Frankenstein vs. Blade Runner

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Module A: Comparative Study of Texts and Context ‘The fear, anxiety and uncertainty of the future have shaped the composers’ values as well as their perspective of their own society’. Compare how this idea is represented in Frankenstein and Blade Runner. The 1818 Gothic Novel ‘Frankenstein’ written by Mary Shelley and the 1982 science fiction film ‘Blade Runner’ by Ridley Scott both challenge the values of the societies in which they have been set, expressing the composers’ critique of the advancement in science and technology, the consequences of irresponsible creation and the hubris of an individual to overcome nature’s power.

It is through these common themes that the texts have the ability to represent and evoke fear, anxiety and uncertainty of the future. The late 1970’s early 80’s time period in which Blade Runner was composed saw a rapid progression within the scientific paradigm, particularly in areas such as genetic engineering and cloning; a context applied and intensified through the sci-fi/ film noir genre in order to expose the dystopian reality of a world of science and technology taken too far.

The 2019 post- apocalyptic setting of down- town Los Angeles is a frightening vision of the future in itself; dark, decaying and polluted. However the deterioration of earth is further highlighted by the constant darkness that imposes the bustling streets, perpetual downpour of acid rain and the bombardment of technology such as neon advertising and projected announcements from off-shore colonies. This hauntingly unnatural image of the future depicted in the opening scene of the film, leaves much to the imagination of the audience, impressing a deep fear of what could be.

The character of Tyrell in Blade Runner epitomises the world of scientific and technological advancement; withholding the ability to progress natural process by perfectly replicating the form of a human being, devoid of all emotions. Here, the line between technology and humanity is blurred and it raises philosophical, moral and ethical concerns on the issue of what constitutes a human, questioning the audience’s own values and implies the composers’ sense of uncertainty. Fear, anxiety and uncertainty of the future are also expressed through the common theme of rapid progress in science and technology in Frankenstein.

With the onset of the Industrial revolution and the success of such scientific explorations such as the animation lifeless matter using electrical forces (Galvanism), it would be unlikely for Shelley’s writing not to be tainted by these exterior influences. Although the novel suggests that science is corrupt when devoid of society’s moral context and articulates a set of cultural concerns regarding scientific responsibility, it does not necessarily imply that technological development itself is a negative aspect of society.

Here the progression of science and technology is a symbol of power, glory and fame; and it is this that Shelley disapproves. Frankenstein never considers the implication of his radical scientific experimentation or the moral failure that could become of his technological success; and immediately disowns his creation. Although the monster is ‘abhorred’ in appearance, he encompasses the complexities of Romanticism, an intellectual with noble intentions who is enchanted by the natural world.

It is the moral duties to which Frankenstein does not bestow this creature that evokes the consideration of the issue of whether society’s ethical standards can withstand the rapid progression of science and technology and implies a grim fear for the future. Scott’s attempt to warn the audience of the possible dangerous consequences of the existing social, cultural and ideological trends of the contemporary society is also exemplified through the theme of ‘Man playing God’.

Tyrell’s own assumption of God-like status is portrayed through his arrogance and patronising demeanour. He views the replicants as commodities to humans- purely for commercial gain ‘Commerce is our goal at Tyrell. More human than human is our motto’, and shows little compassion towards the untimely death of his own creations- sentencing them to a four year life span- ‘You were made as best as we could make you’.

However the implications of attempting to attain this image of divinity illustrate the costs of exceeding human boundaries; and we see Tyrell fall victim to his own creation as seen in the bedroom scene where Roy Batty, a Nexus 6 generation model, who he alludes to as his ‘prodigal son’, gouges his eyes with his bare hands. The contrast between the characters of Roy and Tyrell are representative of the ideals of heaven and hell, conveyed through the superior imagery of Tyrell when Roy confesses his sins, ‘I’ve done some bad things’.

The kiss of death directly prior to Tyrell’s murder symbolises a role reversal that is further established in a later scene where Roy thrusts a nail through his hand; an allusion to the crucifixion of Jesus, presenting Roy as a religious figure rather than a product of hell. Similarly, Frankenstein serves itself as a direct critique of mans attempt to control nature and overcome the role of God, foreshadowing the dangers of the blinded ambition of mankind in the quest for forbidden knowledge; ‘A new species would bless me as its source many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me.

No father could claim the gratitude of his child o completely as I should deserve theirs’. Through the use of juxtaposition of this cold, single-minded pursuit to glorification and the established natural and transcendent motifs of the Romantic style, Shelley has conjured a pleasing terror of the sublime without alluding to the supernatural world; a technique utilised to force a menacing vision of the effects that ‘man playing god’ can have on the individual into the minds of the reader.

The character of Victor Frankenstein embodies Shelley’s concern of the potential dangers that can result from ruthless scientific creation, representing a ‘Modern Prometheus’ who went beyond the boundaries of humanity and challenged the role of God; ‘It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn’. Victor’s realisation that his unreasonable ambition to create life will eventually lead to his destruction presents itself as an omen forewarning the consequences of man transcending the role of God.

Thus, through the comparison of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ and Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ it is clear that the context of the period in which they were composed have impacted the ideas represented in the texts. The themes of the progression of science and technology and ‘man playing god’ exude a fear, anxiety and uncertainty of the future that reveal a significant influence on how the composer’s have produced their work, and in turn, have shaped their values and perspective of their own society.