Texts embody paradigms corresponding to their social, economic and historical contexts. The capacity of thematic concepts to transcend time is manifest within Mary Shelley’s 19th century gothic novel Frankenstein (1818) and Ridley Scott’s science fiction film Blade Runner (1992) as both pose similar existentialist discourses regarding the fate of humanity. As a Romanticist, Shelley condemns humanity’s intrusive assumption as creator. Similarly, Scott responds to Shelley warning by also spurning man’s ruthless ambition. However, the film’s 20th century context of capitalist greed and mass industrialisation shifts the criticism onto the pursuit of commercial dominance. Both texts employ techniques such as allusions and characterisation to depict similar dystopian visions ensuing from man’s dereliction of nature.
Composed during the Industrial Revolution and radical scientific experimentation, Shelley typifies the Romantic Movement as she forebodes her enlightened society of playing God. Her warning permeates through the character of Victor, whose self-aggrandising diction “many excellent natures would owe their being to me” represents a society engrossed with reanimation. Shelley moreover questions the morality her microcosm’s pursuit of omnipotence through Victor’s retrospection “lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit”, as the juxtaposition of “all” and “one” emphasises Victor’s cavernous obsession to conquer death; akin to scientists of her time such as Erasmus Darwin. Moreover, recurring mythical allusions to Prometheus, “how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge” further portray Victor as an Aristotelian Tragic Hero; a noble character whose hamartia of blind ambition foreshadows his own downfall and dehumanisation, “swallowed up every habit of my nature”. In addition, Victor’s impulsive denunciation of his grotesque creation, leads to the Monster’s metaphysical rebellion “vowed eternal hated and vengeance to all mankind”. Here, Shelley elicits a historical allusion to the French Revolution as she demonstrates how man’s unbridled assumption of power discerns the inevitability of his ruin.
Despite their temporal and contextual disparities, Scott also incorporates Gothic elements of horror but procures a man-made cataclysm that is a product of his own desire to achieve commercial dominance. Unlike Shelley’s moralistic forebode, the lurid flames in the opening mis-en-scene highlights a dystopic world that has already come to a heinous fruition. Here, Scott draws a literary allusion to Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell on Earth to denote how man’s excessive authority, “built with stones of (his) Law” accrues in totalitarian-like society; where this is symbolised through the omniscient eye motif that is, moreover, an allusion to George Orwell’s 1984. Further, revising Victor’s usurpation of God’s prerogative, Scott conveys Tyrell’s capitalist fixation through his mantra “commerce is our goal”. The composer reinforces this through multiple low angle shot of Tyrell’s monolithic corporation, highlighting its commanding ascendancy over its impoverished urban surroundings. By doing so, Scott denounces the arrogance of corporate giants and their heedless exploitation of the proletariats class.
Furthermore, Scott’s reflection of a society enveloped within Cold-war paranoia of a potential nuclear disaster is depicted through Tyrell’s violent death at the hands of his own creation. Here, Tyrell’s ominous scream as Roy ruptures his myopia-riddled eyes, a metaphor of his blind ambition, creates a noirish ambience of utmost horror as responders construe how man’s hubristic desire to achieve omnipotence results in his inevitable destruction. However, unlike Shelley’s critique of heedless scientific pursuit, Scott’s perspective has shifted to that of man’s capitalist voracity and is a reflection upon the 20th century’s rapid expansion of multinational corporations.
Reflecting upon Romanticism as a reaction against the Industrial Revolution’s grave neglect of the environment, Shelley advocates nature’s capacity to provide spiritual renewal regardless of humanity’s flaws. Initially, the composer conveys the consequences of Victor’s profound ambition, as she prefigures his exclusion from the natural world; shown in his emaciated appearance in the imagery of “so thin and pale”. However, despite Victor’s vast preoccupation in science, his eventual return to the sublime natural world in Chamounix is able to evoke his spiritual renewal as Shelley depicts this in the pathetic fallacy of “the flowers of spring bloomed into the hedges.” Here, Shelley draws a literary allusion to Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey where the responsible adult also recognises that nature will always welcome man’s return to “sober pleasure.” This spiritual invigoration is further mirrored through Monster’s affable encounter with spring weather, which similarly “restored (him) to some degree of tranquillity”; therefore demonstrating the indivisible temperament of nature to humanity and its indelible capacity for spiritual enlightenment.
In stark contrast to Shelley’s discourse, Scott’s manifestation of a bleak industrialised macrocosm is his suspicion that technological progression has already discerned man’s divergence from nature. In the film’s opening sequence, Scott portrays his dystopian society through film-noir style of perpetual darkness, where the superficial world’s only source of illumination is from the synthetic glow of neon lights. Moreover, the composer’s representation of a world usurped by technological expansion is symbolised through the absence of authentic fauna and their incongruent substitution with artificial owls and snakes. Responders further construe through Rachel’s high-modal dialogue, as she indubitably validates an owl’s artificiality “Of course it is”, that Scott denigrates the Reagan Government of his time for its political inaction towards environmental concerns.
However, in light of Shelley’s embrace of sublime nature, Scott also conveys how the presence of nature can facilitate the hope of spiritual renewal; proposing its entire restoration. The composer denotes this through his transient but vivid depiction of Deckard’s fleeting unicorn dream. Here, Scott’s implementation of melodramatic ambient music and vibrant dandelion hues procures an invigorating atmosphere, as he advocates the importance of the natural world as a source of the sublime. Contrary to Shelley, however, Scott’s depiction of nature within a subliminal dream is metaphorical of his belief that rapid technological innovation has already superseded the position of nature. Therefore the film’s 20th century context encompassing vast ecological degradation evokes his admonition that rapid technological progression may already have precluded a possible return to nature.