The Creature in I, Frankenstein
Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein was adapted for the big screen for the first time in 1931. Since then, Shelley’s creature has appeared in over 50 films, according to the Internet Movie Database. Over the years, the character has been depicted in different ways. In the original 1930s version the creature was hideous, clumsy, and unintelligent. As the years passed, and more adaptations were made, the creature started to resemble Shelley’s more closely in a few ways. He spoke eloquently, and he was represented as a complex character instead of as just a monster. Within the past twenty years or so, filmmakers have been pushing the creature away from the hideous monster and toward a more ordinary-looking man. In the most recent adaptation, the creature looks attractive. In I, Frankenstein, the creature is so far from Mary Shelley’s character, he is almost unrecognizable. The changes made to the creature misrepresent the original character so drastically that the ideas that Shelley made in her novel are lost.
Victor Frankenstein calls his creature an “abortion” and a “monster” among other things, but he never actually gives the creature a name. In I, Frankenstein, the creature is given two names. The queen of the Gargoyles, the angelic creatures in the film, names him Adam, which is likely a result of all of the biblical and Paradise Lost references in the novel. Frankenstein wanted to be a god among a new race of men. His creature was the first of his kind, just like the biblical Adam. The creature compares himself to Adam several times in the novel. At one point the creature says to Victor Frankenstein, “I ought to be thy Adam” (Shelley, 89). The demons in the film call the creature Frankenstein. It is explained that they do so because he is the son of Victor Frankenstein, and “we’re all our fathers’ sons” (I, Frankenstein). The creature introduces himself as Adam at times, suggesting that he prefers this name. Ultimately he calls himself Frankenstein. It is unclear why he does so. Perhaps he is finally accepting Victor Frankenstein as his father, or maybe he is accepting himself for what he is. It seems unlikely that Shelley’s creature would ever accept himself. He hates himself more than he hates Victor Frankenstein. In the novel, he wanted to make Frankenstein as miserable as Frankenstein had made him. After Frankenstein dies, the creature says that he is going to kill himself. The creature would never accept Frankenstein, and he would certainly never accept himself.
The creature’s appearance is physically revolting in the novel. Victor Frankenstein says that he chose the creature’s physical features to make him beautiful (Shelley, 51). Despite his attempts to make the creature attractive, Frankenstein describes the creature as having “yellow skin,” a “shriveled complexion,” and “black lips” (Shelley, 51). Aaron Eckhart plays the creature in the film. He is an attractive actor, and makeup artists did not try very hard to make him unattractive. In the film, the creature says that he was made from several different corpses, but there is no real evidence of that. There are some scars on his face, but they do not stand out. The skin is not puckered around the scars, and the color is only slightly darker than his natural skin tone. The scars do not make him look disfigured. It is easy to forget that the scars are there after a few scenes, and as the film progresses it even seems like his scars become less and less pronounced. About halfway through the film there is even a scene where the creature takes off his shirt, showing off his well-muscled body. Shelley’s creature was shunned by society because of his appearance, but in the film there is a scene where he is walking through a bar without incident. People do stop to stare at him, but beyond that there is not much of a reaction. This is one of the greatest differences in the character between the film and the novel. One of the main purposes of Shelley’s Frankenstein was to critique society’s obsession with beauty. If anything, casting an attractive actor for the role of the creature only proves Shelley’s point. Audiences generally find attractive people to be more appealing, and are more interested in attractive protagonists. Because the creature is attractive in the film, his existence is not as difficult as it was for Shelley’s creature.
Because of his beauty, the creature in the film does not need to be eloquent. In the novel, the creature is very well spoken. There are several chapters of dialogue where the creature is explaining his story to Victor Frankenstein. This is where the reader begins to feel sympathy for the creature. They can understand how he feels, especially after he explains what he has been through and why he feels the way he does. He describes the loneliness and isolation that he feels from the rest of society. He desperately wants companionship. The creature talks about watching the De Laceys and learning from them. Specifically, he learns about language. He describes language and conversation as a “godlike science” (Shelley, 100). In the film, the creature barely speaks at all, but not so little that he seems unintelligent. In the novel, the creature’s dialogue is what makes readers feel sympathy for him. Before he begins speaking they see him as Victor Frankenstein sees him: as a monster. In the film, the creature does not appear to be physically monstrous. Eloquence and long-winded descriptions about his loneliness are unnecessary to make him relatable to moviegoers. As a result, the creature does not seem lonely. After meeting the Gargoyles at the beginning of the film he actually leaves, even though they want him to stay. The creature in the novel would never have done that. Shelley’s creature craves companionship. The creature would cling on to anything that was offered to him. In the film, the creature’s isolation seems self-inflicted. He chooses to live apart from society. This only makes the creature seem like a far less complex character than Shelley’s. His unsociable nature was probably intended to make him seem like a more mysterious character, but it only makes it harder for audiences to connect with him on the same level as they do in the novel.
Shelley’s creature wants companionship more than anything. He describes himself as “alone and miserable” and asks Frankenstein to make a companion for him (Shelley, 128). The creature says that if Frankenstein will make a mate for him he will make sure that humans will never see him and his companion again (Shelley, 130). The creature in the film also wants a mate. In the film, scientists are trying to recreate Victor Frankenstein’s monster. The creature asks one of the scientists, a woman, to make a mate for him. A few scenes later he tells someone that the scientist is his companion. By the end of the movie it is implied that they end up together. This once again goes against Shelley’s critique of society’s obsession with beauty. Shelley’s character would never find a mate among humans because they view him as terrifyingly hideous. However, in the film the creature is attractive, so he has no problem finding a mate. And not only a mate, but a beautiful young woman.
It is obvious that the film is not meant to be a direct adaptation of the novel. The events in the film take place 200 years after the novel ends, in a world so different from Shelley’s that it is unrecognizable. There is really only one character that is in both the film and the novel, but Shelley’s creature is transformed in the film in a way that goes against all of the ideas she tried to get across in her novel. There are a few moments where the creature begins to resemble Shelley’s character, but those moments are rare. The qualities that made Shelley’s creature so memorable are absent in this film.
I, Frankenstein. Dir. Stuart Beattie. Hopscotch Features, 2014. Film.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003. Print.
I, Frankenstein. Digital image. Lionsgate.com