A holistic understanding of a text can be only be pursued by the audience only when they are able to pinpoint the intended values of the composer and resonate these values with the time and context of the text. It is evident that through a comparative study of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein together with Ridley Scott’s 1992 film Blade Runner, despite the one hundred year gap between the two texts, the values each composer wishes to deliver to the audience echo the concerns of humanity and its susceptibility against themselves.
Frankenstein explores how humanity’s obsession with scientific and medical developments in the 19th Century while Blade Runner explores the societal vales of consumerism and capitalism in the 20th Century. Evidently, it is clear through the comparison of the texts as to how the social values of each society bring detrimental outcomes for humanity. A theme that is seen in Frankenstein is the danger of unrestrained scientific progress and creation, a theme most evident when Frankenstein bestows the “spark of life” upon his creature in his effort to “pour a torrent of light into our dark world”.
Here Shelley alludes to the sciences of the period of enlightenment or in particular, Galvanism which held the belief that corpses could be reanimated through an electrical current, or “spark”. The characterization of Frankenstein serves to symbolize the desire of humanity to be able to create and control aspects of life which were limited to god. This becomes clearer as Frankenstein states, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. Here, Shelley uses a listing of descriptive language which embeds positive connotations in order to depict the naive hopes of humanity’s desire to create and control life and nature. As the plot unfolds, it becomes evident that this desire only leads to false hopes as Frankenstein’s creation states, “You are my creator, but I am your master; obey! ”. Here, the paradoxical statement by the creation is indicative of how humanity’s desires will ultimately backfire when the power to create and control is unchecked and abused.
Ultimately, the monster is responsible for the death of many associates of Frankenstein as well as Frankenstein himself which shows the ultimate backfire of scientific progresses on humanity. Scott’s Bladerunner recognizes the same flaws within humanity as Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. He portrays a world where humanity’s hunger for power, control and technological advances ultimately leads to their downfall. In the opening scene, Scott portrays the dominating figure of Tyrell’s building through the use of a panoramic shot, where the large and tall building juxtaposes with the other buildings of the society.
In order to give more focus on Tyrell’s building, a dolly shot is used and together with eerie background music, the director creates a mysterious atmosphere concerning Tyrell’s practices. Tyrell’s company alludes to the rise of capitalism and consumerism in the twentieth century, where this lead to large transnational corporations being one of the dominant forces of globalization. This can be witnessed in the low angle shot of the high rise buildings, which embed Coca Cola and Pan Am Airlines advertisements through neon lighting.
The forces of globalization can be further recognized with the oriental background music which accompanies the advertisements together with a follow up mid shot depicting a large screen with a Japanese geisha dominating the screen. This alludes to the dominant Asian culture in LA alludes to the aggressive Asian Tiger Economics of the late 20th century, where the drastic rise of Asian countries such as Japan and China was seen.
Hence, by blending these notions of social values with the dystopian depiction of LA, where the continuous rainfall and the absence of sunlight indicates the destruction of nature and its endowments, Scott is foreshadowing a society which humanity has ultimately destroyed with their own hands. Once the responders understand the contextual influence on the two texts, the responders are then able to grasp the core idea of both texts – humanity’s negligence in their power. Both texts indicate the self-destructive nature of humanity’s empowerment to which responders can reflect upon in correlation with their contemporary society.
Firstly, Frankenstein portrays how the ambition to redefine human limitations through creation is bound to result in failure, and accordingly create something monstrous. Frankenstein’s Creature is the very embodiment of the monstrosity that humans are capable of creating. The symbolism of light in, “until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me” conveys Victor’s instinctive awakening to the possibility of creating a perfect being impervious to diseases. The contrast between the ‘darkness’ and ‘light’ hints the didactic purpose which Shelley tries to convey to her responders.
Such a taboo act of trespassing the domain of the divine providence signifies the beginning of Frankenstein’s blindness. Frankenstein is quick to realize that he has created a monster, as shown by the regretful tone in, “I beheld the wretch – the miserable monster whom I had created. ” This depicts that untamed human ambition can lead to the inadvertent creation of the ‘grotesque’ and through this, Shelly is alluding to the ideology that creation is the work of God and should not be attempted by humanity. Blade Runner examines this notion of the negligence of humanity’s empowerment on a much broader scale than Frankenstein.
This is achieved by depicting the detrimental consequences of humanity’s misuse of power upon an entire country. Frankenstein was a forewarning of the dangers of human ambition of that context, but Bladerunner portrays the aftermath of the overambitious quest for knowledge in the future if the misuse of power cannot be contained by depicting a dystopian world. Appropriately, the human beings in this alternate future seem artificial and lacking humanity except for the protagonist Deckard. Deckard is the primary voice of the director, where Scott portrays his ideas on how humanity should be living through the actions of Deckard.
In Bladerunner, Deckard is a character who distances himself from the social norm of technology and the rigid structure of society. He is indicative of the traditional ‘human’ who responds emotionally and takes part in conventional human actions. Although this notion is strongly evidenced towards the end of the film, the director foreshadows Deckard’s humanitarian characteristics from the beginning of the film. The idea of Deckard holding human qualities can be witnessed in the scene when Deckard is reading the newspaper. A dolly shot is utilized by Scott in order to capture the setting of the city and gradually focus on Deckard.
Through this shot, the responders recognize the strong juxtaposition between the social values and Deckard. Deckard is reading the traditional ‘newspaper’, whilst in the background, numerous television screens showing the news can be seen. This contrast in effect highlights that Deckard abides by the more ‘traditional’ conventions of humanity and through his heroic portrayal, it becomes evident that Scott wishes to address that in order for humanity to survive, it will require us to restrain ourselves from being too consumed with social cults and conventions which invoke control, creation and power.
In order to fulfill an understanding of a text, responders need to identify and understand the true intentions of the composer. When both Frankenstein and Blade Runner are read on parallel, although their contexts are different, the problematic issues resonate with each other and furthermore, responders can also illustrate that these texts induces the responders to reflect on the contemporary society to understand that the social values of our time, although they may seem standard may be in fact detrimental for humanity.
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