This writeup contains spoilers - do not read beyond the introduction if you intend to watch the film for the first time.


After the success of his critically-acclaimed film Bram Stoker's Dracula, Francis Ford Coppola set his eyes upon another classic Victorian horror story, Frankenstein's Monster, by Mary Shelly. As with Dracula, his aim was to recreate the original story in film without discarding or distorting the plot, as had happened previously with both stories (most notably when Hammer Films produced them). Like Dracula, this was to present the story as a tragedy as much as a horror film.

The "blurb" on the back of the DVD edition is as follows:

Passion, obsession and horror combine to recreate the most terrifying and shattering story of all time - Mary Shelly's FRANKENSTEIN.
It is the late eighteenth century. After the death of his beloved mother, young Victor Frankenstein (Kenneth Branagh - Hamlet) leaves his father and Elizabeth, the adopted sister he passionately loves (Helena Bonham Carter - Mighty Aphrodite), to attend university. Here he becomes obsessed with the teachings of Professor Waldman (John Cleese - A Fish Called Wanda) who believes that living creatures can actually be recreated from dead matter.
One electrifying night, Frankenstein's efforts are rewarded as his Creature (Robert De Niro - Heat) struggles to life. Alone, despised and driven by a rage of emotional agony, it sets off to find its maker... And so begins the nightmare that will engulf Victor Frankenstein.


The film starts with high drama, as a ship, commanded by a captain obsessed with reaching the North Pole, becomes trapped in ice. In the distance the crew can hear dreadful moans and shouts, and the captain starts to investigate. Through the Arctic fog, a figure approaches. We learn that this is Victor Frankenstein, who demands that the captain and his crew take up arms and prepare to kill a creature.

Taken on to the ship, Frankenstein recalls his story to the captain.

Flashback to Frankenstein as a young boy. His beloved mother introduces him to his newly-adopted sister, Elizabeth, whose parents are both dead. As time progresses, the two become closer, and a love affair starts to blossom. As he approaches university age, his mother dies during childbirth, despite the efforts of his father, a famous physician, to save her. Distraught by her death, Frankenstein vows to find a way to stop the pain of bereavement by preventing death or creating life.

He arrives at university at Ingolstadt having proposed to Elizabeth, and immediately throws himself into working towards his goal of preventing death. Despised by many of the professors, he befriends the mysterious Professor Waldman, who has a terrible burden on his conscience which he refuses to reveal. After Waldman's death at the hands of a peasant refusing to be administered a vaccine, Frankenstein discovers a ledger, written by the professor, in which he reveals his worst experiment - an attempt to reanimate dead matter. After toiling, Frankenstein discovers the method that will allow him to do the same, and he embarks upon a mission to create a creature from dead matter. He uses body parts from hanged criminals - including Waldman's killer - but uses the brain of the professor. Finally he is ready, and the Creature is brought to life. Realising the horrific nature of the experiment, he hoists the Creature to the roof of his laboratory and leaves it for dead, vowing to burn his journal and abandon the experiment. Unbeknown to him, the Creature escapes.

The Creature is attacked by people thinking he is the perpetrator of the plague sweeping across the city, and he escapes to the countryside where he finds refuge in the pigpen of a small farmhouse. Here he discovers the journal, and decides to meet his creator. Meanwhile, he helps the family, in secret, by pulling vegetables from the frozen ground and leaving them for the family. Repulsed by his own face, he attempts to hide but eventually makes contact with the family's blind grandfather who invites him in and tells him his appearance is immaterial due to his kindness. Nonetheless, the family force him out after he kills a debt collector, and, distraught at his loss, he burns their farm, vowing to take vengeance.

He struggles to Geneva, to the Frankenstein home, where he kills Frankenstein's young brother in the woods. The family's beloved maid's daughter is accused of the murder, and is lynched by a crowd. One evening the Creature accosts Frankenstein - the first time the two have met - and asks Frankenstein to meet him in the mountains. Frankenstein sets forth, and is taken by the Creature to a cave. Here the Creature tells him how he killed Frankenstein's brother, and demands that Frankenstein creates him a bride. He reveals to Frankenstein the folly of the experiment: "You gave me these motions, but you didn't teach me how to use them"; "What of my soul? Do I have one? Or is that a part you left out?"; "Did you ever consider the consequences of your actions?". Racked by guilt and grief, Frankenstein agrees to create another Creature to fulfil the first Creature's desire to be loved ("I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine; and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy one, I will indulge the other"). He says that if a bride is given to him, they will travel to live at the North Pole, away from the hatred of mankind.

Frankenstein starts to create the bride, but eventually becomes horrified again at the prospect of creating another Creature when his first creation chooses the body of the family's maid's late daughter as his bride. He is warned by the Creature, "if you deny me my wedding night, I will be present at yours." Choosing to ignore this, Frankenstein rushes home and marries Elizabeth, and hires a team of mercenaries to kill the Creature. Nonetheless the Creature slips through and kills Frankenstein's father and Elizabeth, ripping her heart from her chest.

