Tuesday, November 11, 2008

“Gods and Monsters”

We’re in a babysitting transitional phase, so it’s been hard to get out to movies lately. Hoping to fix that soon. Meanwhile, I’ve been relegated to thinking about movies—new, or newish, not classics—that have stuck with me. One that comes to mind is “Gods and Monsters,” based on a book called Father of Frankenstein (since re-titled to match the film) by fellow William and Mary alumni Christopher Bram (Go Tribe!).

It’s a movie about the last days of James Whale, who directed “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein” and “The Invisible Man,” among other films. There are so many things I love about it. The cast, for one. Ian Mckellen, in his first film role, as Whale. Brendan Fraser, sadly, in one of his few really serious roles. It’s a shame that we only get to see him, otherwise, in “The Mummy” and “George of the Jungle.” (Actually, even I skipped those.) And Lynne Redgrave, who is all but unrecognizable as Whale’s housekeeper.

I also love Bram’s take on what attracted Whale to Frankenstein and inspired his depiction of the monster. Bram’s theory—I don’t know grounded it is, since I haven’t read much on Whale—is very akin to the notion of what inspired Mary Shelley to write the book in the first place.

Supposedly the idea of the monster, and bringing someone back from the dead, came to her in a dream shortly after the death of her first child. If you’ve ever experienced the death of someone you cared deeply about, you’ll recognize the can’t-we-just-un-do-this-somehow? fantasy. (And if you want to explore it more, you might rent “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” too.) Whale, a veteran of World War I, was also a haunted soul, and in his later days—the days depicted in this movie—it became harder and harder to shut the ghosts out.

This is a beautifully crafted film, and well worth watching. In fact, I think I need to re-watch it now. And I’m crossing my fingers that Fraser gets tired of “The Mummy” series (lucrative though it is) and gives us more performances like this one. Happy renting!

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