Hsc Frankenstein Blade Runner Essay

In the elective Texts in Time students are required to undertake a comparative study of texts and context. One pair of texts involves the Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the film Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott. The two texts explore common themes despite a varied treatment that results from the authors’ different contexts.

Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus (1818) by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein: Context

By examining Shelley’s historical context we can see many of the key concerns of her time reflected in Frankenstein.
Written during a time of great change and upheaval in Europe, it functions as a social commentary on the realities of the author’s context.

  • Post-Enlightenment – Involved questioning of religion and the state. Promotion of science, knowledge and reason in the pursuit of inevitable progress, over superstition and religious dogma.
  • Rise of Romanticism – Rejection of science and rationalism, embraced a return to the sublimity of untamed nature and emotional/aesthetic/personal experiences. Mary eloped with Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
  • Midst of the Industrial Revolution – A period of technological advancement where the manual labour based economy was replaced by one where the machine increased production > workers were devalued. Shift from rural to urban – growing numbers left the countryside to find work in city factories leading to growth of slums and poverty.
    Karl Marx later suggested (1844) that this resulted in the alienation of man from the means of production and thus from his alienation from his essential human nature.
  • Post French revolution / War of American Independence – The traditional monarchy was overthrown and replaced with the values of democracy and equality. New industrial middle class; bourgeoisie, threatened once secure aristocracy and strict social hierarchy. Shelley’s father was William Godwin, the foremost English writer on the French revolution.
  • Feminism – Shelley’s mother was Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the feminist work Vindication of the Rights of Women. Her parents encouraged her in intellectual/literary pursuits- unusual for a woman at the time.

Frankenstein: Key Concepts


Humans will and should be punished for interfering with the natural order or trying to “play God”. Humanity cannot be replicated or improved by scientific knowledge without disastrous consequences.

Example:Frankenstein represents humanity’s hubris and folly personified when he is horrified by his attempt to recreate human life and punished for it by a life of misery (the creature kills his loved ones: William, Clerval, Elizabeth) and his own death due to exhaustion.“His limbs were nearly frozen and his body dreadfully emaciated by fatigue and suffering. I never saw a man in so wretched a condition”.
Technique &
Shelley uses an intertextual reference in the novel’s title to characterise Frankenstein as “the modern Prometheus”. In Greek mythology Prometheus was the champion of mankind who stole fire from the gods and was punished for it with eternal agony (an eagle eating out his liver daily suggested nature was having its revenge for the disruption in the natural order).
By drawing on this fable, Shelley takes on its moral to suggest when humans try to emulate the gods or disrupt the natural order, as Frankenstein does when he tried to create human life, they will be punished.
Shelley gives the moral of her own story credence by drawing an allegorical legend, authoritative because of its longevity.
Example:Frankenstein: “I ardently desired the acquisition of knowledge”.
Technique &
Shelley uses the technique of dramatic irony to highlight Frankenstein’s error in the acquisition of knowledge, as the reader is already aware from the start of the novel the failure of Frankenstein’s quest: “I have lost everything and cannot begin life anew”. She suggests that knowledge is dangerous and man cannot be trusted with too much power.


In line with the ideals of Romanticism, Shelley glorifies/idealises the natural environment and suggests its restorative power to humanity.

Example:Frankenstein: “a cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks … fills me with delight”, “the spirit that inhabits and guards this place has a soul more in harmony with man” and “it was a divine spring, and the season contributed greatly to my convalescence”.
Technique &
Shelley uses personification to imbue nature with the human characteristics of “a soul”, “the spirit” and the ability to engage in consciousness-driven actions such as “play”.
This allows her to glorify nature as an all-powerful and eternal force with restorative powers. The religious connotations of the word “divine” suggest that nature is a powerful and God-like.


Shelley critiques Enlightenment ideals of scientific rationalism and progress at all costs, instead suggest the value of tradition/nature.

Example:Ernest (Frankenstein’s brother) is “full of activity and spirit”, “ looks upon study as an odious fetter; his time is spent in the open air”. Frankenstein: “often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation”. “It was a most beautiful season…but my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature”
Technique &
Shelley characterises Ernest as representative of Romanticism and Frankenstein as representative of the Enlightenment. Shelley juxtaposes the two to highlight how their contrasting relationship with nature results in contrasting levels of personal well-being. Ernest is described in terms with positive connotations such as “spirit”, while Frankenstein is described in pejorative terms such as “loathing”. The juxtaposition allows Shelley to critique the Enlightenment and promote Romantic ideals.


Shelley rejects the Enlightenment understanding of an objective truth that can be determined through logical reasoning. Instead she embraces the subjective, experiential understanding of “truth” popular in Romanticism.

