Practice question: To what extent do the two texts present similar or different criticisms of society
Mary Shelly??™s Frankenstein and Ridley Scott??™s Blade runner contain reactions to, comment on, and criticise separate but interrelated contextual issues. Both texts address the contextual issues of man playing god, the repercussions of science left unrestrained, a cynical attitude towards capitalism and consumerism, science and man as the new god and a loss of spirituality, the consequences of knowledge, and the need for the natural but the results of exploiting it. The texts question and criticise different aspects of society by, in the case of blade runner, foreboding to a dystopic future, and in the case of Frankenstein, representing negative ramifications through a conflicted, vengeful monster.
Blade runner and Frankenstein are concerned with the repercussions of scientific advancement in relation to humans, especially when it is left unrestrained and unsupervised ethically. When Rachel is taking the Voight-Kampff test with Deckard, she describes seeing a mother spider being eaten by her children – ???The egg hatched… and a hundred baby spiders came out and they ate her??™. The mother spider is symbolic for man, the egg his scientific creation, and the children the result of man??™s scientific advancement. By having the children eat their mother; Scott is saying that our unsupervised scientific creation will be the end of us. In Frankenstein this idea is paralleled through the use of foreshadowing in the quote ???the first hapless victims of my unhallowed arts??™. Here Frankenstein is talking about the death of William and Justine, and how these deaths were caused not by a fault of their own but rather his quest to understand ???the world ??¦ a secret I [he] desired to divine??™. The foreshadowing is representative of the dangerous repercussions and death Shelly says will come if our quest for knowledge is left unrestrained.
Shelley and Scott suggest man is too inadequate to take on the role of god and suggest that discord and destruction will only come as a result. Dramatic irony is used when Victor enters Justine??™s cell to demonstrate the way man forcefully changing his role to one that??™s a gods will only end in both internal and external conflict. Justine says ???dear sir, you are very kind to visit me; you, I hope, do not believe that I am guilty??™. Here the reader knows Frankenstein does not think she is guilty but rather knows the truth. This, and the way irony has been used in that Frankenstein is the one actually feeling guilty helps the reader see that taking on a role as God will only end in internal conflict, pain, and other negative emotions. In this way Shelley suggests it is not man??™s place to play god. Biblical illusion is used when Frankenstein??™s monster says ???God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours??™ to further accentuate man??™s inadequacies and how his role was not intended to be a god??“like one. The mise en scene of the candles in Tyrell??™s room and the pyramid-like Tyrell Corporation present Tyrell as a god-like figure. However, this is juxtaposed by his inadequacies, and the way he must deny Roy ???more life??™ because of the reality he is human. ???Death??™ is a ???little out of [Tyrell??™s] jurisdiction??™ and through this, Scott also says that man should not play god and that it would cause dark and destructive consequences.
The necessity of the natural environment and its healing power is portrayed in Frankenstein while a lack of this element and the effects of this are depicted in Blade Runner. Nature is idealized in Frankenstein through the use of emotive language such as in the quote ???a scene so beautiful and heavenly??™. Victor sees it as something that has an immense healing power and when he is on the lake on the boat he is ???tempted to plunge in??™ so that the natural may ???close over [he] and [his] calamities forever??™. This need for nature is juxtaposed with the setting of Blade Runner, wide angle shots that show a dark, polluted, and decaying metropolis, and an almost complete lack of the natural element. Scott suggests that a lack of this natural element has created a dark depressing future, which is represented by an overwhelming presence of rain. Lighting in the film, of which is namely from artificial sources, reinforces the idea that the environment will be so degraded only unnatural light can be used to light our way. The fact that the film is part of the film noir genre also suggests an imminent gloom if we continue to disregard the environment in our pursuit for material possessions and knowledge.
Frankenstein and Blade Runner suggest that knowledge, although something that can move humanity forward also can have detrimental effects. The fire that Frankenstein??™s monster is in awe of is a symbol of the unknown. When he reaches into the fire and gets burnt is a symbol that when searching for knowledge, we may get burnt and may not like what we find. As well as this, Frankenstein suggests that knowledge perverts intentions. Originally, Victor seems motivated to eliminate ???disease from the human form??™ but he suffers from the fatal hubris as a result of the power that comes with knowledge and his intentions become selfish ones. These selfish intentions are apparent in the quote ???A new species would bless me as its source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their belonging to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs??™. Similarly, the knowledge Tyrell has gained turns him arrogant and this is apparent where he views Roy and Rachel respectively as a ???prize??™ and an ???experiment??™ so, as possessions. The arrogance that has come as a result of his knowledge is portrayed in a negative way because Scott chose to have his character killed.
Frankenstein suggests ignorance is bliss, but the acquirement of knowledge is irreversible, and it is impossible for the enlightenment it brings not to show the darkness of the society and world around us. This is apparent after the monster is agonising over his reflections: ???I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge.??™ Through the use a simile, Shelley also shows the way knowledge once acquired cannot simply be removed but affects every part of us in deep ways. ???Of what strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has seized on it, like lichen on the rock??™. Shelley uses emotive language like ???wretched??™ where the monster says ???increase of knowledge only discovered to me what a wretched outcast I was??™ to demonstrate the negative emotion he is feeling. The sorrow the monster feels is representative of the darkness and negative repercussions the acquirement and pursuit of knowledge can bring for a society.
Blade Runner presents a lack of spirituality and turning to man for guidance in a negative light. This is where an artificial owl is used to symbolize wisdom. The fact that the owl is man made shows man is putting his trust in and going to his own knowledge, discovery, and science rather then god when searching for wisdom. Scott suggests that man seeking wisdom from his past discovery rather than a God is something negative because it has caused a dystopic, polluted, grotty world that people are leaving.
Both Frankenstein and Blade Runner are cynical about capitalism and our materialistic society. A lamb is used to symbolize nature and resources in the following quote which criticizes society??™s dissatisfaction materialistically: ???I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite??™. Shelley comments negatively on society??™s materialistic nature. Man??™s hunger for profit is also criticized in Blade Runner where even though Tyrell is creating something as precious and significant as life, Roy and Rachel are merely possessions to him and ???commerce is [his] goal??™. Again, Shelley is cynical about capitalist society in the quote ???the strange system of human society was explained to me. I heard of the immense division of property, of immense wealth and squalid poverty, of rank, descent, and noble blood??™. This cynicism is made apparent by the use of the word ???strange??™ which has negative connotations and the juxtaposition of ???immense wealth??™ with ???squalid property??™. The juxtaposition here is also representative of the juxtaposition between rich and poor in capitalist society. This idea is paralleled in Blade Runner where low angle shots and bright lighting is used to show the monolithic size and wealth of the Tyrell corporation is juxtaposed with the the poorness of Chinatown portrayed by neon lighting, rain, smoke, and dark costuming.
Scott and Shelley have used many different techniques to comment on and criticize aspects of society. Both address issues of man playing god, the repercussions of science left unrestrained, a cynical attitude towards capitalism and consumerism, science and man as the new god and a loss of spirituality, the consequences of knowledge, and the need for the natural but the results of exploiting it. Although both texts are from different contexts, their criticisms on society, its values, and way of life are in many ways similar.