"More Human than Human", alien, Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, creation, Creators and Creations, domestic affection, Eldon Tyrell, empathy, Engineer, Film, film review, Frankenstein, Frankenstein 200th anniversary, Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, horror, Literature, Mary Shelley, Niander Wallace, Novel, Peter Weyland, Philosophy, Prometheus, Ridley Scott, Robots, Science, science fiction, Victor Frankenstein, You cannot just put your hand in a goddamn beehive and act like you cool and shit that it some real noise son
I watched Blade Runner 2049 three times this year. That’s three times I watch Jared Leto perform in what I would argue is his best read to date, and three times I watched Ryan Gosling stick his whole hand into a bee hive. It might just be because I helped my father and sister collect honey this year and spent a good afternoon literally surrounded by swarming bees, but every time I watch his calm demeanor as he places his hand into the hive I can’t help but remember the sensation of watching close to a thousand bees buzz and fly around my face and I just want to yell “bullshit at the screen.” I don’t though because it’s hard enough to find movies I feel are truly great, and that also use bees for aesthetic brilliance so I’ll bite my lip.
The sensation of working in a library is a constant feeling of being behind, or at least it seems so for me. Working in the Reference department at the public library where I work there is always, until there isn’t, a project to be working. There’s new displays that need to be made, promotional posters and graphics for said displays as well ads the new programs that are about to be started up, there’s the logistics of acquiring guest speakers and/or teachers for adult programs, and while I’m attempting to work with the rest of my library family towards these goals I can be expected to be interrupted, depending on the day and time, at least two or three times by patrons looking for books, patrons looking for information, and patrons needing to send faxes. And with the exception of this last example (I loathe faxes with a passion I never knew I could ever actually feel) I never feel any frustration with my job. I love my work because I stay so busy. And looking at aproject a few of my coworkers are working towards I’m just reminded more and more why I have found, and chosen, a career in libraries.
Frankenstein turns 200 years old this year, and it being a novel I read prolifically during my college years, it seemed an excellent chance to look back to the novel, and look back also to a few films that seem terribly relevant as this foundational science-fiction novel comes to it’s anniversary.
It doesn’t seem like Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, and Prometheus would have much in common with Frankenstein, but having watched all three films this year, there’s just no way that I can’t make the argument. In fact one one occasion I did. Each of these films centers around the dynamic of the creation and creator relationship and each film manages to capture the same sense of corruption that Frankenstein originally inspired.
If my reader has never read the novel Frankenstein, first of all they really should because it’s beautiful, and second they should read it because the novel has remained, since it’s publication, a relevant document about the human condition in relation to scientific enterprize. The novel is written as a series of letters by a man named R.Walton to his sister Delores. Walton is a man driven to find a path through the north pole to achieve glory ever lasting, and while he fails at this task he discovers a young man in the ice named Victor Frankenstein. Victor is chasing a giant, who Walton and his crew had spotted just the day before, who Victor eventually confesses is a living being created by himself. Victor was a young man enraptured with the writings of alchemists, and upon the death of his mother and attending university where he learned everything was false he decides to overcome death by bring dead tissue back to life. His experiment is a success, but he is horrified by his creation and the remainder of the novel focuses on Victor’s attempts to escape responsibility for his creation, while his creature (who is never named for the record) lives a miserable life wanting only to be loved. The novel culminates in Victor losing his friends and loved ones to his creation and he eventually dies from the sheer exhaustion of following his creature to the literal ends of the earth.
What’s fascinating about the novel Frankenstein isn’t just that it’s one of the earliest science fiction novels, it’s a novel which really explored the vanity that lies at the heart of creators. Looking at just one passage Victor Frankenstein’s hubris is as glaring as it is ridiculous.
No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success. Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude or his child so complete as I should deserve their’s. Pursuing these reflections, I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparentlydevoted the body to corruption. (34).
I’ll admit freely that I have moments of vanity. There’s nothing like checking the stats for this blog and seeing that I’ve had fifty or even sixty visitors on one day. Similarly whenever friends confess they are in awe of the fact that I can read close to 100 books a year while they barely manage to fit in 3 or 4, there is a small twinge of ego that swells inside of me. And finally, whenever I finish another page of my graphic novel that I’m slowly working on and show it to a friend I receive a real boost of confidence as they smile and tell me what they like about it. These are moments of vanity, which is really just another way of saying, their moments where I celebrate myself and my achievements. There is nothing wrong in celebrating the self, a lesson I’m trying everyday to remind myself as I overcome a lifetime of self-depreciation.
