Shelley’s Romantic novel Frankenstein (1818) compares and reflects values of humanity and the consequences of our Promethean ambition against the futuristic, industrialized world of Blade Runner (1992) by Ridley Scott. The notions of unbridled scientific advancement and technological progress resonate with our desire to elevate humanity’s state of being, mirrored amongst the destructive ambition to overtake and disrupt nature and its processes.
The disastrous implications of overreaching the boundary between progressive and destructive power and knowledge are heeded through the ultimate and inevitable loss of self and identity, transforming humanity into a form of monstrosity. Shelley heeds the destructive thirst for knowledge in the pursuit of superiority, foreshadowing the moral ramifications as a result of this unnatural intervention and disruption of both the physical nature and the innate spiritual self.
The Promethean ambition possessed by man ultimately leads to loss of the essence of humanity in an attempt to usurp the natural order of the world. The connotation of the subtitle, “Modern Prometheus” foreshadows the heavenly retribution and consequences Victor Frankenstein has wrought upon himself in his obsessive quest for knowledge and power. His God-like transgression against nature through his ‘ardent desire for acquisition for knowledge’ unleashes a cycle of tragedy leading ultimately to his mortal downfall of mental and emotional instability.
Shelley furthermore emphasises the cruelty of mankind when conscience and moral responsibility are abandoned through the symbolic creation of the Monster as the very condemnation of unchecked industrialized ‘progress’. The juxtaposition of the classical Promethean myth with the dystopic realm Victor Frankenstein has created is highlighted through the rejection of the Monster as ‘breathless horror and disgust filled [his] heart’, further underlining the moral irresponsibility Frankenstein has shown towards his own creation.
The foreshadowing of the loss of humanity and spiritual well being is connotated through the feelings of ‘despair, horror and remorse’, suggesting the ‘desolate’ state he is left in due to his own lack of morality. The ultimate consequences of Promethean ambition are characterized through Victor and Walton, who parallels Victor, yet is able to turn from the ‘intoxicating draught’ of superiority and unbridled ambition. This juxtaposition of character reinforces the significance of moral responsibility, as Shelley ultimately mocks the hateful bond between Frankenstein and his child, the Monster.
The harsh consequences of disrupting nature and forfeiting moral conscience are conveyed, connoting the inevitable demise due to loss of self and identity. Contrastingly, the modern, technologically driven world of Blade Runner conveys man’s usurption of nature caused through his arrogance and desire for dominance. In this contrastingly industrialized, scientifically grounded world, nature has been relentlessly exploited and commodified, as man has attempted to ‘penetrate into the recesses’.
The allusion to the Promethean myth through the symbolic use of fire is seen in the opening scenes of shooting fire, intercut with close up shots of an eye, symbolically representing fire as having the potential to both nurture and destroy life. The ignorance and metaphorical blindness of man, is highlighted through the self-imposed destruction of humanity, as nature is obliterated in favour of ‘commerce (being our) goal”, symbolically representing the destruction of our natural and untainted spiritual selves.
A sense of paranoia and foreshadowing is further connoted through the close up shots of the eye, as Ridley imposes the urgency of rectifying humanity’s destructive effects on both self and world through juxtaposition of the film noir and science fiction genres. The lack of moral responsibility towards creations is once again reflected in the film through the irony of ‘plenty of room here (Earth)’ sublimely connoting the absence of ‘room’ for the Replicants.
The barrier between creator and creation is additionally underlined through the symbolic divide in the table between Leon and Holden, as well the juxtaposition between costume, connoting a sense of unjust inferiority and superiority. The low angle of shot of the Tyrell Corporation building further highlights the lack of equality in this hierarchal, industrially based world. The artificial nature of our world is heightened through the ironic prominence of the Tyrell building in contrast with Frankenstein’s secret laboratory where his ‘cheek had grown pale with work”.
