Victor Frankenstein: Surprisingly Good

A couple of weeks ago I got around to watching Victor Frankenstein, a fanciful little tale that came out last November. I knew right from the get-go that this movie was going to have 100% nothing in common with the book. I knew the prickly pedant in me would not hesitate to tear it to shreds for all of its divergences. I knew this version of the Monster would still not be the philosophizing phenom that Mary Shelley wrote in her book. I knew all of these things, all of them–and I watched it anyway because the trailer looked cool.

But you know what? It was actually a pretty good movie. It follows the story of Igor (which is automatically a dead giveaway that this is nothing like the book because there’s no Igor in the book) and how he became Frankenstein’s assistant. In this version, Igor is a clown in a traveling circus and is often mocked and abused because of his hunchback. He finds comfort in books and is a self-trained doctor of sorts, treating the various ailments that afflict his fellow circus performers. These skills prove invaluable when he saves the life of Lorelei, a trapeze artist who slips and falls in the middle of a performance. Frankenstein is one of witnesses when Igor saves Lorelei and realizes that this man has a great mind and is made for better things than the circus, so he takes him home, fixes his back, gives him clean clothes, and puts him to work as his assistant.

One of the things I wanted to give this movie credit for doing is avoiding the love triangle cliche. As soon as I saw Lorelei, I thought, “Oh, boy, here we go, Victor’s going to fall in love with Lorelei, too, and it’s going to cause tension between him and Igor, and it’s going to be one of the reasons they stop working together, and why are these things so stupid?” But that isn’t what happened at all. Igor and Lorelei got to have a happy little relationship with very little interference from Frankenstein. Granted, he didn’t approve of their relationship because he felt it distracted Igor from their work, but he didn’t stand in their way, either. On a similar note, I was surprised that there was no mention of Frankenstein’s fiance Elizabeth. Maybe in this version he wasn’t engaged (which is easy to believe), but her absence still seemed a bit odd.

The friendship between Frankenstein and Igor was unexpectedly layered, thanks in part to James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe’s excellent acting. Radcliffe brought Igor to life, making him feel like a real person instead of a caricature, and McAvoy electrified (no pun intended) the screen as Frankenstein, capturing the mad scientist’s charisma and passion in a way I have rarely seen. He also brought out Frankenstein’s arrogance, most notable in the way he treats Igor. He regards Igor less as his own person and more as an object–at one point he even tells Igor, “You are my greatest creation.” Igor, on the other hand, is a loyal friend, grateful to Frankenstein for the way he changed his life yet willing to challenge him when he thinks he’s going too far. I think Frankenstein does recognize and appreciate that loyalty even if he doesn’t do a very good job of reciprocating.

Another aspect I liked was the philosophy portion. So many movies these days are all flash and no thought, but Victor Frankenstein requires you to think. There are many conversations about God, science, if there should be a boundary between the two, and how far that boundary should extend. There’s one scene where Frankenstein and Igor are trying to convince Lorelei of the importance of their work, and Lorelei is understandably cautious, yet she cannot help but be enthralled by the picture Frankenstein paints of the good he hopes his work will accomplish.

I know this movie didn’t get very many positive reviews, but I found it unexpectedly enjoyable. They left the end open for a sequel, and if that movie is of the same caliber as this one, I wouldn’t complain in the least.


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