Friday, September 25, 2020

The Monster Has To Die In The End

The monster is chased into the windmill by the scared villagers, its immense strength and terrifying visage defeated entirely by the fear it has for the villager's simple torches. As the doors close the windmill is set on fire, quickly becoming a towering inferno of the monster's worst fear. Inside the monster screams in pain, as the soft music plays and the ending card flashes over the screen. Frankenstein's monster has succombed to the fate of all movie monsters at the time, the Hays code stating that by the end of the film, all monsters have to die. 

So then why does it hurt when the 1931 Frankenstein monster dies? 

Gentle Giant

1931's Frankenstein tells the story of the titular scientist and his monster, who has been named Frankenstein in popular culture but is only referred to as the creature in the film. We all know the story, the mad scientist brings the creature, an amalgum of corpses sewn together to resemble a man, to life with the use of lightning and a strategically placed sheet, the creature escapes, everyone freaks out, and then windmill scene. 

The thing is, this didn't need to happen. 

Let's take a look at the creature from the eyes of the outsider. Here's a creature who is in a sense born different than everyone else (We'll count the lightning sheet stuff as birth), and instead of being welcomed into the world with excitement he's welcomed in with fear. His own father, Dr. Frankenstein, doesn't even really see him as a person, exclaiming "It's alive!" when the process is complete. To him, the creature is not a person, it's a thing, a science experiment. 

Now the creature is shown early on to be instinctively afraid of fire, which makes sense since fire burns. When it's presented with fire it flips out and escapes the lab to wander the countryside searching for... Well anything. The creature at this point doesn't know anything, except fire bad. He comes across a little girl who is throwing flowers into a stream, which, not knowing to be afraid, she teaches him to do the same. In a controversial scene that was originally cut from the film, the creature ends up throwing the girl into the stream accidentally drowning her, which enrages the village and leads to windmill BBQ. 

So with all that, if we didn't know the whole corpse and looking iconic scary thing, what we have is a person with lower motor functions and a struggling IQ being punished for never learning how to properly interact with the world around him. In some ways this is an identifiable situation, especially when one is an outsider to a situation and is expected to either already know or figure out how to navigate the situation without any prior help. 

High school, anyone? 

Heck, adulthood, anyone? 

The Real Tragedy

So then the real tragedy comes at the end, when the monster is punished by being burned alive in the windmill. Why did this have to happen though? Well like I said, we can thank the Hayes code for that. 

Little historical background: Back before the rating system films used to have a series of rules they had to follow or they wouldn't be shown in mainstream movie theaters. This included stuff like not showing sexual acts or nudity, not making fun of clergy, not showing blood and guts, and as stated above, all monsters have to die by the end of the movie. 

And thus the creature's fate was sealed, despite it surviving in the novel. Oh, yeah, you know there was a novel, right? In it the creature learns how to control his body, learns to talk, read and write, and even figures out what he is. He's still rejected by Dr. Frankenstein, who faints every time he sees his face, but he learns. The creature in the novel ends up striking up a deal with daddy dearest: He'll leave him and the rest of humanity alone if the doctor makes one more creature: a female, so that he doesn't have to live in solitude. The doctor agrees but chickens out at the last second, even tearing up the lady monster corpse in front of the creature. This causes the creature to get vengeance by killing the doctor's new bride and the two proceed to chase each other, vowing death on the other until the doctor dies up in the north pole. 

In other words, the creature was not supposed to die. 

For those of us who identify with Frankenstein's monster and his difficulties in life, it's a sharp turn when the creature has to die by his own worst fear. It means that those who are different will never be accepted by mainstream society and that our mistakes will always be remembered no matter how much we try to repair them or didn't even know they were made. 

The monster has to die in the end. 

But does it though? If you're familiar at all with the Universal Monsters films, you know that Frankenstein's monster showed up at least half a dozen times during his career. While the code clearly stated that the monster had to die in the end, it never said that it had to STAY dead or REALLY be dead. In the sequel, Bride of Frankenstein, it turns out the creature didn't die in the windmill, but fell into a convenient underground cave and escaped. In others the creature is hit with lightning or was just always hiding since his last death, meaning that no matter how hard the society at the time tries to kill the monster, tries to show hatred towards the monster, he always finds his way back. He cannot be killed as long as they're are those who still love him. 

To conclude this diatribe on Frankenstein's monster, I want to point out one last thing: Through the film we never see the monster ever actually hurt anyone intentionally. The drowning of the poor girl was him thinking that it was part of the game, and others who he interacts with usually run away screaming. At worst he damages property but his intention is never to hurt anyone else, even when he's being driven away with torches. This is what makes the monster the true hero, because despite all the pain and sorrow he's suffered he never turns it outward on anyone else, even if they arguably deserve it. The real monster, as always, is the unaccepting society that created him. 


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