Frankenstein and the Collapse of Human Relations

Special Halloween Movie Night Teaching Halloween! Shunyamurti deconstructs the classic 1931 Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff.

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The light! The light!!

This film is for the dark, not the light. This film is for the darkness… in you. Be careful—you are sitting very close.

Tonight we are seeing a documentary film—a typical, boring documentary, of moving heads. Some move from one body to another. This is the documentary that crystalizes and explains the collapse of the human male ego.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!! It won’t be any news to any of you.

I have been forced as a function of my duties here, to do research over the last couple of weeks of horror films. You can imagine how horrible it has been, but it has enabled me to formulate a theory of horror films—why they have been created and have become ever since the 30’s so popular. And so what I want you to understand—which I have learned—is first of all that every film, but especially a horror film, must be understood and perceived as a dream. Your dream. And as a dream the film mixes together the unconscious—the subconscious, let’s put it that way—of the ego with the conscious and the super-conscious, but in a chaotic brew that hides the very truths that it reveals. Because the truth that it reveals, but hides to most audiences, are too horrible for them to take. So the apparent horror of the film is actually what soothes the filmgoer, who doesn’t have to take in the real horror because they can look at it only from the imaginary register of consciousness, and not have to recognize its symbolic accusations and insights into the horror that is going on inside the soul of every spectator.

Now interestingly, in the year 1931, two horror films were made by the same production company. The first one was Dracula with Bela Lugosi. The second one was Frankenstein with Boris Karloff playing the monster.

Now when I first thought of these two films I assumed for sure that Frankenstein would have been made first. But no, Dracula was made first. And only then, when it became a hit, did they look for another horror film to follow up with, and they came up with Frankenstein.

But I believe—psychologically speaking—Frankenstein is first, and I want to explain that to you a bit tonight, because if you enjoy this film—God forbid—I’ll show you Dracula tomorrow…. Ha-ha-ha-ha!

And the difference between the two films—and it’s a very important difference—is that in Frankenstein the monster is the one who suffers. In Dracula there is no suffering. It’s a horror film without suffering. The victims do not suffer. They are taken into a state beyond suffering. In Frankenstein, however, there is agony, there is fear. And so what we must understand is what is the nature of the fear that provides the true response of horror and dread in the audience? Which is not what is portrayed on the screen but can only be perceived between the lines—between the images within the projected content and that which is introjected.

So to go back to the superficial plot line of Frankenstein. How many have seen the original 1931 version? Not that many. Really? Are you kidding? That’s all? You are all Frankenvirgins?

(Student comment, “I read the book.”)

Oh the book, that’s a whole different story. This is nothing like the book, which is written by a woman interestingly. Which is a very important point. But what I would say as a general theme is this—the horror films that were made in the 30’s—and that includes Jekyll and Hyde, let’s remember that one, which we’ve seen here—what these films are explaining is the collapse of the male ego, and the beginning of the overt revelation of the il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel.

The films are about the impossibility of a loveful relationship between a man and a woman, and the collapse of the ability of the man to meet the woman at her level. He no longer has the psychological wherewithal to encounter a woman with the difference that female psychology is, and be able to contain and survive and satisfy her. And he can no longer handle her power. Because remember the women in this time, by the end of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, was freed from the medieval position that woman was put in, as the one who obeys, as the one who is subservient. And the feminist movement was already in full swing. You remember Mary Poppins? Which is a horror film of its own sort. That’s too horrible to show you.

So we have a man either choosing to run away, not being able to relate to the woman, or to become monstrous. To attempt to dominate her through creating a persona that is more bestial, that is more focused on body parts, than it is on the mind and the heart of the woman.

So here we have a situation, a man who happens to be the son of the richest man in town—who can order the Bürgermeister around—that’s something the Baron von Frankenstein and his son has been studying at medical school. But rather than become a doctor he goes rogue, and at the moment when he is set up to have his marriage with this very strong woman, very feminist, very assertive woman, he runs away and holes up in his little castle on the mountain and cannot be found. So immediately what you see is at the moment they are scheduled to come together as man and wife he cannot handle it. He splits. Literally psychologically splits from man into a self-created monstruous alter-ego. Because it’s only from the place of his alter-ego does he feel that he has the strength to encounter and dominate this woman.

So, we have in the beginning, this man with his sidekick, Fritz. It’s not Igor here. And it’s not Victor, it’s Henry Frankenstein. It’s very interesting. The names morph with different remakes. But in any case, here’s his alter ego who is the hunchback who is representing that part of him that cannot even get an erection. He cannot relate to this woman in a sense of power that can also be loving. So he enters into the ghoulish activity of grave-robbing with his sidekick. And they find dead men—it’s men—who they try to put together—he tries to put together into being a living corpse who will be able to handle this woman.