Utterly distraught, Frankenstein realises his last hope. He rushes Elizabeth's body to Ingolstadt and attaches her head to the body of the maid's daughter. He successfully reanimates her, and despite her hideous deformity attempts to get her to remember her past life by uttering his name. The Creature appears and calls the new creature to him as his Bride. She is torn between her love for Frankenstein and her desire to be with the Creature who loves her for herself as opposed to her former life. She commits suicide by burning herself to death with an oil lamp.

At this point the film returns to the captain's cabin on the trapped ship. Frankenstein warns the captain that discovery can cause immense suffering. Nonetheless, the captain intends to press north, claiming that the death of his sailors is a worthy sacrifice for their place in history. Frankenstein dies, and the captain returns to his crew, who are near to mutiny. The Creature manages to enter the captain's cabin, and is discovered by the crew to be utterly devastated by Frankenstein's body. The Creature says that Frankenstein is his father, and is grief-stricken at his death. As the ice breaks around this ship, the Creature commits suicide on Frankenstein's funeral pyre. The captain, asked by his bosun for their destination, simply replies, "home".


This is possibly Francis Ford Coppola's crowning achievement. A film that fuses adventure, suspense, horror and romance, with a powerful moral - that the voyage of discovery can lead to devastation and misery - in this respect, Michael Crichton's classic novel, Jurassic Park could be seen as a modern Frankenstein. The casting for the film is truly superb. Kenneth Branagh, playing Frankenstein, draws upon all of his Shakespearian skills to act the role of a man hopelessly obsessed with relieving his grief at his mother's death, to the exclusion of his own creation's misery. Helena Bonham Carter, playing Elizabeth, is superb in the role of a woman who is deeply in love with someone whose drive and determination alienate the two - yet, despite this, she continues to love him, even when she learns the horrible truth of his experiment. Cameos by Ian Holm (who played Ash in Alien) and the great British comedians John Cleese and Richard Briers, in eminently serious roles, are also acted superbly.

Yet perhaps the greatest acting of all is displayed by Robert De Niro, who plays the Creature. Throughout the course of the film he combines grief, hatred, love, yearning, vengeance, and a desire for self-discovery effortlessly, and with incredibly moving consequences. The longest encounter between the Creature and Frankenstein, in the mountain cave, is tremendously emotional, as the two confront the realities of Frankenstein's mistake. The overwhelming effect of De Niro's performance is one of a devastated, empty Creature, who longs for acceptance yet realises that his hatred and love are the only two emotions strong enough for him to enact.

The film's score, composed expertly by Patrick Doyle, mixes heart-rending slow strings during the film's many scenes of grief with powerful, jarring, brassy melodies during scenes of high drama. In most films, a score is there to compliment the acting, and is often relegated to the background. In this case, the music is so powerful that this film would be incomplete without it. During the most powerful scenes, Doyle's music seems to resonate within the plot, creating a truly well-combined experience.

Of course, in any horror film one of the most important areas of production is in make-up. The Creature's make-up, credited to Daniel Parker, is flawless. To create the appearance of half-dead skin stitched together without it looking artificial is a difficult feat, but Parker pulls it off with incredibly good results. Costumes, too, have been selected carefully to reflect the historical circumstances of late eighteenth century Austria.


This is possibly one of the best films of its genre. Any film that can combine drama, horror, love and a strong moral without appearing overly-preachy is an excellent achievement, and this film is eminently successful in doing so. Acted with riveting intensity by a powerful cast, Mary Shelly's Frankenstein remains a classic horror film, and should grace the shelf of anyone interested in films about romance or horror.

Who is the True Protagonist?

A woman screams in fright as she runs away from the beast behind her. The looming figure has grotesque and inhuman features; the image of an evil monster. This situation is one we are all familiar with. There is a monster who is automatically seen as the villain and then the poor victim who must rise to the occasion and vanquish the monster. However, while it may be assumed that in Mary Shelley's, Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein is the protagonist of the novel, his lack of character change and inability to make decisions makes it more likely that the true protagonist of the story is none other than the monster, leaving Frankenstein to adopt the role of antagonist.

A protagonist is described as being the main character of a story, but more than that, a protagonist is one who elicits and undergoes change. Frankenstein, while of course being the main character of the story -- well one of the main characters -- lacks the initiative to step up and make deliberate changes and does not go through any particularly notable growth throughout the course of the novel. His personality is largely ruled by self pity and his continued obsession with the monster. It is unfortunate that such a brilliant man could be so narrow minded, such as when he, with out a doubt, believed that the monster had been the murderer of his younger brother, without having any proof at all. While he was right in the matter, he was not correct about the exact reason why the monster would commit such a deed. It goes without saying that Frankenstein's character remains mostly consistent throughout the whole book. He starts out alone and excluded from society, pitying himself for creating such a monstrous creature and goes on for the rest of the novel to feel the same way. His perspective on the monster is also unchanging. Even when it is revealed to him that the monster was originally a pure soul and not the evil malicious being he believed him to be, he refused to acknowledge that it was mainly his fault that the monster ended up the way he did. His refusal to ever accept anything other than what he believed to be true, even till his dying day, exemplifies the fact that he never learned the pivotal lesson associated with protagonists.

