In the film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) Dr. Victor Frankenstein did indeed have a moral responsibility to the creature he brought into the world, since he had quite literally decided to play God and make this monster out of dead body parts. He then compounded his arrogance by rejecting his own creation, which still had the mind of an infant, and leaving it alone to wander the earth. He had carried out these experiments with the best of intentions, with an obsession to create a new kind of superhuman species that would never experience illness, old age or death. In the end, though, he was ultimately responsible for letting this monster loose and the world, and for the death of his wife, father, brother and fiancé. The monster was not necessarily evil or depraved, however, but simply enraged at being abandoned by his creator and determined to take revenge against him. Victor had certainly not planned for any of this to happen, but ultimately he was responsible for all the death and destruction caused by the monster.
At the beginning of the film, Dr. Frankenstein is found wandering around the North Pole in search of the creature that he created, which he intends to destroy. He died before he could accomplish this task but revealed the entire story to Captain Robert Walton. Unlike this man who has taken his ship and crew to the ends of the earth, Victor had explored the boundaries between life and death, tampering with nature in ways that he never should have. He assembled the creature using the body of a man who had been hanged for murder and used the damaged brain of his professor. Yet he soon felt horrified by the thing he had made because it seemed ugly, hideous and inhuman, and he abandoned it immediately.
This creature was not simply a stupid brute and killer, though, but highly sensitive and intelligent. Like all humans he wanted to know who made him, what his purpose in the world is, and whether his life has any meaning, while humanity often treated with cruelty and made him an outcast. In this sense, Victor Frankenstein is the ‘God’ who created him, but also a father who abandoned his creation immediately and left him to wander the world alone. It became angry at ‘God’ for this and took revenge on his family, first by murdering Victor’s younger brother William. One of the family’s female servants is hanged for this crime, and Victor realizes that her death was also his responsibility, because he cannot reveal to anyone what type of being he has created from dead body parts. Perhaps no one would have believed him anyway or thought him insane.
Victor then compounded his error by agreeing to make the creature a bride, a mate that will also be eternal, and in return it agreed to go away and never return. Yet after beginning the work, Victor decides that he could be responsible for bringing yet another such monster into the world, and in a rage the creature murders his wife Elizabeth. Once again, Victor felt guilt and remorse for yet another death that he had never intended, and he brought Elizabeth back to life. She destroys herself rather than continue to exist in this terrible form, leaving victor and the monster alone in the world. In the end, the monster did cry for his dead creator and threw itself on the same fire where his body was being cremated. After seeing all this, Captain Walton had no more desire to explore the frontiers of science and geography, but instead turned his ship for home as soon as it broke free from the ice. He had no intention of following Frankenstein’s example and leading his ship and crew to possible destruction to obtain new knowledge.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Perf. Kenneth Branagh, Robert Di Niro, Tom Hulce. American Zoetrope, 1994.