World's Fair

I recently saw the beautiful (and beautifully ugly) National Theatre production of Frankenstein – written by Nick Dear and directed by Danny Boyle, and projected into cinemas around the world (just like opera simulcasts). Here is a review of the play, written as an open letter to Dr. Frankenstein:

Dear Victor,

I just saw the most recent portrayal of your exploits – the Nick Dear authored, Danny Boyle directed, broadcast version of the National Theatre play. What a masterpiece production – one of the best versions of your story I’ve ever seen – largely because of the intense focus on the interaction between you and “the monster”. And Danny Boyle as a director! Wow!  I, of course, love his film work (Slumdog Millionaire, The Beach, Trainspotting) – I mean, who doesn’t love Danny Boyle’s work? And two fantastic actors: Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller – each getting to switch back and forth between playing you and the monster (I saw the version with Cumberbatch as you and Miller as the monster). Yes – it was/is a most fabulous and exciting production.

But, Victor, once again you’ve allowed yourself to be portrayed as a scumbucket. Once again, you’ve cast a stench over all scientists with your Faustian egomania and self-absorption. I mean, come on, the monster kills no less than five people in this production, including your own brother and your fiancé, and every single person who views this play comes out of the theater with more sympathy for the monster than for you. What does that say to you Victor? Well, obviously nothing.

Yes, yes, I know you didn’t write this version, or any of the others, but you do have some influence you know. You could have sat down with Nick Dear and/or Danny Boyle and let them know a few things. Such as:

1) Scientists don’t generally look down on their hometowns from mountaintops and shout out about how stupid everyone else in the world is. In fact, most scientists harbor a fair amount of self-doubt.

2) Most scientists would not abandon their own results/creations simply because they found them ugly. I mean, what is wrong with you Victor? You want the credit for being the world’s greatest genius (which you so vainly believe you are) and yet you cannot even look upon your own creation? Why not take the opportunity to reflect on how subtle the concept of human beauty is? How even small deviations from symmetry or shape or smoothness can cause someone to go from beautiful to hideous with very little actual change (think of Charlize Theron playing Aileen Wuornos in “Monster”). Sure, you can’t help being disgusted – but to abandon your creation? To leave him alone to die, just because you didn’t like the results? What a shit.

3) Victor – it gets really tiresome when every time someone asks you about your work you reply with something to the effect of: that the purpose of your work is to prove how smart you are. It especially happens over and over again in this play: Why did you create the monster? To prove you were a genius. Why did you want to create life? To demonstrate to everyone that you were smarter than them. Why would you agree to try to make a female creature? To help out your first creature? No. To test some of your theories further? No. To refine your bioengineering techniques further so that they might someday be used for medical advances? No. You decide to do it so you can show everyone that you are the greatest scientist in the world! I have known some scientists for whom self-aggrandizement does seem to be their overarching goal in doing science, but I’ve known many, many more for whom the reason to do science is to: solve the puzzle, unlock the secret, find something novel, figure out why something happens, become able to design a new function into an existing biosystem, attempt to cure a disease. Do none of these less self-centered goals appeal to you Victor? Or is it the writers, like Nick Dear, who have gotten you wrong all these years? Is it they who just don’t understand what a real scientist is like? Is it they who just don’t know how to write the story about your work without vilifying all of science through you? Or are you really such a piece of garbage?

I find it difficult to believe that one could not create a version of Victor Frankenstein that is at least as human as his own monster, and at least as much of a real scientist as the average graduate student. But I just don’t see it in most of the versions of your story, Victor. I’ve yet to see you as a conflicted Galileo, who desperately wants the truth to be known, but who also fears the consequences. I’ve yet to see you as a passionate Dian Fossey, who would sacrifice all for the benefit of your creations/charges. I’ve yet to see you as a J. Robert Oppenheimer, who knows he must touch the void, who knows his creation can go off in both extreme good and extremely evil directions, and who works the rest of his life to try to insure against the evil uses. No, with you it’s just all about Victor, all the time. Quite frankly, Frankenstein, I don’t even know why your monster gives you the time of day. In my opinion, Victor, especially as you’ve been portrayed in this play, you are a supreme bio-technician, but one who does not even begin to understand the implications of your own work, who cannot see past your own ego, and who most certainly I would not want to count as a fellow scientist. I thank goodness that you are, and always will be, a fictional character. I long for the day when you might become a less uni-dimensional one.

Love and kisses…


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  3. #3 Guess The Word
    March 6, 2013

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