CW: Sexual Assault
Female Suffering in The Bride (1985) and Frankenstein
In The Bride (1985), Dr. Baron Charles Frankenstein comes from a wealthy family. He is well educated, well dressed, and well spoken. From a young age, Frankenstein had been obsessed with science, specifically reanimating dead bodies. However creating life from death comes with consequences. Frankenstein creates a hideous male monster, and a gorgeous female companion. The companion rejects the monster immediately, causing him to angrily flea. The monster (later named Viktor) runs off into the woods, where he meets a dwarf. The two become best friends, and walk to Budapest together to join the circus. It’s an interesting plot line with a lot of implications about disability and exploitation, as well as vigilante justice and revenge. It also supports an ableist notion that disabled people have to personify their disability in order to achieve capitalist success. It’s important to note that Viktor and the companion have a connection, can feel with the other is in pain, and seem to cross paths a suspicious amount of times. The phenomena is never explained in the film.
Frankenstein and the companion, who he named Eva (after the first woman) stay behind in Frankenstein’s home after the monster leaves. To Frankenstein, Eva is a completely blank slate. She has no memories, and can barely speak or walk. She is essentially a child in the body of an adult. Frankenstein determines that he can mold her into whatever he wants, and shape her into the perfect woman, whatever that means in his view. If you think you know where this is going, you’re probably right. The 1985 film The Bride extends and plays into the romanticisation of female suffering in ways Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein had only begun to. Frankenstein’s anger towards women begins subtly, but cumulates into a sexual assault attempt against Eva. In addition, the movie concludes with Eva realizing that only Viktor can teach her what it means to be “alive,” and the two run off into the sunset together. The cycle would repeat again, with Viktor projecting his desires onto Eva, and molding her into his ideal woman.
“Frankenstein: Think about it, Clerval, she could be made into anything.
Clerval: The most pliant of mistresses!
Frankenstein: I might make the new woman, Clerval, independent, free, as bold and as proud as a man. A woman equal to ourselves.
Clerval, laughing: Charles, please.”The Bride (1985) 20:57 – 21:19
Frankenstein wants to craft Eva into an independent woman, and is shown in this scene in direct contrast to Clerval, who implies he’d be better off making her a sex slave. Thanks to the immense resources at his disposal, Frankenstein and his maid, Mrs. Baumann, quickly teach Eva to be a woman of culture. There is a very uncomfortable scene before this process begins, in which Eva approaches Frankenstein while completely naked. She slowly paces around him, and eventually sits down at his side. Mrs. Baumann sees this and scolds her, telling her to put some clothes on. Frankenstein defends Eva, and has her dressed in his university robes. Frankenstein is clearly trying to ignore her nudity, however the lighting and camera angles in the scene don’t allow the audience to do that; at one point her ass is literally illuminated by the fire. Of this scene, The Chicago Tribune says, “As for Beals` one fleeting nude scene, it’s a mess, too, inasmuch as we can clearly see that she was doubled by a model. In the full-length shot, the model`s head is always hidden” (Siskel, 1985). Audiences are supposed to be amazed by Eva’s pure beauty, reducing her to little more than an object. Frankenstein then instructs Mrs. Baumann to teach Eva the “ways of polite society.”
Throughout the next several weeks, Frankenstein teaches Eva how to speak, read, ride horses, and converse with his fellow aristocrats. He teaches her to be strong, argumentative, and empowered — like a man. Despite this, he hardly lets Eva out of his sight. Anytime she goes off on her own, or attempts to assert her independence, he yells and belittles her.
“Frankenstein: And what is that ocean if not man’s boundless imagination? Keats’ Prometheus is a case –
Eva: – Shelley’s Prometheus.
Frankenstein (condescending): Keats, my dear, if you don’t mind.
Eva: John Keats never wrote anything even remotely –
Frankenstein: Don’t interrupt us!
Eva exits the room
Clerval: The problem with free women, Charles, is that they’re free to despise us. It’s a risk that I find unacceptable.
Eva returns, and throws a copy of Shelley’s Prometheus next to Frankenstein”The Bride (1985) 1:34:27 – 1:35:01
Despite raising her to expect the same treatment as a man, the moment she starts acting like one Frankenstein immediately disapproves. Eva was correct, but Frankenstein refused to listen to her. Eva’s brief interruption was not meant to show distaste towards the two men, rather to correct an honest mistake. Frankenstein took this as an insult to his intelligence. Eva had become strong, and started to threaten him. Once he succeeded in turning Eva into an intellectual copy of himself, he next turns on her and tears her down. Eva and Frankenstein have many arguments after this about her autonomy, or lack thereof. Frankenstein never intended to create the “modern woman,” he just wanted to feel powerful. With Eva, Frankenstein held the power not only over her physical creation, but also over her intellectual creation.
“Eva: You didn’t create me!
Frankenstein: As a matter of fact, I did. I brought you to life by means of an electric charge. I created your body, just as I created your mind. And I can uncreate it too”The Bride (1985) 1:43:37 – 1:44:06
Frankenstein expresses his ownership over Eva’s body and mind. He sculpted her from old body parts and shocked new life into her. Now, she’d outgrown him. Frankenstein saw what the “new woman” was, and instantly rejected her, finally aligning with Clerval’s point of view. If Eva doesn’t obey him, Frankenstein is willing to kill her. Despite his preaching about “a woman equal to man,” he still needs her to be underneath.
