Young Frankenstein

The brilliance of Mel Brooks is that while his jokes are off-color, sexual, racist, and crude, they are never used merely for the sake of being offensive. His jokes use sensitive topics to make clever, silly, slapstick gags which entertain while making a cultural statement or observation. This brilliance extends into the way he makes movies, too. Young Frankenstein was not merely an effort by Brooks to spoof the original Frankenstein film or its source literature. Rather, he sought to tell the story of Frederick Frankenstein, college professor, doctor of medical science, heir to the great Victor Frankenstein, and an all-around clown.

Birthright

Like many characters, Frederick is running from the original sin he received with his name– Frankenstein. The film takes place decades after the events of Mary Shelly’s famous novel. The film lends to Hollywood history by using many of the same props as seen in the classic film, subtly suggesting that this film is somehow a sequel. By this time, Frankenstein is a name to be reviled and feared, so Frederick insists that it is pronounced “Fronkensteen.” This creates a running gag, as other characters fail to comprehend why he would change the pronunciation of his famous name. This joke extends when Frederick’s encephalitic manservant Igor, played by the famously bug-eyed Marty Feldman, insists that his name is actually pronounced “Eye-gor.”

Much of the film is spent watching Frankenstein, played brilliantly by veteran actor Gene Wilder, learning to accept his birthright. Frankenstein is very reluctant at first to embrace the identity which has brought him a lifetime of shame. When he is tricked by the horse-frightening castle maid, Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman), into discovering his grandfather’s equipment and research. Being a doctor himself, Frederick learns more of the brilliance of his grandfather’s work and soon comes to embrace his vision of reanimating the dead.

The film’s message seems to be not that blindly accepting your heritage is the right thing to do, but that accepting it for what it is can lead to rewards and successes you cannot anticipate. At the start of the film, Frankenstein’s life is empty. He suffers the impudence of his students and the callous disregard of his fiancée. Through his unusual journey, he discovers a new life with a new career, new fame, new friends, and a new love.

Life, Such as It Is

The original Frankenstein novel and subsequent film, largely handled the notion of man usurping the will of God by reawakening the dead– thus disturbing the natural order of things. The outcome for Victor Frankenstein and his associates is grim. They suffer greatly for their abomination and in the mean time, the audience receives a valuable lesson about outcasts. Young Frankenstein makes a point of showing that even when given a second run, superior technology, and better conditions, Frederick was unable to avoid many of the pitfalls that plagued his grandfather. Though these setbacks are brought on by the absurd nature of his colleagues, such as Igor dropping the jar with the correct brain, the point remains that fate, in the form of the writers of the film, interceded and prevented Frankenstein from usurping the natural order.

In true comic style, Frankenstein and his creature are able to go on living normal lives, defying the retribution for hubris that is present in the original text. This doesn’t diminish the setbacks with which he is faced. The road to their happy ending involves self sacrifice and acceptance not only of their individual mortality but of arrogance as well. Though the experiment was a success and the creature goes on to be a happy functioning member of society, the film implies that Frankenstein’s monster-making days are over, and the cycle of shame and hubris that has plagued them for decades end with them.

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