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Texts in time

Blade Runner - Frankenstein

Ryan Johnson

on 5 August 2010

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Transcript of Texts in time

Texts in Time Ever since man first created fire, humans have been fascinated with manufacturing larger scale projects, bringing ourselves closer to having the power of God. Mary Shelley and Ridley Scott came from different worlds. They were influenced by the circumstances of the day, worried about the prospect of the future and consequences of our actions as we 'tempt the gods' with our creations. Mary Shelley wrote the epistolary novel "Frankenstein" in 1818, and Ridley Scott directed the film "Blade Runner" in 1982, more than 150 years later. They both envisioned a world where our own creations become so 'human' that we lose sense of what it is to be human. This leads the audience to question: "What is natural?" "What does it to have human nature?" Mary Shelley For Mary Shelley to publish her novel 'Frankenstein', she used an alias to pass the patriarchal prejudice of the time on female writers. She was heavily influenced by her family. Her father was a philosopher and a political theortician; and her mother, although dying 11 days after Mary's birth, left her feministic views imprinted on Shelley. Shelley lived a fairly independent life, free from the restraints of male oppression. Her father already had an illegitimate child, and he believed in the right for sexual freedom in women. The main reason her parents wed was to ensure that Mary was accepted into society. Her husband, Percy Shelley, was a wealthy, educated poet. She had 4 children with him, with only one surviving until adulthood. This constant veil of death over her and also the relationship she has missed with her 'creator' can be contributed to the relationship between Frankenstein and his monster with in her novel. Scientific & Historical Context The early 19th century was a time in which many advances were being made in science and technology. Many discoveries were taking place such as evolutionary theories by Erasmus Darwin (Charles Darwin's grandfather), and the prospect of Galvanism: the act of bringing back life through the use of electricity. Mary Shelley took part in many conversations between Lord Byron and Percy Shelley about the works of Darwin, the principles of life, and the possibility of re-animating a corpse. Humphrey Davy wrote a book entitled "A Discourse, Introductory to a course of lectures on Chemistry and Chemical Philosophy" in 1802. These writings stated that a new influence had been discovered, which enables man to produce from combinations of dead matter. He believed that "...the man of science and the manufacturer are daily becoming assimilated to each other". Mary Shelley was in the midst of reading Davy's works before commencing work on 'Frankenstein'. This prometheus-like tale of man taking God's power was highlighted in her novel, naming it 'The Modern Prometheus' in some publications of her work. Davy's fascination in galvanism is evident within Shelley's novel, as Victor Frankenstein becomes fascinated by the prospect of creating a man, using parts of corpses to form the body, and bringing him to life through the use of electricity: just as in Davy's works. Prometheus: Translation into text The story of Prometheus comes from Greek mythology. He took fire from the god's and gave it to the mortals on earth, giving them the power to kill and hunt. Prometheus was captured and tortured by the god's for eternity, by having an eagle eat his spleen everyday whilst still alive, for it only to grow back over night. Like the story of Prometheus, Victor Frankenstein takes God's power of creating life from him, creating his monster. Just as Prometheus was punished for his actions, Frankenstein finds himself to be tortured through the death's of his family, friends and wife. Religious Context The story of 'Frankenstein' can also be likened to the biblical story of Genesis. Adam envisioned a partner for himself and asked God to create him a woman, named Eve. Similarly, the monster, when he came face to face with Frankenstein, begged Frankenstein to create a woman monster, equally grotesque, for him to have as his sole companion. In chapter 17, Frankenstein likens himself to both Adam and Satan, as he sees himself as both human and demonic; a being caught procariously between the two realms. He says "like Adam, I was created apparently united by no link to any other being in existence...many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me".
The monster's relationship with his creator is also likened to the relationship between Adam and God. Adam ate from the forbidden tree, and was ejected from the Garden of Eden. Frankenstein, as the God-like figure, was so horrified in the appearance of his monster, he disdained his existence, and was abandoned, symbolic of Adam. Ridley Scott Ridley Scott was born in England in 1937. He, like Mary Shelley, had a parental figure absent from his early life, as his father was an officer in the Royal Engineers. After WWII, his family settled in Teesside, an industrial town, heavily polluted by the factories in and surrounding the area. This industrial landscape inspired the setting for Blade Runner. Scott's lack of parental guidance through a father figure is appropriated onto film, as the Nexus 6 replicants long to meet their maker, Tyrell, and ask for more life. This can be seen as a statement about Scott's longing for his father in his early years, as the replicants 'retire' after 7 years and is expected, as it is Roy Batty's "time to die" in the final scene; a sacrifical symbol. Globalisation & Global Capitalism After the 1970s, global capitalism grew immensely, and the search for wealth and power in corporations was welcomed. The philosophy of 'greed is good' turned mainstream as the financial and economic stability of a person gave them more power in the world. Sudden industrial growth increased the gap between rich and poor. This was the same time as Ronald Raegan removed social security for working class, pushing the divide between the wealthy and working class further apart.