Example:“Frankenstein discovered that I made notes concerning his history; he … corrected and augmented them … ‘Since you have preserved my narration,’ said he, ‘I would not that a mutilated one should go down to posterity”.
Technique &
Shelley employs an epistolary novel to present multiple narratives with multiple viewpoints on the same events. The reader’s awareness that they are getting the 2nd or 3rd hand version of events allows Shelley to suggest that meaning is confused and there is no one single interpretation of events. Her rejection of the traditional narrative device of the omniscient narrator in favour of first person confessional documents, allows her to explore the emotional motivations of different characters. These multiple layers and retellings bring the Enlightenment’s objective understanding of “truth” into question. Shelley highlights that there is no one correct truth, but that truth is understood only through the subjective, personal and experiential.

Blade Runner (1982) directed by Ridley Scott

Blade Runner: Context

Scott grew up in the grim depressing industrial landscape of north-east England before moving to America. The 1980s were a time when many Americans feared there country was in a great decline.

  • Reaganism – Ronald Reagan was President (Republican party). He employed a new conservatism, attacking liberalism for the context’s economic and social problems (crime, drugs, sexual immorality). Saw the restoration of traditional morals and family structures
    as a solution. Belief that the free market would solve all problems – increased defense spending to spur economic activity. Anti-immigration despite the reality of an increasingly multicultural society.
  • Wall Street Power – Unfettered capitalism, “greed is good”, trickle-down economics, progress at all costs will be for the “greater good”, big business/large corporations had great power
  • Asian economies – These were becoming increasingly powerful in the world economy – cheap mass made products were flooding world market.
  • Rising power of multi-national corporations while power of individual nations declined.
  • Technological Advancement – Start of the computer age.
  • Medical Advancement – Genetic modification, doctors “playing god”
  • The Blade Runner context is the science-fiction dystopic future of Los Angeles 2019. Scott’s heightens aspects of his context (mentioned above) to suggest that the context in Blade Runner is our future.

Blade Runner: Key Concepts


Exploration of what makes us human and whether humanity can be replicated.

Example:The replicants represent an attempt to recreate humanity. Roy: “we’re not computers Sebastian, we’re physical”
Technique &
By giving the replicants unique and distinctive identities and showing them demonstrate human emotions such as desire, love and hatred, Scott encourages us to emphathise with them as “human” victims.
Example:Pris: “I think Sebastien, therefore I am”
Technique &
Scott blurs the boundaries between humanity and artificial humanity by characterising the replicants as “more human” than Deckard. Juxtaposing the replicants and Deckard highlights their hunger for life; “I want more life fucker, in contrast to his detached apathy. Pris’ intertextual reference to philosopher Descartes, “I think, therefore I am” allows Scott to suggest that she is a free-thinking, rational being, as human as anyone else.


In this dystopia, society is in demise. The future is depressing.

Example:Bryant: “If you’re not cops you’re little people … no choice pal”.
Recurring search lights and shadowed bars across the characters faces.
Technique &
The repeated visual lighting technique is symbolic of a society under constant surveillance, the culmination of Freud’s super-panopticon. The lighting technique of shadowed bars across the characters faces suggests their free will has demised and they are imprisoned by the rules of their society.
Example:Dark mise-en-scene with low-key lighting. Extensive use of smoke and fans. Jazz music. Rachel as the femme fatale. Deckard as the morally ambiguous “anti-hero”. Slow-pace of the film.
Technique &
Scott consciously takes on these intertextual references to film noir to mirror that genre’s portrayal of society as a dark, dismal place full of self-serving individuals. The hero/villain dichotomy is also blurred with Roy’s sarcastic mocking of Deckard: “aren’t you the good man”.


When nature and the natural environment recede the consequences are dire and depressing.

Example:“I’ve never seen a turtle before”.
“Of course it’s [the snake] not real”
The artificial owl “must be expensive”.
Technique &
The repetition of animals within the context being artificial and expensive highlights that nothing natural remains and the natural has been taken over by commerce. Scott uses the animals to symbolically represent the entirety of the natural landscape, suggesting it has entirely receded.

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Frankenstein/Blade Runner Comparative Essay

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While all texts originate from the imagination of their composer, they also explore and address the issues of their contexts. This is clearly the case with Mary Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein (1818) which draws upon galvanism and the industrial movement and Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner (1992) which has been heavily influenced by Thatcherism and Reagonomics. Despite there being over 150 years between their compositions both these texts explore several common themes such as mankind’s loss of humanity and man attempting to play God.

Through the exploration of these common thematic concerns and the universal depiction of protagonists and societies obsessed with the Machiavellian pursuit of science and technology, these texts build upon each other’s warnings to humanity and ultimately become linked through time. The common thematic concerns of these texts are explored through the use of camera angles, imagery and metaphors.

A central theme shared by Frankenstein and Blade Runner is the dangers of unrestrained scientific progress, a theme most evident when Frankenstein bestows the “spark of life” upon his creature in his effort to “pour a torrent of light into our dark world”. Here Shelley alludes to the science of Galvanism which held the belief that bodies could be resurrected through an electrical current, or “spark”. This compliments Shelley’s later allusion, “a thing such not even Dante could have conceived” which alludes to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, a poem recounting a man’s journey through hell.

