Frankenstein: Book vs. the Movies

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  • 0:02 Introduction to Frankenstein
  • 0:57 Portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein
  • 3:34 Interpretations of the Monster
  • 5:38 Other Similarities and…
  • 6:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Liz Breazeale
Frankenstein and his monster have been portrayed in a book and in movies. Examine the difference between the original novel and two movies from the 1930s in this lesson. Finish by testing your knowledge with a quiz.

Introduction to Frankenstein

You may think you know Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. You may even love these guys. But did you know that the portrayals of the huge green monster and his creator that have graced the big screen started out as something completely different? This lesson examines some of the really big differences and similarities between the Frankenstein movies and Mary Shelley's original 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.

Although there have been many, many movies based on Shelley's novel, this lesson will only be dealing with information from two, which follow the monster and his creator chronologically: Frankenstein, the film made by Universal Studios in 1931, and Bride of Frankenstein, the sequel to Frankenstein, made in 1935.

Portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein

It's important to note that, although the name Frankenstein has come to refer to the actual monster, it's really the name of the guy who created the monster. So in this lesson, when the name Frankenstein is used, we're referring to the doc, not the monster! This is one solid similarity between the book and both films we're discussing: they all refer to Dr. Frankenstein as the man, although in the novel his name is Victor and in the films his name is Henry.

First, let's look at similarities. Well, like it was said before, both characters are called Dr. Frankenstein, and both create a monster out of dead body parts. Both doctors are obsessed with death, which leads them to create this monster. In Shelley's novel, as well as the 1931 film Frankenstein, the doctor is about to marry the lovely Elizabeth. Another similarity between that film and the novel is that Dr. Frankenstein ultimately ends up wanting to destroy his creation.

That's about where the similarities end for the good doctor. Victor Frankenstein of Shelley's original novel is given a very long, involved backstory because you have more time to devote to such things in a novel. In the 1931 Frankenstein film, we begin right when Dr. Frankenstein is about to give life to his creation, leaving no room for backstory. The film version of Dr. Frankenstein also has an assistant, and an incompetent one at that. This assistant accidentally gives the monster the brain of a murderer. However, Shelley's Frankenstein is almost completely isolated in his obsession.

When Henry Frankenstein of the film witnesses his creation awakening, he is overjoyed and asks the creature to have a seat with him. True, he interprets the creature's terrified reaction to light as an attack and ends up locking it in the dungeon, but his first reaction is one of awe. This is miles different from how Victor Frankenstein reacts in the novel. He recoils in horror from the creature, then runs from the lab. And this is not the last of Victor Frankenstein's cold reactions. The creature runs away after coming to life, but returns later in the novel to beg the doctor to make him a mate, as the monster is desperately lonely. Victor Frankenstein refuses. However, Henry Frankenstein, in the 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein, is finally convinced to create a mate for the monster.

Interpretations of the Monster

Poor Frankenstein's monster. He's never given a name in either the original novel or in the films. Both interpretations of the monster offer up a hideous beast with a pieced together body and truly terrifying, misshapen face. And both interpretations of the monster can speak. Both monsters also kill a few people, unfortunately. Both monsters are ultimately pretty sympathetic characters because they both only want to belong.

But again, the differences here far outweigh the similarities. Let's start with the original version of the monster. In the novel, the monster is intelligent and capable of critical thinking. He teaches himself to read and speak and feels emotions. He understands and recognizes those emotions in others. The monster feels lonely and spurned after Frankenstein reacts to him with disgust. When he first sees his reflection, the monster is horrified, knowing his appearance will make it impossible to be loved.

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