Scott portrayed the effects of the growth of global capitalism in Blade Runner in many ways. Tyrell, the head of Tyrell Corporation, has all the power within the film. He creates the replicants, and also decides when they are to retire. The majority of the wealthier class have moved to off-world colonies, leaving the working class behind, making parts for the replicants. Environment After the 1960s, the environment became a forefront issue because of climate change. This was due partly to the increased industrialisation post-WWII. The production of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased by 25% in the twentieth century, along with deforestation, smog, acid rain and water pollution, all contributing to the destruction to the environment. In Blade Runner, the notion of environment is forgotten completely, with massive urbanisation taking over earth, resulting in the shipping of humans to off-world colonies. Smog and acid rain fall continuously throughout the film, reminding the audience of the destructive power of humans. "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" The novel in which Blade Runner is based on is called "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", written by Philip K. Dick in 1968. This was during the height of the Vietnam War, which was viewed upon as a potential nuclear war, possibly ending all human life. In Dick's story, he depicts a nightmare in which humans have destroyed natural life, which is an act of dehumanisation. Dick was interested in dehumanisation as a trait arising from war. Science & Cloning In the 20th century, advances in cloning technology were being made, a stream made from the early works of Davy and Galvani. Cloning was first envisioned by Dr. Hans Spemann in 1938, and it wasn't until 1970 that the first cloning was made. Dr. John B. Gurdon was the first scientist to clone a frog, living only for a couple of days before dying. This technology was transfered across to humans in 1978, when the first in vitro fertilization (IVF) child was born. The idea of humans being created without traditional means changed the way people looked at the world, and what it means for a human to be 'human'. In Blade Runner, Tyrell Corporation makes the replicants identical to humans, however they do not have the same emotions as we do. With each new upgrade to the replicants, the more impossible it is to tell them from humans, blurring the lines between nature and nurture. What is life? What is human? A question that arises in both Frankenstein and Blade Runner is this: What does it mean to be human? Is it regarded as being created biologically? Or having human nature? In Frankenstein, the monster is regarded as not being human due to its grotesque appearance and also the crimes he has commited. But as he travels and becomes more cultured, teaching himself to read books such as 'Paradise Lost', he is soon able to justify his actions. In the final chapter, Walton recounts the words that the monster says to him over Victor's dead body, for "I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on". Unlike Frankenstein, the replicants in Blade Runner are undistinguishable to humans, blending into society easily. Rick Deckard, the man that is meant to be responsible for the indentification and retirement of rogue replicants, almost misidentified Rachael, one of the Nexus 6 replicants, and eventually fell in love with her. This blurring of humans and replicants, differing only by what is considered human nature qualities, becomes more questionable as the replicants portray more 'human' qualities by the end of the film than the humans. The term 'retirement' holds inpartial connotations to the lives of the replicants, as it takes the same mind set of collateral damage; lives lost which are not important to the greater scheme of things. Film Noir Blade Runner is considered a hard boiled crime fiction film, using post-modern film noir devices to depict the genre. The sleuth character Deckard, is trying to find the replicants who escaped the off-word colonies and were on earth looking for Tyrell. The use of low key lighting with stark light/dark contrasts caused by shadows is a popular filmic technique used by film noir. This is especially evident in Sebastian's house, as the only light is radiating from above the building, casting shadows onto the floor. Another technique is the constant darkness (night-by-night shooting) in the scenes outside. This sets a gloomy mood for the film. "I think, therefore I am" René Descartes is famous for the statement "cogito ergo sum", latin for "I think, therefore I am", which is the basis of all western philosophy. In his book 'Meditations on First Philosophy', he notes that in his belief in his own existence, he finds it impossible to doubt that he exists. "But I have convinced myself that there is absolutely nothing in the world, no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Does it now follow that I too do not exist? No. If I convinced myself of something [or thought anything at all] then I certainly existed. But there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly deceiving me. In that case I too undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something. So, after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that the proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind". This questioning of existence is evident in both Frankenstein and Blade Runner. The monster in Frankenstein travels around Europe, soul searching and learning. During this, he has time to ponder his own existence. Having life; thinking, breathing, and most importantly, regretting are all traits of human life. Therefore is debatable to whether the monster is human, but not natural. Blade Runner has the same issues. The replicants think, feel, breathe and die, but are not considered natural. Memories are implanted into their heads, which leads them to believe that they are human, however they are not. With the case of Deckard, it is also debatable about his humanity. The plot is based around him, and as it progresses, the audience are hinted more and more towards Deckard being a replicant, however he personally views himself as a human. When Captain Bryant hands Deckard the unicorn origami, it suggests that his unicorn dreams have been implanted. "I think therefore I am" is questioned heavily. What does it all mean? The composers of these texts are questioning the inhumanity of our creations, and the humanity of ourselves. They believe that having humanity can be learnt, rather than being born with it. So by creating creatures in the human image, humans become less 'human' in comparison. Both Shelley and Scott are concerned with what our future holds in terms of science, technology, nature and humanity. These texts demonstrate where we are heading, and what consequences we may have if we keep pushing technology and science further. By Ryan Johnson The prospect of a third world war was feared by everyone, as does this fear occur today in the 21st century. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII was a demonstration of how destructive military technology had become. After reading a diary of a Nazi officer, Dick was struck by the lack of compassion the soldiers had, as the officer complained in his diary about not being able to sleep because of the cries of starving children. This is an example of an 'electric sheep'. The title mirrors the nature of the project: computers (androids) who have started running the screensaver begin rendering (dreaming) the fractal movies (sheep). The audience and Walton are given an incite on the suffering that has motivated the monster's crimes. This eruption of angry self-pity as the monster questions the injustice of how he has been treated compellingly captures his inner life, as he longed for his creator's love and acceptance; traits of a human.
Thankyou :)
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