These allusions work hand in hand to parallel unrestrained scientific advancements with pain and suffering equivalent to journeying through hell, as well as communicating Shelley’s warning to the reader of the hellish ramifications that are inevitable if man continues to explore science in such a reckless manner. Blade Runner further enforces the dangers of unrestrained scientific progress and builds upon Shelley’s warning through the opening panoramic shot which portrays a decaying city dominated by industrial buildings.

This works in conjunction with the recurring motif of artificial neon lighting and eerie non-digetic sounds to create a cold dark ambience which is symbolic of the lack of warmth, affection and family which has been created by unrestrained scientific progress. This ironic depiction of the Los Angeles, this city of angels, as a hell on earth is reflective of the 1986 Chernobyl Disaster where unrestrained scientific progress directly lead to death and sever mutation of millions of people. Blade Runner and

Frankenstein also comment on mankind’s loss of humanity, a theme Shelley depicts when the creature is able to display basic human instincts as it relates to “the pleasant showers and genial warmth” of nature as it ventures through the wilderness. In contrast Victor shows “insensibility to (natures) charms” while creating the creature by containing himself in a “deep dark deathlike solitude”, this alliteration is metaphoric of Victor’s inability to relate to nature and display basic human qualities which the supposed sub-human creature can.

This comparison shows that Victor, a symbol of humanity, has lost a basic human instinct which considered inseparable from the human experience in Shelley’s era due to the influence of the romantics, yet the supposed sub-human possesses this instinct, metaphoric of mankind’s loss of humanity. Moreover, this comparison is symbolic of Shelley questioning the reader and challenging them to change their values as well as warning against the Machiavellian pursuit of science and technology.

Scott reinforces mankind’s loss of humanity through the fruition of the Tyrell Corporations motto “more human than human” which can be seen in Pris wearing a bridal gown while hiding from Deckard, which is metaphoric of the replicants ability to feel emotions of love and familial belonging, a basic human instinct which the humans of this world are unable to feel, evidenced in J. F Sebastian’s ironic dialogue “I make friends, they’re toys, my friends are toys”.

Sebastian’s dialogue shows that humans no longer have real families and have lost the ability to develop relationships; where as Roy’s howl of pain at the death of Pris is symbolic of the familial bonds and relationships formed between replicants. Not only does this comparison establish the Tyrell Corporation’s motto “more human than human” as a truism but it is symbolic of Scott building upon Shelley’s original depiction mankind’s loss of humanity and reinforcing her warning against the Machiavellian pursuit of science and technology, linking these texts through time.

Moreover, Frankenstein and Blade Runner explore the theme of man attempting to play God which is evoked through allusions to the Promethean myth, as both texts present protagonists who steal the gift of the Gods, in this case life, and are gravely punished for doing so. Shelley evidences this theme through Victor stealing the Gods gift of life, alluding to Prometheus stealing the Gods gift of fire, epitomised in Victors dialogue “A new species would bless me as its creator”. Although heavily influenced by onservative views of the church Shelley present’s death of Frankenstein, a symbol of humanity, at the hands of his own creation which not only alludes to Zeus’ punishment of Prometheus but is metaphoric of Shelley’s warning of the inevitable peril which awaits mankind if he continues to attempt to play God. Heavily influenced by a growing corporate culture which disregarded human rights in the pursuit of “commerce”, Scott also evokes the Promethean myth to illuminate the theme of man attempting to play God.

Like Frankenstein, Tyrell steals the Gods gift of life by creating “more human than humans” replicants, a direct allusion to Prometheus stealing the Gods fire. Scott continues to allude to the Promethean myth through Tyrell’s death at the hands of Roy, his creation. Here Scott not only alludes to Zeus’ punishment of Prometheus but also to the bible by Tyrell claiming Roy to be the “prodigal son” further enforcing the concept of man attempting to play God.

Moreover, the murder of Tyrell by his creation, Roy, alludes to Frankenstein’s death at the hands of his creation, the creature, which is metaphoric of Scott building upon Shelley’s warning against man attempting to play God, further linking these texts through time. Upon close analysis of these texts it becomes apparent that Scott’s Blade Runner is a response to Shelley’s Frankenstein, made clear through the exploration of common themes such as mankind’s loss of humanity, despite being manifestations of contexts separated by 150 years.

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Scott’s tech noir film encapsulates Shelley’s original warning against the Machiavellian pursuit of science and technology and takes into to the next level by presenting it in a post modern context where science and technology have advanced beyond the point of return. Perhaps the definitive underlying message of these texts is that despite the things we create being a reflection of ourselves and our societies, it is ultimately our creations that mould us and who we are, an idea surmised in Winston Churchill’s words “we shape the things we build, thereafter they shape us”. 1139 words

Author: Dave Villacorta

in Frankenstein

Frankenstein/Blade Runner Comparative Essay

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