Mutable monsters

There was once a time when monsters lurked under beds and in closets; dim shadows that kept us in check, dogging our nocturnal moves. All it took to instill fear and terror in an audience was a sinister shadow on a wall, creeping up the stairs, or a swift shot of an eye seeking out its prey.

Now, however, this fails to inspire the same sense of urgency, apprehension and well, fear that it once used to.

Lurking figures haunched over sleeping victims used to be what was terrifying. To most, the idea seems outdated, cliched, and nothing like how our films and fictions portray modern fear. These monsters were scary simply because they had no voice; they could not explain their motivations or actions, nor could they tell you what they were going to do. Now, however, the voices of our monsters are a riotous mess of sound: excuses, explanations and back story. I’ve mentioned before about the humanisation of the monster. This here is the biggest step towards it. A coherent vocal output equates a consciousness. Rather than growls, or moans, verbs and softly sighed adjectives are spewed forth, pleading with the audience to reconsider the sides of good and evil. Not to say that all monsters are now good. What it has done is to show how human error and miscommunication has contributed to these monsters being cast at one specific end of the moral spectrum.

One of the better examples is the recent update of Frankenstein which has given the monster a voice. Cumberbatch and Lee-Miller
Danny Boyle’s interpretation saw the monster (alternately played by Cumberbatch and Lee-Miller) explain his evil actions, and place part of the blame at the feet of his creator. Whereas the original story did see Frankenstein speak, here, his backstory is shown, and the development from an infant understanding of the world to an embittered view of it is detailed. It originally served to highlight the perils of scientific experimentation; here, it is more of an explanation for the moral waywardness of an individual.

In other mediums it has been seen too: the vampires once mere shadows and enigmatic dialogue have been endowed with an entire life story that involves them fighting in some kind of war, ennobling their existence, and absolving them of some of their other crimes. It has created a condition of unaccountability for the monsters we so faithfully follow. Their actions are not their fault, but are a product of their life experiences. To start a conversation over whether outcomes are about choices made or situations imposed would be fruitless. Regardless, these monsters are being explored in an entirely different way from those of old. And who is to say they shouldn’t be? There’s no reason we should blindly accept tales with a big bad wolf or a giant without exploring their motivations. But to completely ignore the implications of our verbose villains would be incredibly short-sighted.

To see these creatures talk is one step closer to equating them with ourselves. The same trend is evident in the newest remakes of comic-book hero films. Batman has become a brooding young man, defined by his tortured outlook and the latest Spiderman looks set to be very similar. Heroic acts are no longer enough to keep audience, and neither are the monstrous actions of our onscreen beasts. Perhaps it is because we seek answers to everything, even going as far as to seek blame for catastrophic events (but that’s another post…). To give these figures an explanation for the action goes some way to exploring how in the world we live in, unspeakable acts can happen.

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