Frankenstein, Blade Runner and the Natural World
Continually throughout history humanity’s connection to the natural world has been probed, celebrated, mocked and forgotten in a haphazard cycle that has been classified as human nature. Through a comparison of Mary Shelley’s 19th Century didactic novel, ‘Frankenstein’ (the Modern Prometheus) and the director’s cut of Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’, a common conception of man’s place amongst nature is posed as being submissive to her dominance.
Though each text shares the same values each represents its core concepts in a manner inimitable to its context, ultimately critiquing the respective society’s, bringing to light the fears that the majority of society refused to acknowledge at the time.
These fears centre mainly around three broad concepts; scientific discovery, industrial development and religion, which collectively invite consideration of humanity’s unabridged connection with the natural world and how it has been altered over time.
In the spirit of Enlightenment, a large cultural movement in the pre-19th century world, Shelley conceived Frankenstein and, in effect, his creation. The Enlightenment movement encouraged people to turn away from faith and to start relying more on reason and the answers developments in science were beginning to supply. “A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. ” The juxtaposition of the Creatures unnatural image with the romantic values of the sublime and creative genius characterises the monumental shift away from the natural.
The death of her protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, represents the expectations the romantic writer has for the enlightenment movement, alluding to the inevitable doom it will bring upon humanity. By creating a juxtaposed image between Frankenstein, who is repeatedly surrounded by pejorative terms such as ‘suffer’, ‘malice’ and ‘bitter’, and his brother Ernest, characterising the latter as ‘full of activity and spirit’, Shelley places Ernest in the role of Romanticism whilst Frankenstein personifies the Enlightenment movement.
Their contrasting connections to the natural world and their subsequent lives, permits Shelley to critique her own context and the ideals within it. Her views on Romanticism and Enlightenment are similar to that of Rousseau, a known philosopher who suggested that ‘…nothing is so gentle as man in his primitive state, when placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil man. ’ This suggests that humanity’s connection with nature is essential to ensure harmony within ociety and in effect it’s survival in the world. Reinforcing this theory, Blade Runner, presents an image of this corrupted harmony and its effects on humanity. Ridley Scott’s text reveals that within his time, 178 years after ‘Frankenstein’, scientific development still held the same destructive concerns. However, by the use of film rather than text, Scott represents the fears of his society in a much more vivid approach, preventing them from being so easily disregarded.
Current technology now allowed scientists to experiment in the world of robotics and areas such as IVF, leading many to question how this would affect humanity’s natural roles within society. This is demonstrated as Scott blurs the lines between what makes a human truly human. He does this by giving the replicants human emotions and unique identities. Pris’ words ‘I think Sebastian, therefore I am’ reinforce this idea while also alluding to the evolving knowledge and skills of the artificial beings, their natural abilities to adapt and progress.
These developments in science within the film have dismal consequences, ones which Scott fears for his own world, and the continuous downfall of rain is just one presentation of this, symbolic of mother nature grieving over her destruction. As times were changing in both contexts and new sciences were explored people repeatedly questioned their faith, causing many religious debates and conflicts. ‘Frankenstein’ represents common battles of moral and God, going so far as to be known as the Modern Prometheus.
The reference to the Promethean myth foreshadows the consequences Frankenstein will undoubtedly have to face. Blinded by his own ambition and dreams of glory and fame he endeavours to take on the role of God by creating life and disrupting natural order. In creating his monster Frankenstein also usurps the natural role of women as child bearers, questioning their place and use within humanity. “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. The juxtaposition of the phrase ‘excellent natures’ with the clearly unnatural give insight into the one-tracked desires of Frankenstein, not pausing to consider the moral issues surrounding his experiments. However, he ironically seems to blame God and fate for the destructive course of his life, telling Walton ‘destiny was too potent, and her immutable laws had decreed my utter and terrible destruction. ’ Faith subsequently had a ambiguous impact on humanity’s connection to nature, representing the ideals of natural order and the consequences of destroying it’s structure.
Similarly, the role of God is also obscured in the dark scenes of Blade Runner, stemming from the lack of nature. Religious allusions are rich throughout the text, beginning within the first sequence when syncopated bursts of flames create an image resembling Dante’s hell, suggesting hell on earth. “A new life awaits you, the chance to begin again in the New World. ” After destroying their own world the Tyrell corporations promises of bigger, better things are seen as a missionary act, the answer to humanity’s problems. This earns Tyrell levels of power unequitable on Earth and lead him to believe himself to be a God.
The sharp cut lines and magnitude of the Tyrell building reinforces these implications as it looms over the city, placing him above the rest of humanity. However, the triumphant forces of nature come through in the final scenes as Tyrell meets his end, and natural order begins to be rectified with the death of Pris and Batty. The white light illuminating Batty’s form as his body shuts down gives him a godly image, supported by the nail protruding through his hand and the white dove that flies away, a symbol of peace and hope for restoration.
This scene reinforces natures purity and the extent of its healing powers in contrast with humanity’s destructive impact on its elements. Mary Shelley and Ridley each created monumental texts with the common concepts of scientific development, industrialisation and religion. Both explore how humanity’s connection with the natural world is distorted and overshadowed by the influences of modern advances and opportunities, leading to its exploitation and neglect.