Study Guide

Frankenstein Science


EDWARD VAN SLOAN (AS HIMSELF): We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein. A man of science, who sought to create a man after his own image, without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation: life and death.

The introduction to the film suggests that the unfettered pursuit of science is overly prideful, and leads to Frankenstein's fall. But the film itself is more ambivalent. Is Frankenstein flawed because of his pursuit of science? Or is the problem that he treats the poor monster badly, and treats Elizabeth badly, and is generally an unpleasant guy? Is it the science that's the problem, or is the problem that Frankenstein is not a nice person?

FRANKENSTEIN: The neck's broken. The brain is useless. We must find another brain.

Most people would be a little grossed out by the corpse with the broken neck. But Henry has that Mr. Spock matter-of-fact callousness. Welp, this corpse won't work, let's find another. That's the way those cold-blooded scientists roll—in search of brains.

FRANKENSTEIN: Don't touch that! Dr. Waldman. I learned a great deal from you at the University about the violet ray, the ultra-violet ray, which you said was the highest color in the spectrum. You were wrong. Here in this machinery I have gone beyond that. I have discovered the great ray that first brought life into the world.

The other name for "the great ray" is "goofy sci-fi gibberish." It's like hyperspace or warp drive; it's nonsense. The scriptwriters just put random words in there to cover up the fact that the science here is complete silliness. It's mumbo-jumbo mysticism.

FRANKENSTEIN: Look! It's moving. It's alive. It's alive... It's alive, it's moving, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive!

VICTOR: Henry—in the name of God!

FRANKENSTEIN: Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!

This dialogue actually got censored in some versions of the film, because it was considered blasphemous. Of course, the point here is that Frankenstein is insane and impious in defying God.

But you can see the film censors point; after all, the guy did create life. The movie both scolds Frankenstein (like Victor) and presents him as having near divine power. Science is bad because it gives you too much power—but then, who wouldn't grab at too much power?

FRANKENSTEIN: Dangerous? Poor old Waldman. Have you never wanted to do anything that was dangerous? Where should we be if no one tried to find out what lies beyond? Have you never wanted to look beyond the clouds and the stars, or to know what causes the trees to bud? And what changes the darkness into light?

This doesn't sound like scary science, does it? Maybe Frankenstein should have tried one of these projects. Spend your life figuring out why trees bud or building a better telescope; that should work fine. But no, instead you had to start with the research project that involved cutting up corpses and making monsters. Everything would have been okay if you'd just reorganized your research priorities, Frankenstein.