MARY SHELLEY

"Capturing the Creation of a Monster"

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Language
Violence
Sex
Nudity

Summary:

MARY SHELLEY is a period drama revealing the complexities, pain, and brilliance of the woman who funneled her short 18 years of life experience into the creation of her masterpiece, the novel titled FRANKENSTEIN. MARY SHELLEY accurately captures the author’s life, inserts an appropriate Gothic atmosphere, and deftly portrays the Romantic era in England that Mary, her husband, and their friends helped create. Mary finally perceives that the lifestyle of her family and friends has led to bad consequences, but MARY SHELLEY still has a lot of non-Christian, immoral elements that are excessive and unacceptable.

Review:

Almost everyone has seen or heard of a rendering of Frankenstein’s monster, whether through the old black and white movies or cheesy Halloween costumes. However, many don’t know the creative and tragic depth by which this monster was originally conceived. MARY SHELLEY, a new arthouse movie, gets to the roots of this monster’s creation by portraying the life of its creator and every facet that inspired one of the most acclaimed pieces of literature.

The movie centers on the life of Mary Shelley, originally Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Mary was the child of two famous 17th Century authors who espoused atheism and women’s rights. The movie follows the title character from her days as a youth up to the months following her publication of FRANKENSTEIN.

Mary (played by Elle Fanning) lost her mother days after her birth and wanted to grow up in her mother’s footsteps, practicing what her parents believed and did, including writing. She loves telling ghost stories to her half-sister Claire (Bel Powley) and is always writing in her journal. Mary shares these stories with her father, the writer William Godwin (Stephen Dillane), who tells her to stop copying other people’s voices and find her own.

Her father sends Mary to live with her cousins in Scotland, where she meets the already famous poet from Oxford, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who’s four years older than she is. Mary then returns to London, and Percy follows her there, wanting to work under her famous father as well as see Mary. Percy and Mary fall in love, but Mary discovers Percy is actually married already and has a daughter from that marriage.

Mary’s late mother is known as being one of the very first feminists. She wrote “A Vindication of the Rights of Women,” which argued for women to have the same rights as men in all areas including education, sexuality, parenting, and more. Having grown up with her father, who also espoused these beliefs in his youth, Mary decides that running off with a married man is completely acceptable. When Mary’s father finds out Mary and Percy want to run away together (though Percy already has a wife), he refuses. So, Mary calls her father a hypocrite for not freely allowing her to go. Soon thereafter, Mary runs away with Percy anyway and takes her sister with them (they get married in 1816 after Percy’s first wife commits suicide).

The rest of the movie portrays their lives and the people they run into along the way. The people include the poet and politician Lord Byron, the poet and literary critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Dr. John Polidori, an English writer and Lord Byron’s personal physician. Along with Percy and Mary, these three other men were major founders of the Romantic movement in England.

One night in June 1816, Byron suggests they each write a ghost story. Working partly off some ideas from her husband, Mary creates the basis for her novel FRANKENSTEIN, and Polidori writes a vampire story that three years later became the first modern vampire story published in English.

As the movie shows, the life that the three main characters live, Mary, Percy, and Mary’s half-sister, is fraught with scandal, debt, emotional pain, and tension. They live the life of many people in today’s 21st Century hundreds of years before the 21st Century. In effect, they are overcome by their passions, and they justify every immoral decision they make because they don’t believe God exists. Their ends justify their means, and if their end is a great work of literature, then any means of getting there is acceptable and good. Many tragic things unfold in Mary Shelley’s life, and all of them inspire her to create (in one night) FRANKENSTEIN.

MARY SHELLEY has a similar pace to Joe Wright’s excellent MOVIEGUIDE® Award winning 2005 movie PRIDE & PREJUDICE (though it isn’t quite as good or entertaining). This movie isn’t an action-packed Star Wars or Avengers movie, but a slow-paced, intellectually jam-packed one. Most fans of Romantic and especially Gothic literature, literature, history, writing, or even just the novel FRANKENSTEIN will enjoy this movie, because it accurately portrays and ties together all the influences of the great novel in a way that makes Frankenstein’s monster more relatable than ever before. Emma Jensen, the scriptwriter, ties in the greatest poems from Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Samuel Taylor Coleridge into the script, as well as historically accurate situations and facts. For the philosophically minded the movie is perfect to chew on as it wrestles with the theme of whether or not man is naturally good or evil (though the Bible has a clear answer to that question). MARY SHELLEY does a good job of creating an eerie and haunting feeling through the cinematography and music. Elle Fanning gives a great performance of this young woman trying to cope with the decisions she’s made and the tragedy they brought her. It’s a movie for the literary-minded and will leave the audience feeling like they just finished a novel.

