If you were to take away every image of Mary Shelley’s characters that was implanted by previous screenings or simply fantasized when reading the novel, and substitute them with what you get in Danny Boyle’s production and Nick Dear’s adaptation of the novel, you will be, and I can only humbly guarantee, amazed and wowed by the sheer brilliance the mythic, disturbing fable has to offer through a brilliant piece of staging and a mind blowing acting by Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller alternating as Victor Frankenstein and the Creature.
I did watch a recorder screening at the cinema, which you may consider a dulling experience, compared to what a live performance gives, but it was equally trilling and effective, and most important made possible for me to view this masterpiece adaptation of a beloved work. Touche.
It’s a very intelligent retell of the story, and as it lacks an observational point towards Victor himself, and his initial struggles and experiences which lead to that faithful night, it gives so much more to his creation, putting the exclamation mark upon its upbringing into a world that has no regards towards deformity and oddness. It comes to two hours in which the audience follows a painful progress, the Creature’s infant like grasp of his surroundings, his fear and attempts to hold onto the unfamiliar. Naked he bursts out of this artificial womb, and staggers, mute and limbless. It’s amazing to observe that process.
We got to learn the yearning of companionship and love by the Creature, his soothing by the hand of knowledge and his rage at the truth of solitude and isolation. And then we follow him back to Geneva where he plots his revenge and swears his vows in the raging blazes of the mountains. He becomes the alter ego of his creator, reflecting Victor’s dark desires and putting the Mark of Cain upon him, a blame that maddens Victor more.
It’s a play for both characters and although Victor enters in the second half, the previous actions of his creation fall on him as accusations and astonishments of how intelligent, yet animalistic his work had become. And though the Creature comes with reason, his creator is beyond that. As for the performances of both actors, that is an interesting comparison. I put my observational skills to some maximum here.
Firstly said, I saw the version in which Miller plays the Creature and Cumberbatch plays Frankenstein. Though not at first, but later on when Victor Frankenstein is more widely introduced, there’s this certain nod to both actors in these particular roles, because they fit spectacularly; it’s a remarkable observation of a well-balanced and built Creature and a maddened brilliant scientist. In shorter words that version introduced a sense of order and balance. It just worked.
Miller’s Creature is a fearful one, I give him that. It’s what you may view as an impulsive and hostile portrayal making it believable he is capable of murder, which paralleled with his ability to deliver intelligent and strong speeches, that sounded powerful through a malevolent tone. He had menace and strength that topped the viewing – the creation had surpassed the creator in the sense of who’s pulling the strings. Even his entrance into the world was a determined one, a voiced with muffles and shouts struggle to perform naturally. His plead was heartbreaking, yet his swear had gravitas and it was well displayed as he raped Frankenstein’s bride before killing her. He is a brute and that wrong falls on Frankenstein.
Now, Cumberbatch was ace in his portrayal of Frankenstein, his dialogue clean and sharp, just the cold-hearted scientist, that has no concept of love and the commonplace, and has driven away all that could have been home and family to him. Cumberbatch’s witty and fast responses are always a pleasure to watch. I don’t want to typecast him in any way, he is a brilliant actor, and I admire him, but the painfully clever, stray characters seem to fit to him, and that is more than ok. It’s welcomed. So imagine what del Toro might do if he persuades Cumberbatch to play Victor Frankenstein in his movie remake. Benedict Cumberbatch was energetic and enigmatic and harsh. Beautiful (nothing implied here…) to watch.
When it comes to the reversal though, Cumberbatch’s Creature was a surprise to me. It was peculiar to see him shift his persona and transform into an almost toddler like beginner into the world, with curiosity and excitement, every muscle in his body outlined in his attempts to stand tall. He used his whole body to move, to struggle and pressure. Then was his progressing in a childish way of learning and understanding, and performing at last as a Titan of a world stranger and grotesque to him. There was this part where the Creature recites a paragraph from Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. But the way Cumberbatch delivered that with his voice and stature was fearsome and respectful, with punctuation to each word, like it’s the most precious thing to speak, the ultimate truth. Shivers down my spine.
There was no contest between the two actors, which I respected and applauded. They were both spectacular and complimented each other. It’s a very humane play, which balances pathos and hysteria, and humor well. It is human emotions that take the front showing. The stage was amazing, a full ceiling with light bulbs (or were they candles? Sorry if wrong) that blinded me one or two times, but represented Victor’s scientific performances nicely. There was a steam train which is always a cool addition giving a nod to 19th century industrialization (I had a steampunk hoorah!) Nature was well played with shadows of birds flying and rich sounds of the forest life, as well as rain and fire. A fable scenery for sure.
Overall it was a stunning evening for me, an experience much different and exciting, and yet again it put before me the question of who is to blame, which I delved into when reading the novel last year for NaNoReMo, the National Novel Reading Month. I still don’t have an answer to that. It’s an endless debate, but the staging offered another perspective as it brought the two characters to life and animated their bodies, and shouted their inner struggles through amazing performances. It’s an amazing adaptation. It doesn’t perform anymore, but if there’s a screening anywhere near you I advise you to go and watch it. Either of the versions. Or both.
Trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmB3nT55da0