Why We Need a Faithful Adaptation of Frankenstein
by Tom Farr
Mary Shelley was just eighteen years old when she began writing her tale about a man obsessed with defeating death and discovering the secret to creating life. The novel was first published in 1818, and now, two hundred years later, the name of Frankenstein is so infamous that it’s almost as if he were a real person. But, of course, two hundred years later, most people associate the name Frankenstein with the creature the main character created instead of the creator himself.
Last night, my wife and I decided to watch the latest adaptation of Shelley’s novel. Victor Frankenstein feature James McAvoy as Victor Frankenstein and Daniel Radcliffe as his assistant Igor, a character that doesn’t actually exist in the book. I watched it because the students in my English IV class have been studying Frankenstein for the past six weeks and, knowing the 1931 adaptation is loosely based on the novel, I was hoping to show my students a more accurate representation of the story.
In all, I think I witnessed about 5% of the book represented in the movie. I understand why movie adaptations have to be different. You can’t fit everything that occurred in the novel in a two-hour movie. What I can’t grasp is why no filmmaker has ever wanted to make an adaptation that keeps the most memorable and deeply moving parts of the story intact.
- Where was Robert Walton, the ambitious boat captain who encounters a man near death floating in the icy water of the frozen north?
- Where was the introverted Victor Frankenstein who is wide-eyed to the wonders of how the world works and makes a decision to pursue a certain brand of knowledge to end up in tragedy?
- Where was Elizabeth, the great love of Victor’s life and the brightest light in the story, the one hope that Victor has for good and the object of the creature’s vengeance?
- Where was the creature, unnamed and rejected by its creator because of its sheer ugliness, who wanted nothing more than to be loved by someone and found himself only rejected for his outer appearance, deemed a monster by society, and denied the one bit of happiness his creator/father could give him?
- Where was Alphonse Frankenstein, the caring and encouraging father of Victor, who suffers great heartache over his son’s choices?
- Where was the DeLacey family that the creature secretly watches, admires, and learns from for several months, and the blind patriarch of the family who for the slightest moment accepts the creature as a fellow human being?
- Where was the wedding of Victor and Elizabeth and the tragic misunderstanding Victor made about the creature’s intent to “be with you on your wedding night”?
- Where was the Victor who struggles in and out of sanity, in and out of health, because of the secret he carries?
- Where was William, the little brother of Victor, who suffers at the hands of the creature simply for having the name Frankenstein?
- Where was the creature who vows revenge upon his maker, yet would turn his back on evil in a heartbeat if Victor would only give him someone like him who will love and sympathize with him?
- Where was the second creature that Victor creates and yet destroys for fear that the creature and a companion will reproduce and destroy the human race?
- Where was Henry Clerval, the close friend of Victor, who has a bright future before him, and yet also suffers from Victor’s choices?
- Where was the monster, who upon learning that his creator/father had died, vows to end his own life?
- Where was the story of love and loss, ambition and vengeance, light and dark, hope and tragedy?
Mary Shelley wrote a novel that is a true classic, a novel that takes you on a journey of emotional highs and lows, a journey that makes you think about what’s worth pursuing in life.
Victor Frankenstein wasn’t a poor movie because it was a poor adaptation. It was a poor movie because it lost the heart of the story Mary Shelley was trying to tell.
When we think of Frankenstein, we often think monster movie with a mindless creature who terrorizes people. That’s not the story Shelley wrote. Sure, it’s full of elements of horror. It’s not a story for the faint of heart. But at its core, it’s a story about a man who lost sight of what was most important in life and ended up creating something that forced him to see what was important when it was too late.
If I were a filmmaker, I would be all over trying to tell that story.
Tom Farr is a writer, teacher, and storyteller. He loves creating and spending time with his wife and three children. Check out his fiction writing portfolio on Medium and sign up for his author newsletter.
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