"Capturing the Creation of a Monster"
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.
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.