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The Frankenstein & Cain Motifs in Dystopian Cinema: better eat your young before they eat you.
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Kula by Vlastimil Kula
Published by Taschen Books
Shooting Sex
by Bob Carlos Clarke - Terry mentally undresses strangers on his coffee table

You youngsters just skip the first nineteen minutes and you'll be fine....

...or if you still can't figure out what the hell it's about...

...the book fills in a lot of blanks.

There's a lot more to this story than contemporary film may have led us all to believe. This volume

from Norton Critical Editions includes 1818 text contexts, nineteenth-century responses, and modern criticism.


Hard To Deicide*
Frankenstein & Cain in Dystopian Cinema
(Part of our series on negative utopias and dystopia in media)

I've always been intrigued by the fact that in the Bible, the first offspring of two humans was a murdering liar. Kind of sums up a big part of human nature, as well as being a good basis for the premise of many popular films. Western culture and its persistent but subjectively transparent Judeo-Christian influence seems to be a little preoccupied with the idea that if God created us in God's image, we must also create something in our image. We then apparently feel so culturally guilty about acting all God-like that the created life form has to rebel, only unlike Satan, who's apparently going to get his ass kicked by God to end the story, our creation always seems to kick our ass.

This theme is especially evident in Blade Runner. Disclosure: I am powerless in the face of Blade Runner. Fortunately there is a cure for my addiction...WATCHING MORE BLADE RUNNER. From the moment I saw it in its original theater release, I was doomed. I have no idea how many times I've seen the thing at this point, but based on an average of once a month since 1982, it's at least 200 times. Scary. Even scarier is the concept addressed in the film. Given mankind's obvious inability to manage its own affairs in an enlightened and culturally mature fashion, the idea of attempting to create new life modeled after us is downright horrifying in its likely outcomes.

Who can blame Roy Batty for crushing Tyrell's head while muttering "I want more life, fucker"? Next time you find yourself whining about what a crappy hand you've been dealt, think of the replicants in Blade Runner. Created by a race of miscreants (humans) that decided to manufacture you to help with the dirty work of escaping the fetid orb they no longer want to inhabit, they give you a four-year life span. Just long enough to maybe decide more would be nice. "More human than human" is an interesting motto. More likely to lie, murder, and do anything to save your own life? Apparently. So much has been said about this film that we could hardly add anything insightful; suffice to say that Blade Runner is perhaps the quintessential dystopian film, oft imitated, and still quite watchable 20 years after its release. Its many layers include some question regarding whether Harrison Ford's character Deckard is a replicant or not. After seeing four of the seven versions said to exist, I still can't decide.

Artificial Intelligence and 2001: A Space Odyssey , both for all practical purposes Kubrick films, explore this theme with considerable subtlety. In 2001 one of the many messages is that man wasn't truly man until he had learned that he could kill his own kind at will. (You impatient youngsters can fast forward to the end of the first section where the ape clobbers the other ape. You'll like the movie a lot more that way.) Later in the film the supercomputer HAL, another human creation that in intellect exceeds its creator, concludes that humans are incapable of handling the task at hand (meeting their maker), and tries to do away with them as efficiently as possible. Although he ultimately fails, he does a nice rendition of "Bicycle Built For Two" as he gets unplugged. In Artificial Intelligence, upon first encountering his "brother", the robot boy David kills him for destroying his self-delusions about being "special", and after discovering that his creator has deceived him, attempts to take his own life. Kubrick must have had a lot of hope for humanity; in both of these films, there is some kind of redemption. The robot boy David ultimately finds his "Blue Fairy", and in 2001, a human gets promoted to the metaphoric status of "star child".

All of these stories, as well as exploring the themes of dystopia, owe a great deal to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein:

"But where were my friends and relations? No father had watched my infant days, no mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses; or if they had, all my past life was now a blot, a blind vacancy in which I distinguished nothing. From my earliest remembrance I had been as I then was in height and proportion. I had never yet seen a being resembling me. . . . What was I?"
Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus, 1818

Speaking of Frankenstein, why was Arnold Schwarzenegger never cast in the role? Perhaps because he was too busy building the Terminator franchise. We'll keep this a little brief; although the films are brilliant in their own ways, they really only expand on previously explored themes of technology biting back, but with more stunning visuals and better explosions. Of note though is the fact that while some elements of Terminator seem implausibly futuristic, the technology for "Skynet" is being developed, and mechanical soldiers are already being tested. Perhaps we can find some solace in the likelihood that Microsoft will be involved somehow in designing the software, and our new mechanical overlords will blue-screen often enough to fail in their quest.

I, Robot, as well as being a great Converse ad, is an excellent collection of science fiction short stories by Isaac Asimov. I'm not sure what happened with the movie...but it does loosely touch on the Cain motif. Except in the case of the movie, the rebel robot Sonny is actually following his creator's orders to kill him. (Yipes. If that isn't a spoiler I don't know what is.) In any case, I don't mean to be too hard on the movie. It's stylish and entertaining, and suggests director Alex Proyas (Dark City, The Crow) may stay employed for a while. It's important to note that the movie claims it was "suggested by" the book, not based on it. Regarding I, Robot the book (which no-one seems to have read), the back cover of the original edition is telling:

"To you, a robot is just a robot. But you haven't worked with them. You don't know them. They're a cleaner, better breed than we are.
When Earth is ruled by master-machines... when robots are more human than humankind."

The Democratic Party should consider taking a cue from one of these stories: In "Evidence" a candidate for office threatens to leak a rumor that his opponent is a robot unless U.S. Robots can prove otherwise. I'm sure many of us would be relieved when it's finally revealed that our current president is actually a "BushBot 2000", and not the bumbling meat puppet he seems to be.

In conclusion, I have to say I more often feel like killing the film maker than the maker. That being said...

...if you see your maker on the road, kill him.

Ian Gray
March 2005

* Yup. We spelled that correctly. Look it up.

Read more about negative utopias and dystopia in film here.

Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner is an excellent in-depth look at the story of how Blade Runner was made...

Check it out at While you're there, pick up the movie...

...and the book it was based upon:

Much Overlooked:

Artificial Intelligence was based on the short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long"
by Brian Aldiss:

Get the Movie, if you must....

But it doesn't do the book:

much justice. And what's up with Will Smith on the cover of a fifty year old book?

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