Thursday, July 30, 2009
Young Frankenstein -- reviving the dead
Director: Mel Brooks, 1974.
What a great year for Mel Brooks 1974 was. He had two hit comedies. It was on the set of Blazing Saddles that Gene Wilder convinced Brooks to do Young Frankenstein next. And together they co-wrote the screenplay.
This is an hilarious parody of the Frankenstein horror movies of the 1930s. The whole mood and tone of the film, including its black-and-white print, and actual sets and props from the 1931 original, give it a creepily realistic atmosphere. Its only drawback is that it wanes towards the end. By the time the credits roll, the jokes and humor have all been wrung out of this horror-spoof.
Gene Wilder plays Dr Frederick Frankenstein, a young neurosurgeon and grandson of the infamous Victor von Frankenstein. But he is so ashamed of his ancestor that he changes the pronunciation of his name. When, at the start, he concludes a medical lecture, one obnoxious student showers him with pointed questions, culminating with: "But as a Fronkensteen, aren't you the least bit curious about it? Doesn't bringing back to life what was once dead hold any intrigue to you?" That was too much. Young Frankenstein, yells out, "You are talking about the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind! Dead is dead!" Of course, he will change his mind as the movie progresses.
Young Frankenstein has a naturalistic philosophy. He sees nothing beyond this life. Dead is dead because physical life is all there is. And so, to him and to many others today, you go around once and then you're done. There is nothing more. But this is antithetical to biblical and theological truth. This life is the prelude to what will come later. We are creatures with body, soul and spirit (Heb. 4:12). We will live on in spirit even when our bodies die and decay. Where we live, with God or apart from God, is determined by choices and lifestyles in this physical life (Matt. 25:31-46).
When young Frankenstein is informed that he has inherited his grandfather's castle in Transylvania, he determines to go there but remain aloof from the family "tradition". Leaving his fiancee Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn) in the States, he arrives in Transylvania and meets Igor (the bug-eyed and oh-so-funny Marty Feldman) and his lab assistant, Inga (Teri Garr). Their meeting and ride to the castle, where they meet the sinister house-keeper Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman), is replete with one-liners and sight jokes that get the audience rolling.
Once into the castle Frankenstein discovers his grandfather's lab notes and finally gives into the curse of the family tendencies. He wants to bring the dead back to life. Robbing the grave of a giant of a man, he is one step away. He sends Igor to steal a brain, but Igor returns with the wfong brain, an abnormal one. When the experiment is ready, at the peak of the lightning storm, young Frankenstein cries out in desperation, "LIFE! DO YOU HEAR ME? GIVE MY CREATION . . . LIFE!"
The irony is that the scientist who sees no life beyond death is calling out to something beyond himself. Who is out there to hear him? Certainly not the lightning or the storm. No, it must be something with will and personality and power. He may not realize it but he is calling out to the creator of the universe.
There is only one true creator, and that is God (Gen. 1:1; Acts 17:24-25). The Lord created the universe out of nothing and all that was first formed, ex nihilo (Heb. 11:3). He now sustains his creation moment to moment (Col. 1:17). Like God, we are creators, having been made in his image (Gen. 1:26). But not in the sense of having the power to form life as he did, or even give life. We cannot play God.
Indeed, there is a huge difference between reanimating or reviving the dead and resurrecting the dead. Jesus, when he walked the earth 2000 years ago, raised several people from the dead. The most famous of these was his friend Lazarus (Jn. 11:43-44). But this revival was not permanent. It was not a means to immortality. Lazarus died again, later. He who had tasted death and knew what was beyond the grave came back for an extension of life, not for eternal life. The monster, too, would die once more. But we have immortality. As humans this is part of our spiritual genetic make-up. We will die. But we will live again in an eternal home of our choosing. Better to focus on getting this future location right than on trying to defeat or avoid death. Death and taxes will get to all of us. Heaven will escape us if we avoid Jesus in this life.
Naturally, Frankenstein succeeds in reanimating the monster (Peter Boyle). Mayhem ensues as the monster escapes and the villagers fear for their lives. There are some terrific scenes, but two stand out. One is where the monster finds his way to the humble home of a lonely blind man (Gene Hackman in an uncredited role) who mistakes him for God's answer to his prayers. The other scene is where Frankenstein and his monster perform a song-and-dance routine on stage. Who can forget the monster in top hat and tails "crooning" the lines to "Putting on the Ritz"?
Despite this being a horror-spoof, love rears its head. Frankenstein realizes love is the key to life for the monster: "Love is the only thing that can save this poor creature, and I am going to convince him that he is loved even at the cost of my own life." This is analagous to the heart of the gospel, where the love of God is the only thing that saves us (Jn. 3:16). God wants to convince us, even while we are his enemies, that he loves us (Col. 1:21). And it did cost him his life (Col. 1:22). He sent Jesus to die on the cross for us, bearing our sins and iniquities, all the things that separated us from him. We can now experience true life, being saved by Jesus' love. And when we do, we are choosing genuine life now (Jn. 10:10), and future life in heaven with the Father (Jn. 14:2). What a powerful truth Young Frankenstein leaves us with.
Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs