Professor Susan Wolfson, right, notes that in the book, Victor Frankenstein is a student, not a doctor, and his creature is “a thesis project gone horribly wrong.” (Beverly Schaefer)
Frankenstein the novel and Frankenstein the monster are distant cousins, at best. The creature in Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic has no name, no green skin, and no bolts in his neck. The title character, of course, is Victor Frankenstein, the man who created him. But tell that to the people who make Halloween costumes.
Director Paul McGuigan takes another crack at the misconstrued legend in the new film Victor Frankenstein, starring James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class) as Frankenstein and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) as Igor — another character who doesn’t appear in the novel. Who better to review it, though, than English professor Susan Wolfson? She is the co-editor, with her husband, Rutgers professor Ronald Levao, of The Annotated Frankenstein (Harvard, 2012) and also teaches Shelley in her course, “The Younger Romantics.”
Did filmmakers finally get it right or was Victor Frankenstein another monstrosity? In the latest installment of PAW Goes to the Movies, senior writer Mark F. Bernstein ’83 took Wolfson to see the film, prepared to throw tomatoes but hoping for the best.
MFB: You went in thinking this was going to be terrible but came out feeling a little better about it. What changed your opinion?
SW: If your expectations are zero, there’s a good chance you could be surprised. Despite the heavy-handedness of the writing, I found myself appreciating parts of the film. The visual imagination was superb and I liked the reverse mythology of Victor Frankenstein turning Igor, an abused creature, into a human being. Victor and Igor become alter egos, in a way.
There were a lot of plays on humans and monsters. Igor is physically monstrous but beautiful inside. The people who abuse him are monsters. Finnegan, the invented character who funds Frankenstein’s work, is blonde and handsome but he’s a moral monster. And Victor, of course, becomes a monster. The creature himself was actually the least interesting monster in the film.
MFB: Was anything faithful to the novel?
SW: It did not have one line from the novel. There were a few lines from the 1931 James Whale film (with Boris Karloff as the creature), but that’s it. Still, I’m willing to grant it its own genre. It’s fascinating that this fable is now almost 200 years old and people still find it worth restaging. It’s sort of like Tom Stoppard reimaging Hamlet to put Rosencrantz and Guildenstern front and center and make it theater of the absurd. Continue reading