MARY SHELLEY almost perfectly captures the life of the Romantic era and the Romantic poets. Coleridge, Byron and Percy Shelley are three of the greatest writers of that era. The movie also accurately presents the emotionally based reasoning and decisions of these Romantics while also presenting the consequences for those decisions. By the end of the movie, however, it isn’t a life one would want to live. Percy Shelley, who doesn’t take responsibility for the bad decisions he makes, believes man is naturally good. In contrast to her husband’s view, Mary eventually faces her decisions and knows people aren’t basically good. Her self-awareness is based on the realization that the poor decisions she’s made in her life has led to some bad, even tragic, consequences.

Despite Mary’s self-realization, MARY SHELLEY has many non-Christian, immoral elements that are excessive and unacceptable. So, media-wise moviegoers should take note.

Content:

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Dominant Worldview and Other Worldview Content/Elements:
Very strong Romantic, immoral worldview overall with strong overt humanist elements about a woman, her husband and frien, who were major founders of the Romantic movement in England, who make decisions according to their emotions and lusts, and who believed Nature was essentially divine and rejected the idea of God’s existence, and accepted the belief that man is basically good (although title character knows and discovers that humans are not essentially good), and discussions of atheism (title character’s parents were atheists, who believed in open marriage, and so was her husband, but title character eventually rejects open marriage), plus movie has a feminist agenda wherein title character’s mother became a leading figure in the feminist movement before and after her death, but the daughter (though following in her mother’s feminist footsteps) rejects promiscuity in favor of monogamy and partly realizes the destructiveness of an immoral lifestyle;

Foul Language:
One use of the word “bloody,” a swear word in the United Kingdom;

Violence:
One scene where a woman is pushed to the ground by a man, another scene where a man punches a man for his rude words toward his lover, and a scene where a man roughly approaches the title character for sex, but she wards him off by slapping him, and a discussion of suicide, and a child’s early death;

Sex:
Strong sexual immorality overall in movie where title character has two children with her married lover after they get married, title character’s half-sister bears a child with their friend, people defend open marriage and sleeping with other people, and there’s implied sex in one scene and a flashback to that scene later on showing the title character with a lowcut top reveling the top of her chest while she experiences pleasure, and a man approaches the title character for sex;

Nudity:
A painting depicts a naked woman falling off her bed in fright and some crude sketches of naked women are tacked to the walls of one house, plus some female cleavage in scenes;

Alcohol Use:
Several scenes of drunkenness are portrayed as a part of the lifestyle of the Romantic authors and poets in the movie (it’s a coping mechanism for their tortured lives), but the drunken lifestyle is later looked down upon by the title character and the audience sees how ridiculous these people became because of their alcohol abuse;

Smoking and/or Drug Use and Abuse:
Smoking cigarettes and one scene where four men, as they are composing poetry, smoke a hookah, possibly opium; and,

Miscellaneous Immorality:
Very strong worldview, moral problems include Lord Byron steals the work of another writer and publishes it as his own, there is always an underlying tension between title character and her husband based on trust issues (she feels she can never fully trust his character or whether or not he’s seeing other women), title character tries to publish her work but is consistently turned down because she’s a woman, and no one believes her capable of writing this piece or, if so, she stole it from her famous lover, title character calls her father a hypocrite because he and her late mother promoted a lifestyle of having multiple sexual relations with other people though they were married, but he doesn’t want his daughter to run away with a married man (this disagreement leads to a permanent break in the father-daughter’s relationship), and a scene in a church where title character and her lover/husband cavort and assert God doesn’t exist (earlier he publishes an article titled “The Necessity of Atheism”).

In Brief:

MARY SHELLEY is a movie revealing the complexities, pain, and brilliance of the woman who funneled her short 18 years of life experience into the creation of her masterpiece, the novel FRANKENSTEIN. Mary’s love for the famous married poet, Percy Shelley leads to a broken relationship with her father. Later, they escape financial ruin and debt while Mary experiences devastating loss and loneliness. Meanwhile, however, Mary finds her own voice as an acclaimed writer, even though people at first believe a woman can’t write as well as Mary does.

MARY SHELLEY accurately captures Mary’s life. It also inserts an appropriate Gothic atmosphere through striking visuals and music. Into this mix, the movie references the Romantic era in England that Mary, her lover and eventual husband, and their famous friends helped create. However, the lifestyles of these people are highly immoral and contain Romantic, humanist elements. Eventually, Mary realizes their lifestyle has led to bad, even tragic, consequences. Despite her realization, MARY SHELLEY the movie has many non-Christian, immoral elements that are excessive and unacceptable. Media-wise moviegoers should take note of this defect.