Written by Mary Shelley in 1818, Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus, is the first science-fiction novel known to the public. It combines real-life scientific research with fantasy events, featuring horror and gothic elements.
The narration follows Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s attempts to create new life through a scientific experiment. The resulting creature is a monster who clashes with humanity because of rejection. The novel abounds with hot topics that humans still can’t find answers to after two centuries. It primarily discusses blind ambition, loss of innocence, responsibility, and revenge.
As a dense but intriguing classic of its genre, Frankenstein inspired several Hollywood adaptations. The first movie made according to Shelley’s story came in 1931, whereas Bride of Frankenstein hit the cinemas four years later in 1935. After that, over 30 other versions of the horror story have come into the limelight. However, the big screen largely misportrays the characters of Victor and his creation.
What are the most significant differences between the movies and Mary Shelley’s original work? Let’s explore what liberties the directors took when unraveling the plot in front of the audience. Below, we examine five ways the spooky tale about the ambitious doctor differs from its movie adaptations.
The Portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein
The perspective of Marry and the directors of various movies picturing the notorious scientist varies. Besides the two adaptations mentioned in the intro, several newer versions closely follow Shelley’s narration. These include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1994 and Victor Frankenstein in 2015. However, for this purpose, we compare the book and the 1931 Universal Studios iconic film of the horror genre.
There are many similarities between Victor in the book and the animated scientist. Both are fascinated with death, a frequent topic of essays on Frankenstein assigned by teachers. Another similarity is that all works refer to Frankenstein as the man, but the film names the doctor Henry for some reason.
Likewise, both characters create a monster out of collected dead body parts and bring it to life. Also, both doctors are about to marry Elizabeth, a charming girl adopted by the family. The film kept Mary’s original idea; Victor rejects his “child” though the creature tries to get affection from its father. Ultimately, the doctor cannot digest the creation and wants to destroy it.
However, many elements are represented differently in the novel and the film. In the book, Shelly gives her protagonist a lengthy introduction with a detailed backstory she devotes to him in the first four chapters. In the 1931 movie, the first scene opens with the scientist trying to give life to the creature. There’s no explanation about his family, childhood, or college years.
Moreover, the filmed doctor is joyous after his success and asks the creature to have a chat with him after the awakening. But the monster is petrified, and Victor interpreters this as an attempt to attack him. Thus, he runs away and locks himself in a dungeon. In the novel, the doctor realizes what he did once the creature opens its eyes. He is horrified by the menacing appearance of the living being and abandons it and the lab.
The doctor’s cold reactions continue. When the lonely monster returns to his creator in the novel, he begs for a mate to keep him company. First, Frankenstein accepts but later breaks his promise and refuses to play God again. By contrast, the scientist in the 1935 film agrees to create a mate for the monster.
The Framing Device
Shelly’s novel is a multi-strand narrative with three first-person narrators. She also uses epistolary narration or telling the story through letters. The so-called framing device is a complex technique that involves embedded narratives (stories within stories). More specifically, in the novel, Robert Walton provides the frame, the monster tells the embedded story, and the protagonist is the main narrator.
The book starts with the letters of Captain Walton embarking on a voyage to the North Pole. He picks up Frankenstein, who goes on to tell his story, turning the narrative into a lengthy flashback. However, in the film, we rarely see the Captain. The framing device is almost unrecognizable, and there’s no adaptation of Walton’s travels.
One of the main differences between the novel and the film is the development of the monster’s character. The adaptation by Universal Studios shows a mute, lumbering brute with no emotions and the ability to learn a language. This flaw deprives him of the chance to reveal his side of the story.
In Shelley’s novel, the creation is a feral creature that slowly learns language and reasoning. As the plot progresses, it can articulate speech and becomes highly intelligent. Victor’s son even contemplates his cruel life and manages to sew clothes and use weapons to survive in the wilderness. Unlike its film counterpart, the book’s character is more complex. The ability to learn makes him more miserable and aware of his alien nature.
There Was No Igor
Another striking difference is that the movie features an assistant, a clumsy and incompetent one. Accidentally, Victor’s helper implants a brain of a murderer into the creature. Conversely, Shelley’s protagonist remains isolated in his obsession and does the experiment alone.
Victor’s hunchbacked assistant, Igor, is a character that amuses and stirs the audience. Yet, the original novel features only the doctor who kept the reanimation secret.
In Shelley’s novel, the protagonist pays for his misdeeds. He tracks his creation all across Europe and arrives in the Arctic, where he collapses on the ice. Captain Walton rescues the doctor, and that’s how he learns of the story. Victor is too exhausted to survive and eventually dies aboard Walton’s ship. In the film, Frankenstein suffers no death, and Elizabeth lives.
To Sum Up
Overall, the movie kept the core ideas of the novel. It portrays the themes of men playing God, society’s injustice, and paternal responsibility. But it left out some complex-to-shot elements, like the framing device.
The novel provides the perfect plot for a movie: a few filming sets, several characters, and an excellent story. It’s no surprise that directors still collect inspiration from the book and new adaptations hit the screen even today. Who knows; maybe the next movie will keep the specifics in the transition.