September 4, 2014 by David
The Anthropocene is defined as “Earth’s most recent geological time period as being human-influenced.” (Ellis 2013) Mary Shelley’s novel ‘Frankenstein’ and Ridley Scott’s film ‘Blade Runner’ express and predict values of these post-industrial and post-modern eras of the anthropocene. Shelley’s novel rises from the Gothic expression of Romantic idealism and Enlightenment rationalism, while Scott’s film reveals a post-modern period where economic rationalism, or capitalism, has become all-powerful. These values are portrayed in text and film through the themes of beauty and humanity. Shelley’s text explores a natural world on the brink of industrialization devastation, whilst Scott’s film offers a post-apocalyptic society of rampant capitalism which has resulted in the complete eradication of natural life, ethics and humanity.
Natural idealism and a version of Utopia can be viewed in Shelley’s novel ‘Frankenstein’ in the effect that the ‘Eden’ of Geneva has on Victor. He proclaims ‘Dear mountains! My own beautiful lake! How do you welcome your wanderer?’ (Shelley, 1994). Here Shelley shows Geneva’s natural environment as refreshing and having a deep emotional effect on the characters like that of the main protagonist Victor, ‘your summits are clear, the sky and lake are blue and placid. Is this to prognosticate peace or to mock at my unhappiness?’ (Shelley, 1994) In contrast, Shelley shows the post-industrial city of Ingolstadt to engender no positive human emotions, it is cold and clinical, “and the same feelings that which made me neglect the scenes around me also caused me to forget those friends who were so many miles absent.” (Shelley, 1994) Thus Shelley’s grief for the impact of industrialization on nature and Victor’s subversion of traditional, contextual values can be seen as a common viewpoint of worry for the Anthroprocene in Shelley’s time.
In contrast, Rationalism is overrun in the post-modern world of Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’. The Tyrell Corporation’s electric pyramid shown in the establishing aerial shot, found in the opening minutes of the film, provides glimpses of universal consumerism. It also acts as a metaphor of the fusion into one towering peak of technology, history, worship and scientific domination. It suggests that this dystopia is shaped by science and rationalism, a human creation, not natural. Thus Shelley’s grief for the impact of the rational industrial world has been extrapolated in Scott’s film to a dystopian vision of a world in which nature has been completely annihilated. The ideal and calming view of nature in Shelley’s Geneva has been replaced by artificial, stronger structures; rationalism and science have consumed the ideal form of nature. Scott sees the end point of this vision, a rational man-made environment has replaced the natural beauty and completes the dystopian view of the antrhoprocene.
Both novel and film examine the values of natural beauty and humanity in the anthroprocene. The post-industrial world of Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ shows that with controls on the rational expansion of scientific knowledge, an ideal world can still be kept. However with ‘Blade Runner’, no such ideal world can exist, all ideals have been annihilated. Thus, in Shelley’s novel unrestricted rationalism is evil, which is further backed up in ‘Blade Runner’, however Shelley also suggests that controlled rationalism can be helpful while ‘Blade Runner’ suggests that irrational behavior can be rewarded, even in a world of complete rationalism.
Shelley, M. 1994, Frankenstein, New York: Dover
Scott, R. 1982, Blade Runner, motion picture, Warner Bros, Sydney
Ellis, E. 2013, ‘Anthropocene’, The Encyclopedia Of Earth, weblog, viewed 4 September 2014, <http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/150125/>