Citation: Fishel, Matthew. “Frankenstein (2018).” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 19, 2019. doi:10.20415/hyp/019.s0101
Abstract: As the title suggests, “Frankenstein (2018)” is yet another adaptation of the Frankenstein mythology for the screen. The Frankenstein mythology considers self-inflicted disaster with technology-gone-wild as the catalyst. As new technology amplifies power, so it amplifies consequences. “Frankenstein (2018)” is a silent animation cycle. It is a cinematic adaptation that is broken in normal narrative terms. There is no beginning and no end – only a perpetual middle where the action is stuck like bad code in an infinite while-loop.
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As the title suggests, “Frankenstein (2018)” is yet another adaptation of the Frankenstein mythology for the screen. The Frankenstein mythology considers self-inflicted disaster with technology-gone-wild as the catalyst. As new technology amplifies power, so it amplifies consequences.
“Frankenstein (2018)” is a silent animation cycle. It is a cinematic adaptation that is broken in normal narrative terms. There is no beginning and no end – only a perpetual middle where the action is stuck like bad code in an infinite while-loop. The fixed moment offers a freeze frame’s opportunity for meditation. Elements directly quoted from the 1931 adaptation by James Whale – a burning windmill, a cadaverous forearm, a violent lightning storm – share space with newer signs of technological peril – melting ice, tiki torches, a white man wearing a smart watch trying to wrangle the lightning. Relationships and reasons can be inferred if the viewer is motivated. But the reasons are not explicit, and the scene does not diagram causality. In a fixed moment, understanding will remain elusive.
The organizing metaphor for the piece is an inscrutable flow chart. There are forces at play among scene elements, but only some are recognized. Some we can only suspect. Two hundred years after Shelley’s story, we are indeed imperiled by amok inventions – far more so. But the scale has changed, inhibiting subjective recognition. It is one thing to understand murder by a monster created by a man. It is another thing entirely to see storms rage and wildfires burn neighborhoods and recognize our share of the blame. Yet disaster will persist. We absorb the damage of a changing climate despite motorists’ poor understanding of atmospheric chemistry.
Photography of the 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville seemed to become viral in real time. By my first encounter, a striking tableau of shouting men wielding tiki torches had become a meme captioned, “WHERE IS THE CLITORIS?” (Dweck). I laughed, probably literally out loud and certainly feeling that the dumb jerks deserved this derisive fame. And I scrolled on. My lingering impression was that the tiki torch was a terrible accessory for an angry mob allegedly concerned with racist propriety and driven by supposed nativism. A tiki torch is fake, culturally appropriated, and likely made in China. They just happened to be what was on sale at Walmart. In fact, the torches were the perfect symbol for a gang of thoughtless shitheads who should be ignored. Ignoring seemed like the right thing to do.
Like a dark turn in horror, it was worse than I thought. The next day in Charlottesville a man drove his Dodge Charger into a crowd of counter protesters, killing a woman and severely injuring many. The President gave gross political cover to the racists in declaring “very fine people on both sides” (Politico). The events remain in the national consciousness, now shorthand for surging hate facilitated by the Internet and an absence of government will to resist. My dismissive impulse turned out to be denial of crisis, regardless of the racists’ ridiculous ingress with fake torches in hand. As with a commuter with a shaky grasp of the greenhouse effect, an assessment of no danger did nothing to stem the bad turn.
In spite of utopian promises, it is not becoming simpler to read meaning as information technologizes. Rather, disrupted, diffuse media makes opportunity for bad actors and hucksters to gain prominence and power. And for a nightmare to seem like a joke. “Frankenstein (2018)” is concerned with information saturation, uncertainty, and paralysis in the moment of crisis. It suggests new difficulty in asking, “What is even going on here?” It asserts: lol everything matters.
Chen, Adrien. “Here is the Gif to end all Gifs.” Gawker.com. May 21, 2013. https://gawker.com/here-is-the-gif-to-end-all-gifs-509103529.
Dweck, Jess. “WHERE IS THE CLITORIS?” Twitter. @TheDweck, https://twitter.com/thedweck/status/896252016141361154.
“lol nothing matters.” Tumblr. @animatedtext. http://animatedtext.tumblr.com/post/36363894829.
Politico Staff, “Full text: Trump’s comments on white supremacists, ‘alt-left’ in Charlottesville.” Politico. Aug. 15, 2017. https://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/15/full-text-trump-comments-white-supremacists-alt-left-transcript-241662.