Monday, December 31, 2012


Advancements in technology, science, and medicine should be something that society welcomes with open arms. Unfortunately, those that are devoutly religious have a difficult time accepting these advancements, as it would cause them to rethink their faith. The battle between science and religion is extremely complicated and long lasting. Luckily the battle hasn’t been entirely one sided. Over the course of time, the way in which society views science and scientists has greatly evolved. One of the quickest ways we can see this shift is by focusing on the media outlets of the time. When it comes to analyzing how society treated scientists/(wo)men of science, there is no need to look any further than 1931’s Frankenstein and 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. Henry Frankenstein and Dr. Hannibal Lecter are two of the most iconic men of science in cinematic history. While one is regarded as a ‘mad scientist’ the other is regarded as one of the most criminally intelligent men to walk the planet. The major difference between the two of these men is the way in which society treated them. The 1930s was a time where the word of God reigned supreme over science whereas the 1990s were a turning point for respect for those with intellect. Both Frankenstein and The Silence of the Lambs are considered to be one of the most important films of their respective eras, which leads us to safely assume that both films truly captured the essence of society’s mindset during their times.

The 1930s may have been a high time for great minds like Albert Einstein, but it was also a time of recovery for America. Finally picking up their britches after enduring The Great Depression, movies became a hot ticket to help distract and entertain society. This was also a time when prayer was still mandated in schools and the theory of evolution was more often avoided than taught. To put it simply, after surviving one of the largest financial tragedies of all time, people were more focused on their faith than of their scientific advancements. Witness Henry Frankenstein. Henry Frankenstein was written to be a brilliant scientist who had been conducting less-than-ordinary experiments on the re-animation of lifeless corpses. After small successes with experiments on animals, he made an attempt to reanimate a living human being composed of body parts he had been collecting from graveyards/gallows. Although he finds success with his monster, he is met with hostility from all of those around him. His hours spent in his laboratory causes tension between himself and his family/friends. Henry Frankenstein has officially played God and will now suffer the consequences in doing so. His creature is met with high hostility and is treated much like the lepers were in biblical times. Had Henry Frankenstein chosen a different livelihood, perhaps one outside of the scientific nature, he would not have been greeted with such turmoil.

Despite being solely responsible for the destructive monster ravishing throughout his community, the creature receives all of the blame and demise while Henry Frankenstein walks away seemingly untouched. This could be due to audiences in the early 30’s not wanting to see a courtroom drama in their monster movies, but it could also be argued that it was simply because the 1930s were a time where the ‘sin’ was punished rather than the sinner. Regardless, Henry Frankenstein was a man of science and the entire moral of Frankenstein is that playing God or playing with science would do nothing more than cause turmoil in ones life. The only way to avoid such consequences would be to act as all faithful citizens had been taught and to avoid any and all forms of questioning.

On an entirely different side of the coin, fast-forward nearly sixty years to 1991 when American audiences were met with one of the most treasured doctors of all time. Anthony Hopkins infamously played Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of The Lambs; with a little over sixteen minutes of screen time, Dr. Hannibal Lecter became one of the most iconic characters in cinematic history. Unlike Henry Frankenstein, Dr. Hannibal Lecter was a man of intellectual science. A brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter is quite possibly the greatest anti-hero to ever grace the silver screen. While Americans have given criminals the death penalty for far less than the crimes committed by Dr. Lecter, his intelligence is of such a remarkable level, he has often been utilized while in prison to help the American government profile and capture other serial killers. The 1990s were a start of a more progressive and respectful era when it comes to intelligence or scientific discovery. Rather than treating individuals with high levels of intelligence like outcasts, the 1990s brought an air of respect. Dr. Lecter was in jail for his crimes, but his intelligence prevented him from criminal punishment. Dr. Frederick Chilton may have said it best in the film with, “Oh, he's a monster. Pure psychopath. So rare to capture one alive. From a research point of view, Lecter is our most prized asset.” What was it about Dr. Hannibal Lecter that made us want to treat him with kindness?

It is important to note the setting of both The Silence of the Lambs as well as Frankenstein. Henry Frankenstein is ridiculed for science in a somewhat foreign environment of castles and personal laboratories, whereas the setting for The Silence of the Lambs was far more modern and realistic for audiences. Kendall Phillips says in his book Projected Fears, “With Silence, the horrors that had moved from Transylvania to the Gothic suburbs of Halloween emerged into the complicated and politically tense world of reality,” (Pag 153). There it is. The location and time period heavily influence Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s treatment. It’s much easier to see coming from the viewpoint of the new millennium’s audience, but the 1990s was the start of the “politically correct” movement. No longer were we allowed to speculate and judge individuals on their differences but rather were forced to develop a sense of understanding and tolerance for those different. In addition, religion was no longer the center of all existence. In the sixty years between Frankenstein and The Silence of the Lambs, tolerance of all religions (not just the Catholic/Christian religions that were the major focus in the 1930s) was in effect meaning science had a chance to flourish as its own entity against (what many believed to be) the word of God. Strangely enough, the binds that have been loosened upon Dr. Lecter by society seem to also be what drives his more dangerous personality traits. “He is an entity of pure consuming desire, a ravenous id, unleashed from the bonds of morality or obligation,” (Phillips 158). With Dr. Hannibal Lecter free of all moral constraints set upon him religion, he was free to evolve as intelligently as humanly possible, but also as immoral. It still influences the idea that those with more science than religion in their are going to grow up to be menaces to society, but the growing requirement of tolerance causes us to be intrigued by these individuals instead of terrified. That’s one of the most universally perplexing things about Hannibal Lecter.

For all intents and purposes, anyone that comes in contact with Dr. Lecter should be absolutely horrified by his presence and want him to sizzle in the electric chair, but everyone from doctors, federal agents, and even senators find his intelligence to be one of the greatest assets to society. Towards the end of the film, Hannibal Lecter goes as far as killing one of the guards assigned to watch him and arranges his corpse above his jail cell in an extremely symbolic manner. With his entrails removed and bed sheets hoisting his lifeless body above the ground, it would appear that Hannibal Lecter had arranged this man to resemble the angel Gabriel, the messenger from the bible. Hannibal used the very religion he didn’t believe in to send a message to those trying to understand him. It would appear that only those of true intellect would ever understand where he was going, but unfortunately for those around him, they were all walking a life of faith and therefore would never understand the message he was trying to send. Despite his anti-moral behavior, his intelligence is what prevails and keeps him alive and desired. Science and religion play a major role in just about every political decision made on Capitol Hill. While many would like to believe that the decisions are made with the best interests of the citizens in mind, the fact of the matter is that our elected officials make decisions based on their own personal morals and agendas. In America, our media outlets often reflect the way society as a whole views a topic and horror films are no exception. By examining both 1931’s Frankenstein and 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, film goers can get a better look on the way the people of the time handled and valued science.

1 comment(s):

dfordoom said...

I kind of agree, but even if you're not religious it has to be admitted that science can be a two-edged sword. Some science advances civilisation, while other sciences (such as psychoanalysis) have threatened to throw us back into the Dark Ages.

The other question is, are we actually happier today than we were in 1931? If so, why is half the population on antidepressants?

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