetrated by no light.” Shelley’s use of juxtaposition in light and dark imagery is symbolic of the corruption of humanity as a result of the misuse of science. Thus, through Shelley’s context regarding the evolution of science, the didactic characterization of Victor reflects the consequences of abusing technology through man’s desire to supplant God.
Scott’s film Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut becomes reflective of the changing attitudes regarding the nature of science and technology and their ability to corrupt humanity. Scott’s film portrays a hyper-industrialized city of rampant capitalism, presenting a stark warning against globalization and materialism through a dystopic setting. This acts as a consequence of the changing values in Scott’s era of the capabilities of science and technology, which is evidently portrayed in the opening panoramic shot of a blasted, hellish landscape, alluding to the environmental concerns of the 1980s. This is emphasized by the birds-eye pan over a city lit by synthetic neon lighting, indicating Scott’s fears of global industrialism of technology. Moreover, Scott’s fear of a highly commercialized future is portrayed in his symbolic advertising blimp armed with spotlights. In scenes of private homes, such as those of Deckard and Sebastian, streams of line penetrate through the windows, representing the invasion of privacy and the all-permeating power of commercialism and the government. This fear is best exemplified in the death of Pris, whom Scott showcases to have been dehumanized through her metallic makeup, doll-like exterior, and in particular, her broken-clock work death shot with erratic lighting and a diegetic, looping shriek. Thus, through the varying viewpoints on the application of technology in Scott’s time, his filmic representation of a dystopic, consumerist world illustrates the dehumanization of man as a reaction to Scott’s concerns of rapid scientific advances.
The changing perspectives of the fear of rapid industrialisation leading to the loss of human identity is also illustrated in Shelley’s novel through the shifting ideologies of the Enlightenment rationality, rejecting the Romantic perception that man was defined by their ability to feel. This is evident in Shelley’s intertextuality of the three most influential texts of the time, namely, “Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives, and the Sorrows of Werter.” Upon reading these texts, it “raised me [the creature] to ecstasy … sunk me into the lowest dejection,” demonstrating the Romantic perceptions of humanity and the connection to creation – thus, humanizing the creature far more intuitively than Victor. However, the creature’s humanity is debased upon realization that his “form is a filthy type of yours [Victor’s].” Shelley characterises the creature as morally corrupt to symbolize science’s capacity for damnation and destruction. Consequently, Victor’s crime is paid for by the suffering of his creation – the creature whose propensity for “dreams of virtue, fame and enjoyment” is “degraded” by Victor as “beneath the meanest animal.” The metaphor employed by Shelley represents the debasement of the human soul as a consequence of abusing scientific pursuit. Hence, it is only through the “agonizing … conflagration” of the creature’s body, a symbol of corruption created by industrial inventions that “his spirit will sleep in peace,” demonstrating the purification of humanity from the corruption of “misery and vice.” As such, Shelley expresses the consequences of rational thinking of the Age of Enlightenment in disconnecting man from their God-given natures of empathy and compassion.
Scott’s film similarly expresses the varying perspectives on humanity through the radical changes in ideology present in his world that shaped the empathetic nature of humanity. His extrapolation of the effects of commerce and technology is based upon the rise of consumerism and materialism in the 1980s. The Nexus-6 replicants evident in Scott’s film emphasises the rise of capitalism, referring to them as ‘skinjobs’, a derogatory reference used to discriminate. This terminology in combination with his euphemism in the opening crawl, “This was not execution, it was called retirement,” emphasises the effects of the controlling power of the government in influencing the morals of man. Furthermore, Batty’s sentiment, “memories … like tears in the rain,” in his final speech becomes a metaphor for compassion, empathy and identity. This is represented in low angle shot portraying a symbolic white dove escaping into the sky as a soul soaring towards heaven. This is further exemplified in the Biblical allusion of his pierced hands – positioning him as a Christ-like figure, the ultimate sacrifice for mankind. Thus, through these “more human than human” replicants, Scott successfully conveys to his audience the warning that globalized materialism, through technological industrialism, is dehumanising the empathic nature of humanity.
Through an analysis of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut by Ridley Scott, we can examine the influence of the changing values and perspectives of their respective contexts through their stark warnings of challenging the morality of humans and the fears of scientific and technological advances. As such, despite the great time lapse between the two texts, both texts reflect these shifting ideologies of challenging human ethics brought about by periods of ideological change.