Although Frankenstein tries to keep Viktor a secret from Eva, the two end up meeting in the woods. They exchange kind words and shiny objects. Eva feels a sense of familiarity with Viktor without knowing who he is. She’s felt this connection throughout the film. Eva was created for the monster, and while the two are separated she feels that a piece of her is missing. This is a reflection of Victor and Elizabeth’s relationship in Frankenstein. Elizabeth was always meant to be promised to Victor, and stayed behind with his family while he went off on his own adventures. Elizabeth writes to Victor, “…you are no longer at a formidable distance, and I may hope to see you in less than a fortnight…tortured as I have been by anxious suspense; yet I hope to see peace in your countenance, and to find that your heart is not totally void of comfort and tranquillity” (Shelley, 186-187). Elizabeth’s entire life is marked by waiting for Victor to return, followed by brief periods of visitation, and his leaving again. Elizabeth suffers in silence, taking care of Victor’s family. She doesn’t experience any growth, and once she finally achieves her goal of marrying Victor, she is killed by the monster. In the film, while Viktor is in Budapest, learning about sharing, money, death, and dreams, Eva is with Frankenstein, learning about what makes a human in his view.
“Eva: Where is he? The creature I was made for?
Frankenstein: Oh he’s dead, perished in the fire, I’m sad to say.
Eva: I am alone, there is no one in the world like me.
Frankenstein: Oh I think you’ve missed the point, Eva. It’s true I made you to mate with that abortion, but I quickly saw the foolishness in that. I thought you were fit for finer things…Your wedding night has come”The Bride (1985) 1:46:08 – 1:47:10
Eva is isolated from both her soulmate and her creator. Frankenstein next attempts to physically overpower Eva. Viktor senses something is wrong, and the trauma is enough that he escapes from his prison cell and races to Eva’s rescue. He makes his way into the bedroom, where Frankenstein is forcing himself onto Eva. The two men fight over Eva, who fainted. In the end, Viktor kills Frankenstein, and returns to Eva, who now owes him her life. They agree to teach each other everything they know about being alive, and run away into the sunset. Viktor saved Eva from Frankenstein’s overbearing grasps, but she still isn’t entirely free.
Frankenstein’s goal was to make Eva equal to any man in thought, but not in attitude or actions. He felt that the ideal woman for him is his peer, but in reality he just wanted her to do his bidding. She could think, but only so long as it didn’t threaten him. Unfortunately, Shelley’s Frankenstein doesn’t give very much insight into the experiences of women, only small accounts in Elizabeth’s letters. It seems, however, that Elizabeth’s life is very controlled and her success is determined by the men around her. Only after Frankenstein dies does Eva have the chance to explore autonomy, but that autonomy takes the form of sailing off with Viktor, where she will continue to be defined by her relationship to a man.
Contemporary tellings of Frankenstein can only give women as much freedom as the original text allows. Elizabeth spends her entire life waiting for Victor, being a source of comfort for him in his long travels. Justine takes the blame for the monsters killing, and ends up dead because of it. These are not happy endings. In The Bride, Eva finds herself physically powerless against Frankenstein, until her savior Viktor comes by and kills him. If it weren’t for the monster, Frankenstein would have raped her, probably repeatedly. That is also not a happy ending. Instead, Eva gets to start over with the monster, somewhere far away. Because of the betrayal by Frankenstein, Eva is forced to question everything he taught her about equality between the sexes, and Frankenstein’s thoughts can be replaced by Viktor’s dreams and fantasies, thus repeating the cycle.
Fonivielle , Lloyd. The Bride, Columbia Pictures, 1985, www.amazon.com/gp/video/detail/B00D8B5PSA/ref=atv_hm_hom_1_c_iEgOEZ_2_1.
Multiple. “The Bride (1985).” Rotten Tomatoes, 2009, www.rottentomatoes.com/m/bride.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Patrick Nobes. Frankenstein. University Press, 2008.
Siskel, Gene. “`THE BRIDE` IS A MONSTROUS FAILURE.” Chicagotribune.com, 4 Sept. 2018, www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1985-08-19-8502240221-story.html.
Note: This ended up being half essay and half movie review, so I figure should give a little context. In preparing for this project, I stumbled upon a 1985 film called The Bride. I was immediately obsessed. The Bride stars Sting as Dr. Frankenstein, and Jennifer Biel as Eva, which is enough to get anyone hooked. There’s a lot to process in this film, and there were a lot of directions I almost took this paper. I chose to focus on female suffering because I originally set out to write a feminist piece, but a disability viewing of the monster’s plot line would be very relevant and I want to acknowledge that.
The Bride received 25% on rottentomatoes.com, and I think that’s fair enough. The Chicago Tribune called it a “Monstrous Failure” (1985), and nobody else cared enough to make their reviews available online. It is an awful movie, where the primary lessons are: people will only like you if you’re pretty, and if you’re not pretty you’d better be rich, as well as: men want a woman they can manipulate, not one that’s free thinking. No matter who you are, if watching this movie with a 21st century intersectional lens, it’s sure to make you very angry. Possibly, angry enough to write a 1500 word essay about how terrible it was, but a little bit about how Mary Shelley didn’t provide any real framework for women in her world.