But hubris is endless vanity where one cannot perceive any personal fault and Victor Frankenstein’s hubris is the stuff of psychology graduate theses. He is a man full of himself, and even after he realizes what he has done he never completely acknowledges his guilt. In fact he denies his creation thus setting about a course of events whichdestroys himself and the people he loves. It’s not just that he is selfish, it’s the fact that he doesn’t seem to really care about the fact that he is responsible for this new life.
And looking at this apathy I thought immediately of Dr. Eldon Tyrell and Niander Wallace from Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 respectively. Both men are corporate moguls who have made a prosperous living from the creation and sale of humanoid robots known as synthetics. These “robots” are ultimately human beings who’s bodies are effectively controlled by the corporations to live only a few years, and essentially act as slave labor for terraforming (colonizing new planets). Both men are driven by the need to make the “perfect” organism, not becuse they desire the new life they are making to succeed and flourish, but because they are driven by an intense hubris.
Looking at the Eldon Tyrell there is a brief exchange between him and officer Deckard that reveals to what lengths he is willing to go:
Tyrell: We began to recognize in them a strange obsession. After all, they are emotionally inexperienced, with only a few years in which to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we gift them with a past, we create a cushion or a pillow for their emotions, and consequently, we can control them better.
Deckard: Memories! You’re talking about memories!
And the real demonstration of his perception is clear when he says,
Tyrell: “More human than human” is our motto.
Tyrell is a man who is generating what most people would recognize as sentient life. And rather than empathize with his creations he is seeing only the design flaws that will affect his business. The language at first doesn’t seem to reveal this, but if the reader looks closer at the words what he’s clearly describing is the scenario that synthetic humans are essentially being made and then being destroyed by lunacy before any actual biological degradation. To Tyrell these people losing their minds and destroying themselves and other is not something to be remorseful about, but instead is simply a design flaw that reflects poorly on his brand. And in an effort to save financial face he creates memories and implant them into people’s minds.
This is barbaric enough, and then the reader encounters in the sequel a man by the name of Niander Wallace. Following the death of Eldon Tytrell in the first Blade Runner Wallace purchases the company after making billions in agriculture developments that have saved the population of the planet. Along with this he has also proven to be a capable leader in the terraforming movement specifically by using synthetic humans as slave labor. Wallace is a man who has achieved something incredible, and rather than relish what he has achieved he is driven by a real god complex.
In one scene the reader observes the birth of a synthetic human, a woman specifically who, while she is trembling in the shock of being born is examined by Wallace. While feeling her body the man complains that human beings have only colonized nine planets before remarking on the limitations of his synthetics:
Niander Wallace: That barren pasture. Empty, and salted. The dead space between the stars.
Niander Wallace: [He places his hand on the newborn Replicant’s womb] Right here.
Niander Wallace: And this is the seed that we must change for Heaven.
[He slices her womb]
Niander Wallace: I cannot breed them. So help me, I have tried. We need more Replicants than can ever be assembled. Millions, so we can be trillions more. We could storm Eden and retake her.
Niander is a man compelled by his vision to transcend mortality, but this ultimately reveals that, as he has acquired more and more personal power, and as he has generated more and more synthetic people he has stopped seeing them as anything other than robots. The fact that he is so willing to kill a sytnthetic, literally minutes after she is born reveals that he sees them as nothing but products. It’s not even a violent act in his mind because the woman is nothing to him, just another in a long line of products that will generate revenue.
And looking at just one more example, Prometheus offers the reader another fantastic example. Peter Weyland, a man I’ve written about before is a man who a titan of industry as he has, like Tyrell and Wallace, made a fortune by creating synthetic human beings that aid in terraforming operations. In a scene that did not make the theatrical cut of Prometheus, Peter Weyland address a stadium sized crowd and discussestechnology.
Peter Weyland: [from TED Talks viral video] 100,000 BC: stone tools. 4,000 BC: the wheel. 900 AD: gunpowder – bit of a game changer, that one. 19th century: eureka, the lightbulb! 20th century: the automobile, television, nuclear weapons, spacecrafts, Internet. 21st century: biotech, nanotech, fusion and fission and M theory – and THAT, was just the first decade! We are now three months into the year of our Lord, 2023. At this moment of our civilization, we can create cybernetic individuals, who in just a few short years will be completely indistinguishable from us. Which leads to an obvious conclusion: WE are the gods now.
