Our interest in the parallels between Frankenstein and Blade Runner is further enhanced by consideration of their marked differences in textual form.
Evaluate this statement in light of your comparative study of Frankenstein and Blade Runner.
Both Mary Shelley’s FR (1818) and Ridley Scott’s BR (1982) were composed in starkly differing contexts and as such, they differ in their vehicle of representation. Shelley’s industrialising era allowed for easier access to printing presses and hence, a novel was the best suited manner in which she could deliver her warning to society. Similarly, the sci-fi film genre that permeated Scott’s 1980’s context meant that a film was the most relevant and effective way in which he could create a vivid representation of the possible future dystopia. Therefore, by examining the way in which the textual forms reflect both the composers’ contexts, audience members are able to draw direct links between the concerns expressed and the ideals of the time. Both Shelley and Scott critique these ideals and represent how unnatural beings can never attain humanity and man can never exceed his humanistic limits. As a result, our interest in the similar warnings delivered by Shelley and Scott about the consequences of irresponsible and immoral technological use is accentuated and we are alerted to the universality of these flaws.
Composers often use their texts to explore the consequences of inhumanity that is propagated by their era’s of shifting ideologies. As established by her industrialising context, Shelley’s epistolary novella form reflects and accentuates her 1800’s context. As such, it becomes evident how Shelley portrays the definitive Rousseauian notion of humanity in which man is born to feel ‘ecstasy…and lowest dejection’. This particular notion is a key element in the era’s Gothic Romantic philosophy of man’s connection to nature and is a reflection of the attitudes that permeated the Industrialising epoch. Using her distinctive textual form, Shelley engages the monster’s education through 3 iconic texts ‘Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch’s lives and Sorrows of Wurther’ implying it received a perfect education in the denominative aspects of the pure being, to love, to be moral and to acknowledge man’s place within nature. Yet, all that is ‘worthy of love and admiration…is devoted to misery’, the juxtaposition of diction delivers Shelley’s warning to her industrialising society of the inhumane characteristics that follow the destruction of natural order. “Polluted by crimes and torn by the bitterest remorse, where can I find rest but in death?’ becomes the fate of the monster, whose confessional tone reiterates the inevitable consequences of inhumanity of unnatural beings. The monster notes that only by destroying the legacy of its unnatural, technologically created body can he achieve humanity and can his soul be pure and free of man’s crimes and pollution. Hence, a focus on Shelley’s marked textual form allows us to draw closer connections to her context and subsequently, we are able to understand how she showcases monsters’ inabilities to attain humanity.
Likewise, a closer examination of Scott’s textual form enhances Blade Runner’s 1980’s commercialising context allowing us to clearly explore the similarities between both texts. Like Shelley, Scott’s Blade Runner also deals with the notion. However, as a result his highly technological context in which the sci-fi film genre was widespread, he achieves this through the filmic representation of replicants who are ‘more human than human’ being perverted by the commercial context of their dystopic world, and turning from a quest for life to murder and savagery. This is a salient reflection of the 1980’s in which globalisation and commercial expansion dictated social values, and the efficiency and profit motive was placed above the hierarchy of basic human rights. Such attitudes are best seen by Priss through her silvery, metallic characterisation which depicts her as a mere ‘fetish product’. The diegetic, insane reverberating screams when she is dying effectively utilises the filmic form to emphasize the inhumanity she has been cursed with because of her unnatural creation. Although such a vivid representation differs from Shelley, it accentuates the notion that monsters’ are incapable of attaining humanity as we are able to see how Priss links to the insanity and madness of the monster in Frankenstein as a dehumanized monster in human form. Moreover, just as the monster redeems itself through self-immolation, Roy is seen to redeem himself by saving Deckard, going against his combat programming and instead, showing mercy. The close up of his empathetic lament “all of these memories…will be lost like tears in the rain” speaks to the audience warning them of the physical disappearance of humanity. The mis-en-scene during Roy’s death employs lighting provided by a large TDK sign against a dull, colourless background allowing the audience to make the direct link between commercialism and the lack of humanity. Much like the monster, Roy’s death proves to be the only way for him to escape the constrictive commercial world, restore the disruption caused by it and find true humanity. Thus, through the filmic representation of corruption and redemption of the replicants, Scott creates a narrative that poignantly comments on the irresponsible use of technology in his 1980’s commercial context allowing the audience to observe how Shelley’s warning has remained universally relevant and to accentuate the fact that inhumane creatures cannot attain humanity.
