Whilst texts may be fictitious constructs of composers’ imaginations, they also explore and address the societal issues and paradigms of their eras. This is clearly the case with Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein (1818), which draws upon the rise of Galvanism and the Romantic Movement of the 1800’s, as well as Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner (1992), reflecting upon the increasing computing industry and the predominance of capitalism within the late 20th Century.
Hence, an analysis of both in light of their differing contexts reveal how Shelley and Scott ultimately warn us of the dire consequences of our desire for omnipotence and unrestrained scientific progress, concepts which link the two texts throughout time. Composed in a time of major scientific developments, including Galvani’s concept of electricity as a reanimating force, Shelley’s Frankenstein utilises the creative arrogance of the Romantic imagination to fashion a Gothic world in which the protagonist’s usurpation of the divine privilege of creation has derailed the conventional lines of authority and responsibility.
Her warning of the dangers of such actions is encapsulated within Victor’s retrospective words of “how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge”, whilst Shelley’s use of a fragmented epistolatory narrative adds a disturbing sense of truth, foreshadowing the dark consequences of Frankenstein’s actions. Moreover, her allusions to John Milton’s Paradise Lost evoke the poetic retelling of Satan’s fall from grace, wherein the daemon’s association with “the fallen angel” exacerbates the effects of Victor’s rejection, ultimately transforming its “benevolent nature” into a thirst for retribution.
Together with its questioning of how Victor could “sport with life”, Shelley’s warning reverberates past the page, directly questioning the scientists of her era, including evolutionary theorist Erasmus Darwin, to reinforce the dangers of our humanity’s inherent yearning to play the role of the Creator. Such a warning also exists within Scott’s Blade Runner, hence linking the two texts throughout time, where the director echoes the rise of capitalist ideals and the Wall Street mantra, “greed is good”, through the symbolic dominance of Tyrell’s towering ziggurat, a reflection of both his desire for omnipotence and commercial power.
Tyrell’s egocentric nature is epitomised within the religious connotations of his abode, including his voluminous bed, modeled after that of Pope John Paul II, as well as his reference to Batty as “the prodigal son”. Such symbols are unnervingly subverted through both the foreboding Chiarscuro of flickering candle-light with shadow and his violent death at the hands of his own creation. Scott’s warning of the dangers of such a desire is also evident within the expansive shots of 2019 LA, revealing a dark and tenebrous world lit by the glow of corporate advertisements, a representation of a bleak future dominated by commercial dominance.
Hence, by drawing upon elements of his context, including the growth of capitalism and the ‘trickle-down theory’ of Reagan’s era, Scott positions us to reassess the consequences of overstepping our boundaries. In addition, both texts’ warnings also encompass the dangers of unrestrained scientific progress, where Frankenstein further demonstrates the Romantic Movement’s influence on Shelley’s mindset, as her criticisms of the Age of Reason and Industrial Revolution reflect their denigration of rationality.
The imagery of the “dead corpse” and repetitious use of “horror” upon the creation of the “miserable monster” establish a strong aura of death and despair around this scientific advancement, whilst Victor’s warning of Walton to “avoid ambitions of science and discoveries” encapsulates Shelley’s vilification of contributors to the Industrial Revolution, including renowned inventor James Watt.
Moreover, Shelley stresses her warning through the protagonists’ connections with nature, where Victor’s “insensibility to its charms”, arising from his immersion in science, results in his “deep, dark and deathlike solitude”, with the heavy alliteration exemplifying his degraded sense of humanity. Conversely, the monster possesses greater “benevolence” and a more intimate connection with “the pleasant showers and genial warmth of spring”, with such characterisation capturing Shelley’s reflection of Romanticism’s idolisation of nature, cautioning us against the dehumanising effect of unrestrained scientific advancement.
Blade Runner is no different, with Scott’s reflection of the explosion of technological progress during the 1980’s, including the rise of computing giants IBM and Microsoft, highlighting the dangers of such unrestrained progress. Most notable is the opening panoramic shot of blazing smokestacks which, together with the haunting synthetic pulses of the Vangelis soundtrack, establishes a festering miasma of technological overload, adding further semiotic weight to the film’s nightmarish dystopian agenda.
Indeed, this portrayal of a decaying environment reflects the growing ecological awareness of the 1980’s, which, whilst different to Shelley’s Romantic values, is similarly employed to highlight the destruction of mankind due to technology. Moreover, Scott illuminates us to the dehumanising effects of such progress, foregrounded through Deckard’s “retiring” of the Replicant Zhora.
Here, the stylistic placement of the transparent poncho places further emphasises the violence of her death, with slow-motion low angle shot conveying her heightened sense of humanity within her last painful moments. In contrast, Deckard’s emotionless features, together with the monotonous drone of the droid, suggests that our artificial creations will ultimately lead to the dehumanising of mankind, undermining our humanist framework and hence, warns us of the dire consequences of unchecked scientific progress.
Thus, we can see how both Shelley and Scott reflect their zeitgeists in their texts, Frankenstein and Blade Runner, as they draw upon the societal concerns of their times in order to warn us of the consequences of overstepping our boundaries and unbridled technological advancement. Subsequently, it becomes evident that despite their temporal and contextual differences, both texts are in fact linked through their common concerns and concepts.
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