In addition to the fact that he never changed, Frankenstein also failed to deliberately bring change any of his surroundings. As in the case of Justine, he gave himself half-hearted excuses for not acting to try and save the young girl's life. "My own agitation and anguish was extreme during the whole trial. I believed in her innocence; I knew it. Could the demon who had (I did not for a minute doubt) murdered my brother also in his hellish sport have betrayed the innocent to death and ignominy? I could not sustain the horror of my situation, and when I perceived that the popular voice and the countenances of the judges had already condemned my unhappy victim, I rushed out of the court in agony. The tortures of the accused did not equal mine; she was sustained by innocence, but the fangs of remorse tore my bosom and would not forgo their hold." (pg. 71-72) Even then, moments after Elizabeth's heartfelt speech in defense of Justine, he feels hopelessness. However, he never even attempted to second Elizabeth's claim that Justine was innocent, he simply resigned himself to the fact that no matter what he said Justine would be condemned, not actually knowing what the result of his actions would have caused. The reason for his lack of action simply being that he was really a coward on the inside. This, along with many other ignored opportunities for action, such as his total failure to provide Elizabeth with protection from the monster and more, prove that Victor Frankenstein is not the true protagonist of the story. Instead he is left the title of antagonist, doomed to be in conflict with the monster till the day he died.

But why is it that the monster would make a better protagonist than Victor? Well the fact of the matter is that the monster exhibits many more of the traits that designate a protagonist than Frankenstein does. For one, his personality actually goes through changes as he experiences character growth. When the monster left Frankenstein, he had but the mind of an innocent newborn. As he wandered through hills and forests he could not help but be amazed by the simplest of things, as all children are. The simple crackling of a fire and the rising of the moon, were enough to bring wonder into his life, and for the time he was content living in blissful ignorance. Even after his unfortunate run-ins with villagers, at which the seeds of truth were planted in his mind, he was able to retain his kind, gentle, and innocent state of mind. "I saw no cause for their unhappiness, but i was deeply affected by it. If such lovely creatures were miserable, it was less strange that I, an imperfect and solitary being, should be wretched...I had been steal a part of their store for my own consumption, but when I found that in doing this I inflicted pain on the cottagers, I abstained and satisfied myself with berries, nuts, and roots which i gathered from a neighboring wood...I (also) often took his tools...and brought home firing sufficient for the consumption of several days." (pg. 99) It is obvious how much he cares about the cottagers to anyone who reads this passage, even showing empathy for others.

However, this side of him seemed to have died the day he was rejected by the very family he had grown to care so much about. "I know not; despair had not yet taken possession of me; my feelings were those rage and revenge...from that moment I declared everlasting war against the species (man), and more than all, against him who had formed me and sent me forth to this unsupportable misery." (pg. 126-126) It is this event that results in his drastic change in personality, leading him from the kind and gentle soul that he was, to the hate and revenge-filled creature he became.

Second, he makes conscience decisions in order to change his circumstances. He constantly makes the effort to amend his situation, in order to keep himself from being so lonely. Though his attempts at procuring for himself a companion, be it through the interaction between him and other people, or through his attempt at convincing Frankenstein to create him one -- "You must create a female for me with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being. This you alone can do, and I demand it of you as a right which you must not refuse to concede." (pg. 134) -- were unsuccessful, they were at least attempts on his part. Something Victor was to much of a coward to even try. Moreover, even once he knew that there would be no chance of him receiving his companion, he still took matters into his own hands by implementing the second part of his desires, to extract his revenge on Frankenstein for the many miseries that he caused him.

Lastly, the monster actually learned a valuable lesson by the end of the book. With the death of Frankenstein the monster is finally able to realize just why he could not find pleasure in the death of the man who had been the cause of all his sufferings. He realizes that revenge is not something that can ever bring happiness to anyone, because once the object of revenge is gone, there is nothing left to live for, and the crushing power of loneliness returns. "For a while I destroyed his hopes, I did not satisfy my own desires. They were forever ardent and craving; still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned." (pg. 211)

With all the evidence laid out, it is hard to disagree that the monster actually deserves to be called the protagonist far more than Frankenstein does. A change in character, attempts to change their circumstances, and a valuable lesson learned just before a tragic ending, all the characteristics that a prominent figure in literature needs to be considered a protagonist, and the monster possesses each and every one. It is therefore proved that a normal approach at determining Mary Shelley's true intentions as to who is the true protagonist in the novel is, cannot be applied here.

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