Updated: Mar 30
Love is an insurmountable constant when it comes to movie magic. The love the audience shares for the characters, the love those characters show for each other, the love the artist’s hands play in sculpting the subtle and heavy-handed ways their story unfolds. Many of the greatest films of all time are stories about love, whether that love is of the romantic kind, obsessive, friendly or other varieties. As a universally understood emotion and state of mind, love communicates in far simpler terms, and it informs an otherwise almost indescribable feeling that can make or break a character or situation.
In James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein, (based on Mary Shelley’s magnificent story), our once villainous and misunderstood Monster, is shown the keys to the kingdom of humanity and self, having experienced curiosity, fear, anger and hate in the film’s predecessor, Frankenstein. In this next chapter, he is shown kindness, acceptance and friendship, which begins to give this creature from the other world a sense of self-worth and understanding of what is most important in life: finding someone you can be alive with. While this revelation takes place in our Monster’s storyline, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the Monster’s obsessive creator, is going through an awakening of his own. Having survived a near death encounter with his abomination, Frankenstein is willing to finally abandon his maddening need to create life from death in return for a happy life with his wife, Elizabeth. He has decided to exchange one need of creating life for another. It’s a beautiful sentiment, paralleled with the Monster’s meeting with a gentle old blind man, who begins to teach the tortured soul about trust, language, kindness and the simpler things in life, for which we should never take for granted.
All of this comes crashing down however, as a man from Dr. Frankenstein’s past returns to enlist the ex-mad scientist into one of his many latest experiments set to change the roles of man and God. When Dr. Septimus Pretorius makes his reappearance into Frankenstein’s life, it is at a time of self-examination for our loony doc, who has no intention of returning to the methods and trials that have placed not only his life, but also the lives of all the villagers in his nearby town, in great mortal peril. While unwilling to return to his old pursuits, Frankenstein truly has no idea where his life should go from here, besides spending it with Elizabeth and attempting to find peace after such tragedies. But Pretorius is cunning and charming in the ways we normally reserve for snakes or other perilously slick creatures of wit and magnetism. As he tempts Frankenstein more and more, we see the mind of a true scientist behind his eyes; he is utterly incapable of not wanting to see a hypothesis through to its completion.
Likewise, our now beloved Monster’s new life of peace and harmony is cut short by the arrival of two hunters, (whose eyes work well enough to see that he is in fact the Monster that has laid waste to their village over the past events). The Monster fights back, losing his newfound friend in the process, and the fight leaves him, yet again, roaming the countryside alone and in fear of the hunters following directly behind him. Where the kind words and deeds of the old blind man have made him more man than monster, they have also weakened his resilience to the trickery of those who would use his strength and intimidating features for their own means. And this is exactly what Pretorius does when he encounters the Monster. Offering him under the guise of equality, food and drink, Pretorius uses the newfound knowledge of love and friendship, to ensnare the Monster into helping him convince (or force) Dr. Frankenstein into completing his task of creating life. As far as the Monster is aware, it is all to create a female companion for him, a friend like him, who will never leave him or be afraid of him, because they will be the same.
Pretorius convinces the Monster to kidnap Elizabeth and hold her hostage in an unknown location, forcing Frankenstein to work alongside Pretorius to bring this new bride to life. And when Pretorius realizes his victory, just as Frankenstein himself is reinvigorated with the lustful satisfaction that can only come from realizing a long sought after dream, the Monster presents himself to his new Bride, who in turn, screams and cowers in fear at the mere sight of him. Not to be outdone, the Monster approaches again, tenderly, holding the newborn woman’s hand in an attempt to show her that they are the same and have nothing to fear from one another. But her fear lies deeper and more simply, that of general fright and confusion, an unwillingness to cooperate, either by choice or mere misunderstanding. Whether any of the people present in the room are aware of it, another hypothesis has been brought to fruition, only to be knocked down by the most common of laws: you cannot construct love. Just as manners and speech could not be ingrained in the Monster at his birth, neither can one so new to the world be expected to truly trust and love a stranger. The Bride’s existence was simply a tool by which Frankenstein and Pretorius could feel like Gods, larger and more powerful than the common man, and the Monster sought to use her to fill the void he had only just recently learned even existed. No one wanted the Bride to be just the Bride, herself, her own being. Perhaps that was the fear she felt just moments after her own birth: the fear of the unknown, in a state of not even knowing what differences could possibly be, let alone what they may represent.
In the end, the Monster presents his final acts of love: demanding Frankenstein and Elizabeth flee and be happy, and that he, Pretorius and the Bride, embrace death together, a place of unknown destination, a place where creation and culmination, success and failure, can be one and the same, where there is no need to prove yourself better or more powerful than those surrounding you, a place where no one will fear you, hurt you, frighten you, or betray you. A place where they belong.
Founder of and programmer for Story Screen. Lover of stories and pizza in the dark. When he isn't watching movies, you can find him reading things about people watching movies. He lives in Beacon, NY with his cat who is named after Kevin Bacon's character from Friday the 13th.