And so his interest in death and in—you could say an anesthetized body, a body that isn’t going to feel the emotional hits that he is going to face in dealing with a woman’s—not only her obsessive and dominating elements but her hysterical elements—and those elements of her conscious capacity for discernment that will see through the falseness of his male ego, and its weakness.

And so he goes into his castle. He creates his monstrous alter ego. And by the way, he has to lift it up. You see this wonderful scene where the corpse is raised to the roof which is something like the spire of church, and God is called upon to bring down the lightening that will bring it to life. But the laboratory itself is filled with all of these electric beams, which are actually created by Tesla coils. This is Nicolas Tesla’s laboratory that is being used—it’s very interesting. So the whole understanding of electricity that is now coming into the world that will revolutionize—has already begun to revolutionize the world—is that power that the male ego has used to compensate its inability to relate to the woman. And therefore the mode of activity will become the mode of conflict. The mode of homoerotic relationship, of a kind that is known quaintly as war, in which women are excluded except as victims and who can be raped in war, who can be defiled. But war is for men, you see.

So the male ego is trying to prove itself. So we have, we have just finished World War I, we’re about to enter World War II. And what we’re seeing here is the inevitability of war because love is no longer possible.

And so this monster is created and Frankenstein, the doctor, admits in that scene where the woman and the doctor who runs the laboratory that the brain had been stolen from—the brain of a criminal by the way, because the ordinary brain was dropped by Fritz and wasn’t usable. He admits in front of her, his envy of her ability to bear children. He has womb-envy. And he says, “I have now created life! Who needs her? I don’t have to get her pregnant. I have created life myself. I know what it feels like to be God!”

This is the issue. He can deceive himself in feeling god-like because he no longer needs the woman. And he’s compensating for the neediness at the core of the child male ego for the mother by adhering instead to his illusory power as a scientific creator of powers far greater than that of the woman. The powers that are ultimately not to create life but only to destroy it.

And so he discovers after the experiment has been completed and the monster has come to life, that indeed it was the criminal brain and not the “normal” brain that was stolen. And he realizes that his experiment has gone badly awry because now, how does he control the alter-ego he has created, when it’s quite clear that he will not be able to live a normal life? He will not be able to be a normal gentleman any longer.

And so he tries to chain up the monster. He tries to repress the monstrous male attempt at trying to feel superpower. And he temporarily gets it under control but naturally the repressed will return and escape. And so indeed the monster escapes. He cannot avoid this repressed energy of destructiveness and mad attempts to dominate, to come out into the public awareness, into the awareness of the other.

Now interestingly, the monster, because it is the male child-ego that has created a fantasy of being powerful so that it could overcome the mother in its fantasy, and overcome the paternal laws, and overcome the situation of feeling helpless and powerless—the monster is actually innocent. And after he escapes he finds this young girl, child, and he plays with her with flowers and has a very innocent game. So you see even this monster is not criminal. It’s actually when he’s in his own habitat, and not feeling attacked, he can handle a child-woman, but he can’t handle an adult woman. But even with this child-woman then he doesn’t know his own force, and throws her into the lake not realizing that in fact he’s killing her. He’s drowning her. So again we see the il n’y a pas—not by an act of sadistic enjoyment of killing, but his own inability to relate and understand the other and the limitations of the other. So the il n’y a pas doesn’t work either at the level of the innocence, war or at the level the deliberate torment and the deliberate attempt of fight-or-flight to the woman.

So in any case he comes back, and they have no choice but to go through with the marriage because the father intervenes and says, “Go through with it, boy! You can’t hide up here in the hills any longer. You’ve got to do your duty and bring a grandson to the Frankenstein lineage. This is the purpose of marriage after all. You have to get her pregnant and bring a new son to the family.” That’s the whole point. The marriage isn’t about you and your happiness. The marriage has a social purpose for the family system.

So he attempts to go through with the marriage but his alter-ego, the monster, enters into the home and he cannot keep it out. He cannot keep his repressed, monstrous unconscious from interfering with the attempt of completing the wedding. And his conscious mind, in order to protect his bride, locks her in his room, as if she’s a child who can’t defend herself and needs to be treated as if she has no free will, or has no right to move in and out on her own. He takes the role of the parent and treats her as a child. And of course locked in her room, that’s when the monster climbs in through the window and attacks her. And she can’t get out because his conscious mind has locked her in. So it’s this moment when he attempts to have a relationship with his future wife. And of course it’s a monstrous failure. But the woman is not destroyed by it. She survives it and it’s the monster who runs away. He has to flee.

So we see the complete collapse and inability for this man to get his own psychological nature into a unified, adult, loving and strong mode of being. He is now out of his element and the monstrous part of him now runs wild, and the whole town has to be brought together into a posse in order to capture the monster.