In addition, composers use their texts to critique the propensity of man for hubris and arrogance. In Frankenstein, Shelley explores man’s hubris and examines the consequences of exceeding humanistic limits in the form made possible by this context – a published novel. She critiques the Enlightenment era’s scientific rationalism that was sparked by Galvanism and comments on its circulation throughout her society using her Romantic ideals. Her allusion to Isaac Newton who ‘is said to have avowed that he felt like a child picking up shells besides the great and unexplored ocean of truth’ utilizes the simile to show man as but a mere insignificant child next to God’s deified domain. However, Shelley outlines how man is fallible to corruption through the sexual imagery and beastly allusion ‘[natural philosophers] penetrate into nature’s recesses and show how she works in her hiding places’ where nature is metaphorically represented as a weak, fragile and delicate woman. This illustrates man’s uncontrollable desire for power and hence, the inevitable misery which they will suffer. Nonetheless, Shelley utilizes Victor’s repentance to emphasize the punishment and regret that follows overpowering nature, exceeding man’s limits and assuming the role of god. ‘Destruction and infallible misery. Learn from me, by my example…how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge…to become greater than nature will allow’ through Victor’s regretful tone and warning to Walton, Shelley demonstrates the severity of the punishment of playing god in her rapidly industrialising and innovating society. Thus, it becomes undeniable that her context, which is reflected through her distinct textual form, has influenced Shelley to warn society of the impossible nature of pursuing god’s role and exceeding man’s limitations.
Similarly, in Blade Runner, Scott uses the character of Tyrell to embody man’s hubris and to emphasize the fact that man has limitations. In Ronald Reagan’s era of globalisation and commercialism, society’s quest for power and world domination economically triggered, within Scott, a vision of the dystopic, unbounded world society was building for itself. In contrast to Victor, through the help of his filmic style, Scott presents Tyrell as a godly figure in LA 2019. He uses a far panning shot of Tyrell’s office to symbolically parallel it to ancient Mayan temples were humans were sacrificed, visually alluding to Tyrell’s godlike power and furthermore, symbolically representing him as the reason for earth’s ruin and destruction. “Commerce is our goal here at Tyrell corp.” This commercial slogan reflects Scott’s fear and, like Shelley, warns society of the blind ambition that’s driven by the commercial and technological advances of the ungrateful human world. Unlike Victor however, Scott is unable to witness his own hubris, thus, his violent end becomes poetic justice. The chess game – requiring power, strategy and control – in which Roy defeats Tyrell symbolically initiates his decline. ‘Death? Well, I’m afraid that’s a little out of my jurisdiction.’ Tyrell’s fearful admission highlights his incompatibility as a creator and, despite their different forms of representation, emphasizes both Scott and Shelley’s message that man cannot exceed their limitations. The violent, ultra close up of Tyrell’s eyes popping resoundingly whilst a holy, biblical Gregorian chant sounds in the background alludes to god’s fall from grace as well as religiously suggesting God’s disapproval of those who attempt to unnaturally simulate his role and power. Thus, through Blade Runner, Scott reflects his ignorant commercialising context and as we draw links between the textual form and the context, the similarities with Frankenstein and the transcending nature of human’s uselessly attempting to exceed their limitations is highlighted and accentuated.
Therefore, it is undeniable that a comparative study of F and BR, in relation to their distinctive contexts, elucidates the universal nature of irresponsible technological use. Moreover, considering their marked textual forms alerts us to how these forms reflect the 1800’s and 1980’s industrialising and commercialising contexts respectively. As such, by examining how the exploitation of technology and the inability of monsters’ to attain humanity are represented both as a novel and a film across time, our interest in the similarities between both texts is enhanced.