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Film / Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

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It's Alive.

I busied myself to think of a story.....which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature...and awaken thrilling horror. One to make the reader dread to look around. To curdle the blood and quicken the beatings of the heart.

— Opening line taken from the introduction of the source material

The 1994 film version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is directed by Kenneth Branagh, who stars along with Robert De Niro. Similarly to Bram Stoker's Dracula, this is a film that hues much closer to its source novel compared to most other adaptations, while also adding many new elements to the story.

At the turn of the 19th century, a ship searching for a route to the North Pole encounters a man wandering the ice. Nearing death, the man says his name is Victor Frankenstein, and he relates a story to the captain explaining how his attempts to play God and reverse Death caused the destruction of his entire world.

This film contains examples of the following Tropes:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Justine's character is developed a little further. And then there's a little subplot about reviving Elizabeth.
  • Adaptational Dumbass: A downplayed example with Frankenstein himself. Branagh's Frankenstein is undeniably brilliant, but his experiments are at first guided by M. Waldman. Shelley's Frankenstein, by comparison, is basically a scientific prodigy who manages to synthesize life all on his own.
  • Adaptational Heroism: The film significantly toned down Frankenstein's worst actions in the novel by having Justine lynched by a mob as soon as she's accused of William's murder, even as Frankenstein and Elizabeth try frantically and in vain to save her. In the novel Frankenstein stays silent for weeks as Justine is judicially tried, convicted and executed, while Wangst-ing about how horrible the situation is for him.
  • Adaptational Intelligence: In the novel, the Creature had to learn to read and speak from scratch. In this film, he retains the memories of the brain he is given.
  • And Show It to You: Though in this case, the Creature actually goes through with his threat and rips out Elizabeth's heart.
  • Artistic Licence – Physics: Justine is lynched by having a noose put about their neck and thrown off the top of a tall building to hang; in the film their neck is simply broken, but in real life the force of the drop would have decapitated them.
  • Asshole Victim: The landlord, who uses his position to bully a blind man and and his granddaughter, which prompts the Creature to kill him.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished:
    • Justine's corpse still looks very good after it's been buried for a week or so.
    • Averted big time with Elizabeth when she's killed - her face is horribly burned and most of her hair is gone.
  • Big "NO!": About a dozen or so.
  • Came Back Wrong: Basically everybody Victor reanimates, especially poor Elizabeth.
  • Cassandra Truth: Waldman begs Victor to give up on creating life as his own experiments ended in "abominations". Victor has to find out he was right the hard way.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Waldman who dabbled in experiments similar to Victor's the results of which left a stain on his reputation and made him a more humbled man.
  • Detrimental Determination: Both the ship's captain and Victor Frankenstein are determined to achieve their objective of discovery come hell or high water, or bringing misery to others. The Captain is forced to see the consequences when he hears Victor's story and, when the ice his ship is trapped in finally breaks as Frankenstein and the Creature die together in a Viking Funeral, he immediately orders a course for home.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation:
    • Justine in the novel falsely confesses to the murder of William and is executed by hanging. The hanging does happen in the film, but it's when the townspeople break into the jail as an angry mob and lynch the unlucky victim in the street.
    • Elizabeth is reanimated as the Creature's bride but then kills herself out of horror at what she's become.
  • Downer Ending: Victor betrays his word to the Creature, who kills Elizabeth in retaliation. Victor than resurrects her disfigured remains to marry, but the Creature desires her for himself. Elizabeth rejects both, and destroys herself. Victor dies telling his story to the captain, and the Creature kills himself in Victor's funeral pyre.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Elizabeth, after finding out what she has become.
    • The Creature, after Frankenstein dies, grieving for his father.
  • Faking the Dead: Multiple times, thanks to how the creature looks.
  • Fastball Special: The Creature fends off an angry mob this way.
  • Foreshadowing: Waldman's experiment with the monkey's arm is an eerie foretelling to the Creature's supernatural strength.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Every time someone reanimates the dead.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: The movie is set in the late 18th century. Cross with The Dung Ages - unlike pre-1990s films set in a clean and idealized version of the 17th-18th centuries, it shows plainly the dirt and grime of everyday life.
  • I Gave My Word: The Creature promised if Victor did not create a companion for him, he will ruin his wedding night. See And Show It to You to see how the Creature kept his promise.
    • Averted by Victor himself, who frequently breaks his oaths in his obsessions.
  • Idiot Ball: Waldman grabs it firmly by keeping his research into creating life instead of destroying it.
  • Infernal Background: Invoked during the Monster's Then Let Me Be Evil moment. After unwittingly scaring away a family and concluding that he really is a monster, he burns down their house. The scene ends with a shot of him, with his back to the burning house, vowing to get revenge on Victor.
  • Instant Expert: The Creature retains some trace memories from Waldman's brain, thus allowing him to remember certain traits, such as speaking, reading and playing the recorder.
  • Ironic Echo: "Raw materials. Nothing more."
  • Kill It with Fire: More like, Kill Yourself With Fire. Elizabeth is not happy with being resurrected by Victor.
    • In the climax, the Creature takes his own life in a similar manner, allowing himself to burn on Victor's funeral pyre.
  • Kubrick Stare: Branagh films himself glowering at Cleese's Professor Waldman from under his lowered brow as he insists that he can succeed where his mentor has failed.
  • Large Ham:
    • Synonomous with Kenneth Branagh.
    • Averted by, of all people, John Cleese. Waldman's comparatively subdued for most of the film, and even when he does act out, he's got good reason.
  • Licensed Pinball Table: From Sega Pinball, released in 1995. Click here for details.
  • Made of Explodium: Frankenstein Manor. When a flaming Elizabeth runs through it, everything around her inexplicably explodes.
