1001 Films: Frankenstein (1931)

“Crazy, am I? We’ll see whether I’m crazy or not.”

Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is obsessed with his theories on reanimation and the notion of giving life to that which has died. So after leaving his position at the University he and his assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye), seek out specimens of recently deceased bodies to create his experiment.

Science has, and always will be, the case of could and never should. In a world where we’re constantly asking how we can do things better we’ll never stop seeking for more interesting ways of providing new and more interesting results. Even earlier this year as we saw the discovery of the ‘God’ particle, we know that we’re dealing with a topic that will never want to discuss boundaries.

So when Dr. Frankenstein seeks the power to create life, in the most unconventional manner, by undoing the permanency of death instead of asking why, why not ask “why not?”. The film presents Frankenstein as a “mad man” but quickly puts forward the honest definition of madness as he puts his theory on display for his three most worried companions, Elizabeth (Mae Clarke), Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan) and Victor (John Boles), and has them watch as he’s able to show that sanity is just a mere matter of perspective.

Like all cinematic crack-pots, from Doc Brown and his Delorean to Carl Fredrickson and his balloon propelled house, we sit in awe of them not spending too much time in disbelief because we want them to succeed. Since we spend the first moments of the film completely on the side of the crazed scientist we don’t even question his obviously immoral dealings in order to collect the bodies for the experiment, because that’s as far away from the point as you can be.

The film wants you to take a look at the power of life and the power that one must have in order to give life and the responsibilities that come with it. It also brings to mind the ideals of how the knowledge and power that’s ascertained through science is one thing, but the ability to control that power is another. As we see Frankenstein’s monster, played by Boris Karloff, slowly shift from an exciting creation to a dangerous thing that cannot control itself. It’s obvious, especially in the scene with the little girl, that it’s not intentional but completely incidental. Like a child who grew up without anyone to guide him in the ways of life which makes the conclusion of it all that much more tragic.

Where Dracula lacked emotion this film is packed with it. We begin with Frankenstein’s passion of discovery and then the saddening reality of its result. While there’s a good amount of exposition from moment to moment the film never loses its audience in trying to explain too much. This is down to the fact that there’s so much to be shown as we watch Frankenstein and Fritz collecting bodies and working around the laboratory and then the monster eventually breaking free and ‘terrorizing’ the world. While the film, after Frankenstein succeeds and goes off to be married, feels like it detracts it uses this time to make sure that consequence is properly set up for characters that feel as if all is safe in their easy world of science, which makes the repercussions that much more effective. Father and son, creator and creation, they must collide to atone for their actions one way or another.

Rating 8.5/10