The notion of a consumerist world is emphasised through the flashing billboards, synthesized music and the inescapable technologically based surroundings, illustrating the decay of humanity, and our superficial and hedonistic values, using dark palette lighting to metaphorically represent our innate human condition. The lack of spirituality and unique individuality in this consumerist world is portrayed as a consequence of humanity’s overreaching ambition to disrupt the order of nature and our innate spiritual selves, ultimately leading to the distortion of identity.
In Frankenstein, the distortion of a humane identity facilitates the disastrous transformation into a form of monstrosity, emphasising the Romanticist’s belief of having spirituality in order to truly obtain ‘humanity’. The notion of the Monster as an extension of Frankenstein connotes the dark qualities imbibed within every individual, yet Shelley suggests that it is ultimately ‘misery that turns [us] into a fiend’. Frankenstein’s lack of personal relationships with both family and nature is juxtaposed against the scenes of domesticity his family represents and his ‘more than sister’, Elizabeth.
Furthermore, his obstinate refusal to name the “Creature”, the “wretch” or the Monster advance this notion of abnormality, abandoning his ‘child’, and denying it a chance of identity, nurturing and humanity, reflecting the industrial value of mass production and lack of connection between creator and creation of the 19th century context. Ironically, the inversion of roles and power cement Frankenstein’s transformation into a monster and ‘slave’, highlighting the significance of humane qualities in order to understand and appreciate our humanity.
The agony experienced by the Monster evokes sympathy, instead highlighting societal monstrosity as we ‘dare to sport thus with life’. This may be contrasted against Victor’s self-imposed alienation, leading to his loss of ‘all soul’ and humanity. The twisted biblical allusion of ‘demonic corpse’ emphasises his ostracism from society due to his outwardly ‘fiendish’ appearances, transforming his once humane heart to one filled with ‘horror and hatred’.
The eventual isolation of both Frankenstein and the Monster ironically connote the need for humane qualities and the need for natural loving relationships in order to sate our innate desire for companionship and a wholistic existence. Blade Runner emphasises the significance of emotional and spiritual understanding and compassionate logic in shaping a unique identity which is crucial to defining an individual as humane in a largely consumerist society.
The inevitable transformation into a monstrous being due to the absence of identity, relationships and emotional intelligence is echoed within the film, questioning the boundaries between human and replicants. Scott suggests that it is the acts we perform ultimately determine us as humane or monstrous beings, through the juxtaposition of character between Roy and Deckard. The ironic biblical allusion to the notion of sacrifice made by Roy in order to save Deckard and redeem himself as a humane being is comparable to the monster’s sorrow and desperation for his creator’s forgiveness.
The close-up shot of Roy’s nail driven hand emphasises his humanity, whilst highlighting Deckard’s lack of empathy and continued distrust. Roy’s innocence is further connoted through the symbolic dove in a low angle shot, as he transcends beyond the mortal boundaries of the world, reinforcing the initially ironic notion of ‘more human than human’. Scott juxtaposes these noble and humane actions against the ruthless and cowardly actions of Zhora as he hunts her like an animal his prey. The frantic scenes of flashing lights, thick background noise and over crowded streets emphasise her vulnerability compared to the ignorant, cruel humans.
Furthermore, the extended metaphor of photographs represents the Replicant’s desire connection to their heritage, past and humanity which is contrasted against the 2019 world full of social isolation and spiritual depravation. This lack of connection is represented on a personal level with Rachel and Deckard, as opposed the ironic intimacy between Roy and Pris, and even the Creature’s desire for a female companion, highlighting the loss of a basic humane characteristic within this consumerist, monetary and power driven society.
Scott conveys the need to search for an identity and act as moral individuals in order to define ourselves as not only human, but more significantly, humane. A widened perspective of humanity and our role within the natural world is obtained through the comparative study of Frankenstein and Blade Runner. In order to obtain a sense of identity and autonomy, we must attempt to achieve a balance between progressive knowledge and ambition, as opposed to the destructive consequences of pursuing unchallenged power to elevate humanity to a state of superiority.