As I always suspected in high school chemistry, science is evil.
Oh, it's not wholly evil, I suppose. Modern medicine and Internet technology and carbonated beverages all have their upsides. But as I, Frankenstein so ably illustrates, all it takes is a rampaging demon horde to spoil science for everybody.
Take Adam, for instance—the reclamation project of a certain scientist named Victor Frankenstein. (Cue the thunder clap.) Stitched together from a bargain bin of spare body parts and a whole lot of electricity, Adam's a whale of a scientific achievement—almost as nifty as an iPhone (despite his inability to post status updates on Facebook). "It's alive!" Frankenstein cackles in that charming, mad scientist way of his. Because nothing makes scientists happier (other than giving D's to hardworking high school students) than doing science, particularly science that might lead to fellowships and honorary doctorates and cushy science-oriented jobs that would allow said scientist to move out of his damp old castle.
Alas, this particular science project loses a little luster when it up and kills Frankenstein's wife. And after Frankenstein chases Adam (known simply as "the monster" at this point) up to the North Pole, the scientist himself freezes to death—permanently terminating any hope for that honorary doctorate. "If only I had listened to my mother and became a movie reviewer instead," he whispers as he expires on the ice. (Or so I can only presume.)
Adam, however, not only survives, but manages to beat off that aforementioned demon horde while burying his creator. And in the aftermath, he staggers around the wilderness for more than 200 years.
And he might still be at it if those demons hadn't come back.
See, the whole concept of life has always been a mystery to the hellishly minded. For years, they thought only God could create life, which puts them at a distinct disadvantage in their war with heaven. So when they hear that a man instilled life into another man (well, technically, parts of a whole bunch of men), they naturally see the development as a potential game-changer. If they could just animate, oh, a few thousand soulless corpses and possess them with eager-to-please demons, the world might be a much different place. A universal hot spot, if you will.
Adam is, technically, an unholy abomination. But the "abomination" part isn't his fault, and as for that murder he committed in his youth—well, he didn't have a real great handle on morality back then. (Give your standard 2-year-old the body of a grown man and see what happens.) He's been maturing for 200 years now, and he's not like that anymore.
Oh, he's still puzzled by his existence and prone to violent outbursts. But then he meets someone special—another scientist named Terra—and she brings out the best in him. "You're only a monster if you behave like one," she tells him. It's not long before he realizes that life is more than killing demons: It's cherishing and protecting the ones you love. And while the plot never actually allows Terra and Adam to develop more than a comfortable companionship between battles, that camaraderie is enough to make Adam a pretty great guy—willing to fight the good fight and sacrifice for others. We learn that he has the ability to save the world, as it were—and given that Terra's name means world, well, I suppose he does just that. He doesn't even hold a grudge against some gargoyles who meant to kill him.
Those gargoyles (who we'll talk about more in a minute) are also good guys, but they're not exactly sure how Adam fits in with their holy mission against the demons. Is he good? Bad? Does God have a purpose for him, or is he truly unholy? It's a pickle of a problem, but they do their best to navigate it and, for a time, place their "faith" (as it were) in Adam. "Each of us has a higher purpose," the gargoyle queen tells Adam. "Yours has just yet to reveal itself."
I, Frankenstein is stuffed to its stitches with spirituality—much of it inconsistent and conflicting.
You've already gathered that Adam is at the center of a mostly unseen holy war pitting demons (who come from hell and "descend" back there when they die on earth) and the order of gargoyles—a near-angelic paramilitary organization created by (we're told) the archangel Michael. The latter creatures can appear in either human or gargoyle form (they have a stony exterior and often perch on rooftops in disguise, of course), and they hang out in a very impressive-looking cathedral. They pray and ask for forgiveness.
We're told that humans are "the most complex organisms in all the universe," echoing a biblical understanding of mankind being God's greatest creation. And the gargoyle queen Leonore, who blatantly accepts divine authority, believes that God even has a purpose for Adam. After all, God didn't see fit to let him die. "The fact is it is alive," she tells a skeptical underling. "And all life is sacred." Adam's own twisting path offers nods to both divine purpose and self-determination.
But other elements spring more from the needs of the screenplay than the inspiration of Scripture. Adam, it's suggested, grows his own soul through his selfless behavior. (When Leonore first meets him, she sees not a soul, "but the potential for one.") The gargoyles' connection to heaven seems tentative: They don't get clear directives from above on how to deal with Adam, for instance. They sometimes lie and disobey direct orders (which, oddly, the demons don't seem to do), and for a while are out to kill Adam, figuring that his life isn't so sacred after all. "The Lord will surely damn you," one tells him. "He already did," Adam says. Meanwhile, demons seem to be under the impression that only soulless beings can be possessed—something that both the Bible and every exorcism movie ever made would roundly refute.
Holy water burns demons here, as do weapons marked with a three-armed cross. Demons mark pentagrams on the foreheads of both the living and the dead, preparing them for possession.
There's no crying in baseball and, apparently, no kissing in spiritual warfare. Adam and Terra hold hands on occasion, but that's only to keep one or the other from falling into yawning abysses. Adam does take off his shirt at one juncture, which seems to bemuse Terra. But she then quickly gets to work stitching up one of Adam's injuries, just as she intended.
Battles between demons and gargoyles result in scores of video game-style "deaths," with the fallen on each side seeming to merely return to their home turf. (When a demon dies, he vanishes in a fiery comet that descends into the earth. Gargoyles ascend in beams of blue-white light.) Adam plummets repeatedly from high places, sometimes bouncing off steel beams, sometimes crashing through the ground to land on speeding subway cars underneath. He engages in loads of hand-to-hand combat in which participants wield blades and clubs. He punches things, and things punch him back. He's thrown into cars and through walls.
We see the corpse of a dead woman. Less detailed are several thousand other corpses being stored for reanimation. A man is strangled: His corpse has bruises on the neck and stitched-up wounds on the exposed torso. Adam, naturally, is covered in his own set of stitched-up slices. A demon prince is sliced several times across the chest—to no affect.
A scientist tries to bring a dead rat (bearing grotesque stitches and suspended by lots of wires) back to life. Both the demons and gargoyles are scary looking.
Crude or Profane Language
"I don't believe in demons and gargoyles," skeptical scientist Terra tells Adam. So when a demon reveals himself to her seconds later, she lets fly an s-word.
Drug and Alcohol Content
People drink in a nightclub.
Other Negative Elements
Oh, poor Mary Shelley. Frankenstein's original author would be horrified (as it were) with this misshapen monstrosity her book has indirectly wrought. I, Frankenstein—a sequel of sorts to Shelley's story—is a grotesque creation indeed, where ill-fitting parts have been stitched and bolted together to make a strange and disturbing whole. Now, alas, the movie has escaped to wreak havoc on the world at large.
Like Adam, I, Frankenstein isn't devoid of merit. It means well in its own unnatural way. It tells us that there is evil out there, and that we all have a part to play in God's master plan (even if we're a little ugly and sometimes angry).
But the spirituality here ultimately becomes just as jumbled as the plot, and the violence teeters somewhere between assaulting and just plain weird. I wonder if the filmmakers might one day echo Victor Frankenstein himself and express regret over ever making the thing.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Drama, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Aaron Eckhart as Adam; Yvonne Strahovski as Terra; Miranda Otto as Leonore; Bill Nighy as Naberius; Jai Courtney as Gideon; Socratis Otto as Zuriel; Aden Young as Victor Frankenstein
January 24, 2014
Paul Asay Paul Asay