As you probably know—I’m spoiling the film for you all but I think I need to do this so that you can see this as the dream that it is… the final burning—I think this is the final Burning Man ceremony—the monster has to burn in this wooden windmill.

Again, we have an echo of Don Quixiote, etc. But he has to burn. And he’s not happy about it. The monster is very frightened, himself. The monster is not all that monstrous. And he’s helpless. He can’t communicate. He silent but he’s totally fearful. His strength and his apparently monstrous ability is only an image, and inside of that image there is only terror. So it is the monster himself who is the one who feels the terror in the film, not the other. Just as every male ego feels terror upon confronting the possibility of relationship with a woman, and cannot carry it through. Or feels inadequate or impotent, or in some way of having to put up a false front or having to relate with some compensatory persona, or has to dominate and make sure that the woman is kept from being able to reach him.

And so the question is really from the woman’s perspective now, because the woman who is going to marry him has another man by her side whose name is Victor, and he is seemingly the real adult gentleman who would have been the proper husband for this woman, and she’s not interested in him. So the other question is, “Why is it that the female wants to be with the inadequate man who can only create a monstrous alter ego but cannot be there at a level of human relationality in which there is equality which this other man would have provided and she has absolutely no erotic interest in him?

And so I would have to say is, what the woman wants then is a man who is not either afraid of her or not her equal, because if not she will end up being either disgusted with him, or there will be a power struggle that will be a stalemate, that will be a cold war, or there will simply be no erotic fantasy possible because it will all be down-to-earth and more of a business negotiation than it will be a romance.

So what we see here is the collapse of the possibility of romanticism to be able to function as the thread of human relationship in a marriage. And rather than that we see that the woman would rather be battered by a monstrous man who can sexually dominate her, because at least her own ego will be able to feel she’s with someone who is not afraid of her, and someone she can’t dominate so that she can at least feel contained, and that she has brought out the beast in him that make her feel that she’s irresistible because he has been unable to contain his own lust to such a degree that this monstrous—the Hyde character versus the Jekyll—is released by her own erotic power.

So we see the two sides of these fantasies then collide in creating the impossibility of love to survive in a capitalist cut-throat world, in which neither the man nor the woman is any longer an oasis of love, where both parties have become phallusized—have become male egos.

And the female-male ego is superior to the male-male ego because the female does not have any of the fears of performance anxiety that the male has. And her body, being the object of desire, gives her a double capacity for dominance but also therefore an inability to honor and obey, or even to desire. And so we see the death of love, the death of desire and the death of the human capacity to carry on a life within a soulful level of consciousness because both have now fallen into the chakra three, and below that the very violent versions of chakra two, and the ultimate needy-child of chakra one, who will be killed, who will be molested and defiled. And the relationship with its inability for a meeting of hearts has lost its capacity to function as a true attractor that creates a whole out of two parts.

So what I think this film is, is a tragedy, even though you may find it more of a comedy because we have gone so far since the 30’s. Horror films now are no longer about this problem which I would put within the neurotic spectrum of consciousness. Now the horror films are psychotic, and they’re no longer about this particular theme of the il n’y a pas because that was a given long ago. Now there is an il n’y a pas at another level in which the ego itself—internally let alone relating to the other—can no longer hold itself together. So, the morphing and the collapse and the coming apart of the fragments and the threads of human consciousness at all of its various levels, has made it an impossibility for the ego to have any coherence within itself.

However, before I end this way-too-long introduction, I want to say that this film as a dream needs to be seen not only as an expression of the subconscious but also the superconscious, and that the solution to this problem is very clear. As he says in that moment in the film where he is explaining that he knows what it feels like to be God, if he really did attain God-consciousness, he would be able to relate to the woman. They would be able to be a relationship, but it would be a relationship of the one Self. It would be a relationship in nonduality. And rather than be monstrous there would be an expression of divine love, that would enable a new world to be born from this chaos, and a new harmony in the town and in the external environment at large. So the problem is that the ego can only have a concept of God as the dominant, evil superego. It cannot have an understanding of God any longer of intelligent, loving, creative power to hold and to transform and to redream. That creative intelligence has already been cut off by the ego’s materialistic focus on the body and not on the spirit.

So I hope that we are able to see this film from the perspective of those who have passed beyond this level of the il n’y a pas, who have entered into the truth of the inherent relationship that we have to the Self in which the monstrous ego can burn itself—not be burned by the other—but can burn itself in the fire of sacrifice, so that Divine Love can destroy the monstrousness of the current ego world, and bring about a divine transfiguration to our true nature. But for this, the ego must die and the Real Self must become alive.

IT’S ALIVE! IT’S ALIVE! But it’s only alive when your ego is dead.

I hope you enjoy this film, but in the right way. And I hope you don’t see yourself in it, but if you do… burn baby burn.



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