  • Mad Scientist:
    • Although not the usual hammy bombastic type, Victor's not entirely psychologically stable.
    • Dr. Waldman was one but he gave up his experiments because they resulted in "abominations". Unfortunately, he made the mistake of keeping his notes. Which become the basis of Victor's experiments how to create life.
  • Mistaken for Dying: Originally Victor thinks the Creature died after being "born". Later after it escapes he assumes it will die of cholera.
  • Mix-and-Match Man: Justified. The main body used was of a crippled man.
    • Looking closely at Victor's models, the bulk of the body is one man, but for his left arm and right leg. The resulting Creature has a visible lurch due in part to having one leg shorter than the other.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table/Necromantic: After The Creature kills Elizabeth, Victor immediately sets out to revive her. It works, but she quickly kills herself when she realizes what she has become.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Granted, Elizabeth was adopted when Victor was just a little boy. Still, when they're kissing passionately as adults, they both admit that even if they were blood related, they would still love each other. Also used as foreshadowing, since the implied incest hints at Victor's taste for the unnatural.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: Branagh banned the word "Monster" from being used on the set, and instead insisted everyone refer to De Niro's character as the "Sharp Featured Man".
  • Of Corsets Sexy: AKA the "Helena Bonham Carter special!"
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When Victor realizes that his journal (with his name and hometown in it) was in the pocket of the coat The Creature took.
    • For that matter, when it occurs to the Creature to compare his sutures with those diagrammed in the journal.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • The Creature initially takes refuge in a poor family's barn, and harvests their crops at night. He even saves a blind old man from being beaten.
    • Victor attempts to Pet the Dog by promising to build a female companion for The Creature, but instead runs off to marry his sister.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The film takes a part of the book that was often considered a wasted opportunity (Victor using the tech that created the monster to revive Elizabeth) and changed it to make it a more emotional eerie part of the movie.
  • Psycho Electric Eel: What Frankenstein uses to animate The Creature, rather than lightning. How he got them in the middle of Switzerland is anyone's guess.
  • Shirtless Scene: Victor's preferred method of doing lab work. Justified since its shown that all of his equipment generates a lot of heat.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • In order to talk more like a person re-learning to speak, De Niro studied recovering stroke victims.
    • He also walks with a terrible gait; Victor's journal reveals he used several subjects for the Creature's body, including the legs of two different corpses.
  • Sistine Steal: Toward the beginning of the film, a young Victor and several other characters lie on the ground around a lightning rod, which causes a small amount of electricity to flicker through them. There's a close-up of Victor's finger reaching out to Elizabeth's and sending a spark from his finger to hers, foreshadowing Victor creating life...and reviving Elizabeth after she dies.
  • Slow Electricity: Electricity is always visible as tiny lightning bolts marching along wires.
  • Soulless Shell:
    • It seem that's what happens to Elizabeth at first, though moments later she regains at least part of her consciousness and commits suicide. Read Mummies at the Dinner Table/Necromantic above.
    • The Creature wonders if he is one, as well.
  • Spared by the Adaptation:
    • Henry is murdered in the book by the Creature shortly before Victor and Elizabeth's wedding. Here his fate is left open, as he's last seen inside Victor's house before it burns down (though there's plenty of chance for him to escape). A Deleted Scene confirms his survival.
    • Subverted with Elizabeth. She's killed on her wedding night as in the book. Victor temporarily revives her, but she commits suicide after seeing what she is.
  • Terrifying Pet Store Rat: The "electric eels" Victor uses to animate the creature are clearly ordinary freshwater eels (European or American), that are raised on fish farms for food and certainly don't produce electrical currents. The electric eel is native to South American rivers, has a much chunkier body, and isn't a true eel at all.
  • Truer to the Text: The intent was to make a more faithful adaptation of the book than previous films had been (hence the In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It title). It has its own quirks, though.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Whatever happened to Henry? The last time we saw him is him doing a Big "NO!" as Victor's revving up his Reanimatormatic, and then....we just leave him there in the burning house.
  • What Have I Done:
    • Victor's reaction to seeing The Creature alive.
    • The Creature's reaction to frightening the peasants into abandoning their house.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: You can't really blame The Creature for being the way it is. There's a moment during the Creature's escape where it's hiding in an alley. It picks up a piece of fur cloth and begins to stroke it nervously in terror, giving it such a child-like and tragic innocence.
  • You Keep Using That Word: Elizabeth gets especially mad when Victor says "I promise" one too many times.
    "Oh don't you dare use that word on me. You promised you were finished with this work, you promised to tell me who this man is...your promises don't mean anything!"

This film averts the following tropes common to most Frankenstein movies:

  • Dumb Muscle: After dealing with the rioters, it's clear the Creature is well aware of his own strength, and is capable of being gentle.
  • Hulk Speak: The creature learns to speak properly rather quickly.
  • The Igor: Frankenstein for the most part works alone.
  • Mighty Glacier: Though hardly a Lightning Bruiser, the Creature is capable of stealth and bursts of quick movement.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: The creature shows a surprising amount of maturity and understanding.
  • Silly Walk: The Creature has trouble walking at first, but he gets better.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Even The Creature himself realizes that he is an abomination unto nature.
  • Überwald: Most of the story is set in a typical 18th century Swiss city.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: While the Creature is implied to accidentally kill a child in many adaptations, here he knowingly murders Willie in a rage.


Video Example(s):


Robert De Niro's Monster

Robert De Niro plays a book accurate portrayal of the monster, being a murderous, yet tragic Byronic character.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / FrankensteinsMonster

Media sources: