Nothing But Memory
Posts Tagged frankenstein

Frankenstein Is Eating Dexter Morgan!

A few weeks ago, the eighth and final season of Dexter started airing. I’ve been a Dexter fan for years and I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ll wrap things up. The biggest development so far is the introduction of a new character, Dr. Vogel, played by Charlotte Rampling. Dr. Vogel is a psychiatrist known as “the psychopath whisperer,” who reveals at the end of the first episode that SPOILER!

In fact, there will be spoilers throughout this post, so stop reading now if you aren’t caught up and don’t want to know.

… Okay, good.

As I was saying, Dr. Vogel reveals that she is an old friend of Dexter’s adoptive father Harry. Not only that, she knows the truth about Dexter; in fact, she helped Harry come up with the code. Bombshell.

When Dexter finds this out, he calls Vogel his Dr. Frankenstein — an obvious comparison, and one I also thought of right away. Vogel is the mad scientist; Dexter is the monster she has unleashed on the world.

But there’s something of Victor Frankenstein about Dexter, too, with his creepy scientific instruments, freakish operating table, and tendency to cut people up (though he never puts them back together again). This makes sense: Victor and the creature are often seen as doubles, with the monster being Victor’s shadow self and acting out his darkest urges. Similarly, Dexter has created a separate identity, the “dark passenger,” for his murderous tendencies.

If Dexter is Victor, we can also see Deb as a double for Victor’s beloved Elizabeth. Like Deb and Dexter, Elizabeth and Victor have a weird incestuous vibe to their relationship: they are not blood-related, but were raised as siblings and eventually developed romantic feelings for each other. Sounds familiar — at least, half familiar, eh Deb? Elizabeth, of course, is murdered by the her fiance/brother’s creation on her wedding night. Does this bode ill for Deb’s survival or has Dexter’s dark passenger has already metaphorically killed her?

One of the great things about Frankenstein is the number of ways you can interpret it, and the parallel to Dexter is also very interesting if we turn things around slightly and look at Harry as the Dr. Frankenstein in this scenario. If you’ve seen Young Frankenstein, then you know the only reason the creature turned into a monster is that his father/creator rejected him, just as Harry became disgusted by Dexter after seeing him at work. In this case, Dr. Vogel, who after only two episodes seems to have praised Dexter’s “perfect” nature hundreds of times already, becomes the kindly mother figure who gives the monster Dexter the unconditional love he never got from his dad.

Apart from the multitude of Frankensteins going on, I see another, perhaps more unexpected, cultural reference at play in this season of Dexter: the title of this week’s episode, “What’s Eating Dexter Morgan?,” is a reference to the 1993 Lasse Hallström film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which starred Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, and a young Leonardo DiCaprio, who received his first Oscar nomination for playing Arnie, Gilbert’s mentally challenged younger brother.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) movie poster.

At first, the title seems like a terrible and also horrifying pun on the psychopath of the week’s penchant for eating human flesh (ewww). However, I think “What’s Eating Dexter Morgan?” is more than just a casual reference. The plot of the episode, if you really think about it, borrows a fair bit from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

In the movie, Gilbert Grape is a young man who feels trapped by his small town life and the pressure of taking care of his family. Gilbert’s father committed suicide, leaving Gilbert responsible for his three siblings, including the perpetually childlike Arnie, and his mother, a morbidly obese shut-in who hasn’t left the family home in years. Arnie enjoys trying to climb the town watertower, an activity that gets him into a lot of trouble: crowds gather to watch him, the police show up, and Gilbert ultimately has to talk him down. On one occasion, though, the police actually arrest Arnie for his hijinks and it’s Momma Grape who heads down to the station to retrieve her precious boy. Later on in the movie, Momma dies, and rather than go through the humiliation of having her body removed from the house, the Grape kids burn down their house with their mother’s body inside. It’s a cathartic moment for Gilbert in particular, who finally feels free of the massive weight (yes, it’s a bit literal) that has been tying him down.

Deb, completely falling apart at this point, is Dexter’s version of Arnie, the troublesome, out of control sibling who’s always getting into mischief. (It’s worth noting that Gilbert’s irresponsible behaviour is the cause some of Arnie’s problems: Arnie is traumatized when Gilbert leaves him in the bath overnight. And really, that’s probably not as traumatic as betraying everything you stand for by killing a cop to protect your serial killer brother.) She gets picked up by a cop for hitting a parking metre, then later heads to the police station and — yikes! — confesses to killing LaGuerta. Luckily, Quinn calls Dexter, who shows up with his version of Momma, Dr. Vogel, to take Deb home.

Now, obviously, Dr. Vogel is not exactly like Momma Grape. However, given Vogel’s curiosity about Dexter’s feelings towards Deb, it seems to me the writers may be leading up to a revelation that Dexter is not, as he has always been trained to believe, a psychopath, and that he was not beyond fixing until his training made him that way. He has lived with this weight of monstrousness on his shoulders his whole life thanks to his “parents,” Harry and Vogel. If this is the case, perhaps the show will end with Vogel — who, if you ask me, is way too into psychopaths not to be one herself — on Dexter’s table, and Dexter and Deb catching a ride out of town with Juliette Lewis.

Or something like that.

Marvel Movies Project: The Incredible Hulk

Movie poster for The Incredible Hulk (2008).

The second Marvel Studios project is The Incredible Hulk (2008), starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, Liv Tyler as Betty Ross, William Hurt as General Thunderbolt Ross, and Tim Roth as Blonsky, a soldier who eventually turns into something even more … abominable than the Hulk. This film has no connection to Ang Lee’s father-focused Hulk from 2003, which we have already discussed. Marvel reacquired the film rights to the character around 2006 because Universal failed to start production on a sequel to Hulk on time.

So The Incredible Hulk is a reboot of sorts, though not quite: it seems to work on the assumption that the audience already knows the main characters and therefore doesn’t spend time introducing them. It also mostly skips over the Hulk’s origin in a science experiment gone wrong, showing it quickly in the opening credits.

That said, the origin story does have serious plot implications, and it’s rather different this time around: in Hulk, Bruce Banner is working on independent research on regeneration of cells for medical purposes; in The Incredible Hulk, the military was attempting to use Banner’s experiments to re-create the super soldier serum that produced Captain America, although Banner himself was not aware of the true purpose of the project. This idea of the dangers of military application, or perhaps appropriation, of superhero-related research ties in to what we’ve just seen in Iron Man via Tony Stark’s ideological conflict with Obadiah Stane.

Mostly, though, The Incredible Hulk is a monster movie which recalls classics of sci-fi like Frankenstein (Mr. Blue refers to his scientific research as “Promethean fire,” an image which goes back to Mary Shelley), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (incidentally, the last movie I saw before I watched this was the 1931 version of Jekyll and Hyde starring Fredric March — appropriate), and Godzilla. At least, I for one thought of Godzilla as I watched Abomination rampaging down a New York street. (The other thing I thought as I watched that scene is, hey, was that Omar?

It IS Omar!

Yep, that random bystander in the brightly-coloured shirt is in fact Michael Kenneth Williams. Huh. “Abomination! Abomination is coming, yo!”)

The Incredible Hulk is a decent enough movie — better than Hulk, which, granted, doesn’t say much — but nothing earthshattering. I thought Edward Norton was a good choice to play Bruce Banner, but I was actually a little disappointed with his performance and I suppose with the direction of the film. It would have been interesting to see Banner as a man constantly on the edge of snapping — a type of performance I think Norton would have done great things with; instead, this Banner is a scared weakling, and I don’t know that we ever feel his rage.

To me, this movie’s place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon became a bit questionable when Edward Norton was booted from The Avengers and replaced with Mark Ruffalo. Now it’s sort of the awkward movie that’s still part of the continuity, but somehow doesn’t really count. If they do another Hulk movie, presumably they’ll recast Betty and General Ross again, too.

Whether they’re going to do another Hulk movie at all is still up for debate: Mark Ruffalo tweeted about it a few times last week, noting that while there are currently no plans to feature the Hulk in anything other than Avengers 2, there are no concrete plans not to do another solo Hulk movie either. Ruffalo apparently signed a six movie deal with Marvel. That seems to suggest something will happen … at some point. Joss Whedon seems to have big things in mind for the Hulk in Avengers 2, but has also noted he feels the character is “the most difficult Marvel property” to build a movie around.

The big green guy can be pretty awesome as a supporting character, though, as we shall see in a few movies’ time.

SMASH! and Trash: 2012 in Review

Happy New Year! Now that we’ve made it to 2013, it’s time to look back on 2012. It was an ok year. I don’t know that I accomplished much. I learned how to make books. I finished paying off my student debt! That was actually quite exciting. I went canoeing and walked a few of the trails in Algonquin Park. I was a good aunt. I visited Newfoundland, which was the only province I hadn’t been to before. But enough about my actual life: here’s my take on the year in pop culture.

Movies

Every year, I set a goal of watching 50 movies I haven’t seen before; I accomplished that in 2012 with a final tally of 108 movies. A personal highlight of the year in film for me was going to Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival. This was something I’d been thinking about doing for a few years. I saw five films, including one of my favourites of the year (see below). If I can swing it, I’d definitely like to go back in 2013 and possibly see even more movies. Looking at the list of 2012 releases I saw, it seems I saw more movies I didn’t really care for than movies I loved. However, there were four standouts on both ends of the spectrum:

Best

1. The Avengers. I’d been looking forward to this movie ever since that amazing moment when Nick Fury showed up in the Iron Man post-credits scene. Marvel superheroes + Joss Whedon + the generally high quality of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies = lots and lots of hype and expectations. I was living in fear of the possibility that The Avengers would be disappointing. Luckily for me, it wasn’t! At all! In fact, it was superb. It was one of the most awesome movies I’ve ever seen in my entire life and possibly the best thing to happen on Earth in 2012. A massive (they have a Hulk) and massively entertaining summer blockbuster.

2. Les Misérables. I only saw this last week so it’s possible my opinion will change after the movie sits with me for a while, but right now I’m totally enamoured with it; I liked it so much the first time that I went again the next day — that’s a pretty strong recommendation. I was obsessed with the musical as a teenager and admire the songs very much. All I wanted from the film was solid performances that captured the tone of the musical well, and it delivered. Everyone in the cast is great. The film, while not perfect, is a stirring and emotional experience that is as grand as the songs.

3. Argo. This is the one I saw at TIFF, and the one I’m going to be rooting for come Oscar time. (Sorry, Les Mis. I still love you the most.) It’s a tense thriller about U.S. relations with the Middle East, mixed with a comedy about the movie industry — a mix that works very well and is highly enjoyable. Ben Affleck has turned out to be an excellent filmmaker. I’m honestly surprised this movie wasn’t a bigger hit: it has all the makings of a real crowdpleaser.

4. The Hunger Games. Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson shine as Katniss and Peeta in what I felt was a mostly successful adaptation of a book I like very much. The movie has suspenseful action as well as genuinely affecting emotional scenes plus all the terrible spectacle of the Capitol and the Games. The fact that a movie about the horrors of consumerism is now the centre of a vast moneymaking empire is of course a bit ironic, but oh well.

Worst

End of Watch. Vomit-inducing shakycam combined with lots of incoherent shouting. I remain convinced that this was originally pitched as a comedy and someone somewhere along the way accidentally took it seriously.

Cosmopolis. This was at least nine hours long. Why, David Cronenberg, why?

The Amazing Spider-Man. I liked this 10 years ago when it was just called Spider-Man and was actually amazing.

The Sessions. Heroic actor plays severely disabled person! Heroic actress no one’s thought about in years takes off clothes! “Well then,” say the critics, “it must be good.” No.

Music

I was really planning to make an effort to discover more new music in 2012, but alas. I failed quite miserably and basically spent the whole year listening to Florence + the Machine. The only new album I can say made an impact on me is Battle Born by The Killers. I’ve also been enjoying Muse’s The 2nd Law, particularly the unexpectedly beautiful song “Madness.”

As for the worst in music, I was dismayed by Tori Amos’ “new” album Gold Dust, which features orchestral “reimaginings” of some of Tori’s older songs. Sounds like an interesting idea … except that many of the songs included already featured orchestras in their original versions, which made me wonder what exactly the purpose of all this could be. The only thing I can think is that she’s actually run out of crappy new material to record so she’s decided to start destroying her good music, too. The horror, the horror.

Books

My biggest literary excitement of 2012 was no doubt the fact that two of my favourite authors, J.K. Rowling and Lemony Snicket, released new books within a couple of weeks of one another. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy was a very good entry in the English country village genre; Snicket’s Who Could That Be at This Hour? takes us back into the world of A Series of Unfortunate Events for a look at the author’s youth. I enjoyed both, but I think my favourite book of the year was Such Wicked Intent, the second book in Kenneth Oppel’s The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein series. Aside from drawing with great skill on the themes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Oppel brings in other influences — the main one being H.P. Lovecraft — and writes in a convincing Victorian style. I look forward to the final book in the series.

In the world of graphic novels, Jeff Lemire is my cartoonist of the year: I read both Essex County and The Underwater Welder in 2012 and have totally fallen in love with his art. Lemire’s strange and haunting Sweet Tooth is one of two comics I discovered and enjoyed catching up on this year, the other being Mike Carey’s very literary The Unwritten. I also continued making my way through Bill Willingham’s great series Fables, but I’m not caught up yet.

Television

I already covered the first part of 2012 quite extensively in my Memmys blog post so I won’t go on much here. In terms of things that have aired since I wrote that post, I felt Dexter returned to form this season. Yvonne Strahovski was a surprisingly good addition to the cast. Season 3 of Boardwalk Empire was also very impressive, and the most recent season of Survivor is probably one of its best ever, despite the presence of one of the all-time most irritating castaways (Abi, in case you weren’t sure).

I bade farewell to three old favourites as One Tree Hill, Weeds, and Gossip Girl made their final appearances. I discovered a couple of new to me, old to everyone else favourites in the utterly brilliant The Wire, the hilarious Community, and the very endearing Parks and Recreation. I rewatched Lost, and in doing so discovered that it works better the second time through. My rewatch cemented Lost as one of my top five favourite shows.

Finally, a couple of surprises, one good and one bad. Good: I am loving the newest season of Castle. I always thought it would annoy me if Castle and Beckett ever became a couple, but they’ve actually been really fun to watch. Bad: the final season of Fringe has been a real disappointment. I was so happy when it was renewed, but now that I’ve seen what they’re doing I will go so far as to say that unless the remaining episodes are mindblowingly amazing I will probably skip season 5 on any future Fringe rewatches I undertake. It’s a bummer.

So that’s 2012 in a nutshell. There is literally no chance that 2013 will be able to top The Avengers, but here’s hoping it provides some good stuff nonetheless.

Show me your teeth

We have an independent theatre in Ottawa called the Mayfair. Its website bills it as “Ottawa’s home of stuff you won’t see anywhere else,” which is pretty accurate. The Mayfair is both a second-run theatre, showing the occasional movie that was playing in the big chains a couple of months earlier, and a repertory theatre with a focus on classic and cult movies old (they show Rocky Horror monthly) and new (they’re also showing The Room monthly these days). A few months ago they had a Martin Scorsese showcase, this month they’re doing Alfred Hitchcock, and next month it’s a “Cornu-Coppola” as the work of Francis Ford Coppola is revisited. Basically, if you like interesting and/or old movies, it’s excellent to live within a convenient distance of the Mayfair.

Today’s show was a double feature of Steven Spielberg’s two most toothsome thrillers: Jaws — which was released 36 years ago tomorrow! — and Jurassic Park. A staff member explained before the show started that they were showing an old 35mm print of Jaws. The film had obviously not been restored in any way, and the colours in some sections had taken on a pinkish-red tone. I don’t know the technical reason for this, but I’ll have to read up on it. Film preservation is something I’d be interested to learn more about! Jurassic Park was presented with its original DTS sound disc, and it was amazing to hear the difference between that and Jaws‘ older sound technology.

I’d only seen Jaws once before, but I have a lot of love for Jurassic Park and I couldn’t resist what seemed to be a perfectly-matched double feature. Indeed, these two extreme “man vs. huge, terrifying creature with gigantic nasty pointy teeth” stories did go very well together. I have shark fear, so to me just the concept of Jaws is frightening. Spielberg pulls it off so well that I think I’d probably place it in the top five scariest movies I’ve ever seen. At one point while watching today, I literally jumped off my seat — like, I vaulted myself a few inches into the air and didn’t realize it till I felt my butt hit the chair on the way back down. Jurassic Park is also incredibly scary, especially the scene with the T. Rex and the kids in the car. I’ve always thought that was an outstanding sequence, masterfully put together for maximum terror, and watching it today re-confirmed how absolutely petrifying it is. Both movies build a sense of dread from the helplessness of humans facing off against these ancient-seeming creatures — because there’s undoubtedly something about sharks that seems prehistoric — that are huge, smart, pure predators. There’s also a feeling of invasion involved, as though the creatures have violated human space and time: the shark shouldn’t be in the waters near Amity; the dinosaurs, of course, shouldn’t exist at all.

But in Jurassic Park it’s man’s own arrogance that brings the dinosaurs to life. I love a good Frankenstein story and Jurassic Park definitely is one. Jeff Goldblum’s character asks: “What is so great about discovery? It is a violent, penetrative act that scars what it explores. What you call discovery, I call the rape of the natural world.” This recalls Victor Frankenstein’s description of himself as “always having been embued with a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature.” Both Frankenstein and John Hammond violate the natural order, and the consequences of their actions are horrific.

One other thing I appreciated about Jurassic Park on watching it again today: the female characters, paleo-botanist Ellie and pre-teen computer nerd hacker Lex, are kind of great. It’s really been bothering me lately how many movies there are where the woman is just a prop there to be rescued by the guy. I know this has been going on forever, but I’ve found it even more annoying ever since I saw Kick-Ass, with its highly unsatisfying ending where SPOILER! super competent, awesome Hit Girl is deprived of her revenge. Ugh! Repeated exposure to the the trailer for the new Transformers movie — in which the female lead (I assume) never even speaks, but is only shown looking scared — probably hasn’t helped either. I think it’s fair to say Sam Neill’s character is the hero in Jurassic Park, but Ellie and Lex both have moments of excellence. When Lex manages to make the doors lock and prevent them all from being eaten by raptors, it’s a fantastic, empowering moment for a young girl who’s spent much of the movie scared out of her wits, but still manages to think on her feet in a difficult situation.