Prometheus is a film which explores the ideas of life, creation, apathy, and what is the role of the creator in our existence. Human beings are revealed to be the design oforganisms known as engineers, massive humanoids that, upon waking, elect to destroy humanity and create something new in it’s place. This apathy for creation ultimately brings about their destruction and the humans that survive the onslaught are left wondering why their creators despise them, or, more appropriately, why they felt nothing for their existence.
I’ll explore the idea of creations desiring compassion for their creators in the follow-up to this essay, but for now I wanted to look at some examples of the mad genius creatorbecause, since the publication of Frankenstein this character is something of a recurring trope. Even if it is not science fiction there is still often the dynamic in literature, and unfortunately sometimes in real life as well, of one individual essentially breaking and making another and feeling nothing for the creation they have made. Victor Frankenstein is a man who wants to become a god, but rather than assume any personal responsibility for his creation, or his creation’s actions, he falls back upon his ego and self-pity.
What connects men like Frankenstein, Tyrell, Wallace, and Weyland is not just their apathy however. All of these men are defined first and foremost by their hubris, and by their conviction that they are somehow above their creations and fellow human beings. In a later passage Victor is speaking with Walton, and the reader is able to observe that the man suffers no real regret for his accomplishments because he cannot look past his ego:
“When younger,” said he, “I felt as if I were destined for some great enterprise. My feelings were profound; but I possessed a coolness of judgement that fitted me for illustrious achievements. This sentiment of worth of my nature supported me, when others would have been oppressed; for I deemed it criminal to throw away in useless grief those talents that might be useful to my fellow-creatures. When Ireflected on the work I had completed, no less a one than the creation of a sensitive and rational animal, I could not rank myself with the heard of common projectors. […]. I trod heaven in my thoughts, now exulting in my powers, now burning with the idea of their effects. (167).
Victor Frankenstein is a man who believes that he is special, and, by that implication, more important than other people. This is vanity, and while that word gets thrown around a lot, it’s important to remember than the vain person is one who believes themselves superior and therefore above other people, and when someone is obsessed with the self it becomes difficult to realize faults. Victor cannot and could not perceive himself at fault because he could not see anything that was truly outside of his own mind. Because he isolated himself, because he failed to allow himself domestic affection, and because he would not allow himself to observe anything outside of his grand personal vision of himself he brought about the destruction of his life and the lives of those closest to him.
Frankenstein, Tyrell, Wallace, and Weyland are not just empty tropes, their examples of people who allowed themselves to look at themselves as gods, and that behavior had real implications for the people who lived “beneath” them. In real life there are Victor Frankensteins and Eldon Tyrells; there are men who believe themselves to be above their fellow human beings, either because of their talents, wealth, or personal beliefs. And so the real life implication of such men is that many people wind up suffering.
The lesson of Frankenstein, Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, and Prometheus is that creation is not simply an empty act. By bringing something into existence you assume a real responsibility for it. Whether it’s a painting, a novel, an essay, a company, a robot, oreven a synthetic human being, creators cannot simply abandon their work or become apathetic to what they have made. They own a responsibility to that creation and to those who encounter it.
Victor Frankenstein wasn’t a nrillionaire, terraforming other worlds, and in fact he only ever made one living creature. But the impact of his creation has reverberated 200 years after him. Mary Shelly’s novel has never been out of print since its original publication in 1818, and the reason is rather simple: in the course of 200 years human beings haven’t stopped looking up to the stars wondering if they might supplant the gods, and neither have they stopped looking into the water and, like Narcissus, becoming enraptured with their own reflection. A million rocket ships and a million new worlds or even millions of robots are nothing compared to the sheer power of the human ego.
And we are, all of us, left wondering when we’re going to figure out when we’ll get a decent Frankenstein or Alien film again.
All quotes cited from Frankenstein were quoted from the paperback Longman Cultural Edition, 1818 version. All quotes cited from Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, and Prometheus were provided care of IMDb.com.
I’ve provided a few links to some articles which discuss the novel Frankenstein in case my readers would like to read some work about the book by writers who can afford editors…and food. Anyway, enjoy: