“I am of the strong belief that death can be made a temporary condition.” – Victor Frankenstein
What do you believe about death? The afterlife? What about the moments in between? The ideas we have about death shape how we live our lives, as shown by the characters in 2015’s “Victor Frankenstein.”
Victor Frankenstein, played by James McAvoy, is a scientist driven mad by the possibility of bringing beings back to life. His emotion rules his head, and in the pursuit of his ideal life-after-death scenario, he tramples all in his path, whether friend or foe.
In this film, Dr. Frankenstein’s childhood brush with death drives his discoveries. This makes him relatable, sympathetic and real. We believe in his passion and we root him on, even though we know he will ultimately face defeat, perhaps for the better.
His nemesis, Detective Turpin, played by Andrew Scott, of Sherlock fame, believes death to be the end – though there is the promise of an afterlife. His brush with death weighs heavily on him, but he takes comfort in the fact that one day, he will be in God’s presence. Dr. Frankenstein’s bold claims upset the foundation of Detective Turpin’s beliefs as the two battle against each other’s worldviews, and we are forced to re-think what we’ve always held to be true.
Dr. Frankenstein has many people opposing him, including his family, his educators and fellow students, his acquaintances, and even, at times, his assistant Igor. Their concern for the supposed order of things, their dismissal of the possibility that death could be a temporary state, often seem to spur Dr. Frankenstein on. It is only by Igor’s compassion and friendship that Dr. Frankenstein is not entirely destroyed by his creation.
Igor, played by Daniel Radcliffe, is rescued from one occupation only to be put upon as Victor’s assistant, and must fish him out of trouble, prepare his experiments, and maintain his own humanity while Dr. Frankenstein descends into madness.
Igor’s story is exquisitely heart-breaking. Near the beginning of the film, he explains his position simply: “It’s hard to judge cruelty when you’ve never known kindness.” Being offered a way out of the life he’s always known is at first a glorious, precious gift that he treasures, only to see the same cycle begin as Victor turns from friend to employer to abuser.
Through it all, Igor maintains his humanity, even as Victor becomes a monster. Igor’s views on death, or rather, life, affect his interactions with those around him in such a way that he is incapable of completely following Victor’s reasoning. And their partnership is tried severely the further they go on their journey toward creation of Victor’s infamous scientific experiment.
In some ways, Igor experienced a living death. He had no personhood: he was ignored at best, or abused by those who called themselves “family.” He was gifted, but no one recognized his talents. They treated him like a creature, or “monster,” with no sentience or sense of feeling. This “death” was reversed by his introduction to Victor Frankenstein, who recognized his talents and encouraged their growth.
Throughout the film, Igor’s fascination with the fragility and tenacity of the human body gives us an ideal to strive for. We may not be on this earth for long, and we may end up as dust, but living and loving as best you are able with what you have is worth doing.
Igor and Victor’s friendship turns sour when their views cannot be reconciled, but instead of letting Victor’s anger and irrationality fuel his actions, Igor manages to retain his fondness for his friend, his gratefulness at being rescued, and his determination to do the right thing, by his friend, by his love, and for himself. Igor’s dedication to his friend despite their disagreements is admirable, and is part of Igor’s journey to self-realization.
Whether you believe death can be reversed, or that there is an afterlife, or that this life is all we have, Victor Frankenstein is a film that leaves us asking questions about why we believe what we do. What is the basis of our beliefs? How are our beliefs playing out in our day-to-day lives? Are we most like Dr. Frankenstein, Detective Turpin, or Igor?Image Credits: Twentieth Century Fox