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Women scientists in Frankenstein films, 1945-2015

Science Fiction Film & Television (2018), 11, (2), 303–339.

Abstract

Frankenstein is one of the most frequently adapted novels, as well as a foundational text for feminist literary theory. While the figure of the male mad scientist in general, and of Frankenstein in particular, has been the subject of a vast amount of critical scholarship, the female mad scientist has received little attention. Depictions of women scientists are interesting because of their relative rarity in film and other media, and women scientists in Frankenstein films are of particular interest because they engage with the definitive story detailing an obsession to create life outside of the female body. They also raise a number of significant issues, including technological reproduction, parental relationships, women as dangerous intellectuals, and the historical and continued demands of balancing professional and personal lives. This article surveys more than a dozen notable appearances of women in science (including lead researchers and laboratory assistants, as well as medical roles such as nurses) in Frankenstein films and series from 1945 to 2015, spanning several genres, including sf, horror and comedy. Regardless of genre, female Frankensteins (or laboratory assistants who might one day aspire to this role) are typically abject figures, mocked or made monstrous through some combination of embodiment, intelligence or ambition. This article provides an overview of scholarship on representations of scientists in sf and science-focused horror films, surveys the earliest Frankenstein films to include women in scientific or related professional roles, and provides a more detailed discussion of three recent films that give the Frankenstein story a contemporary setting and focus on familial themes.

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Friedman, Lester D. and Allison B. Kavey. Monstrous Progeny: A History of Frankenstein Narratives. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2016. Monstrous Progeny: A History of Frankenstein Narratives Google Scholar

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Greene, Doyle. Mexploitation Cinema: A Critical History of Mexican Vampire, Wrestler, Ape-Man, and Similar Films, 1957-1977. Jefferson: McFarland, 2005. Mexploitation Cinema: A Critical History of Mexican Vampire, Wrestler, Ape-Man, and Similar Films, 1957-1977 Google Scholar

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Hirsch, Walter. ‘The Image of the Scientist in Science Fiction: A Content Analysis’. American Journal of Sociology 63.5 (1958): 506-12. ‘The Image of the Scientist in Science Fiction: A Content Analysis’ American Journal of Sociology 63 506 12 Google Scholar

Hoeveler, Diane Long. ‘Frankenstein, Feminism, and Literary Theory’. The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley. Ed. Esther Schor. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. 45-62. ‘Frankenstein, Feminism, and Literary Theory’ Frankenstein 45 62 Google Scholar

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Jackson, Kimberly. Technology, Monstrosity, and Reproduction in Twenty-First Century Horror. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Technology, Monstrosity, and Reproduction in Twenty-First Century Horror Google Scholar

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Kirby, David A. Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011. Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema Google Scholar

Leitch, Thomas. Film Adaptation and Its Discontents: From Gone with the Wind to The Passion of the Christ. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2007. Film Adaptation and Its Discontents: From Gone with the Wind to The Passion of the Christ Google Scholar

Macek III, J.C. ‘Bernard Rose’s “Frankenstein” Is a Tale of the Postmodern Prometheus’. PopMatters (10 Mar 2016). http://www.popmatters.com/review/frankenstein/. Accessed 19 May 2017. Google Scholar

Marchbanks, Paul. ‘A Space, A Place: Visions of a Disabled Community in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and The Last Man’. Demons of the Body and Mind: Essays on Disability in Gothic Literature. Ed. Ruth Anolik. Jefferson: McFarland, 2010. 21-34. ‘A Space, A Place: Visions of a Disabled Community in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and The Last Man’ Demons of the Body and Mind: Essays on Disability in Gothic Literature 21 34 Google Scholar

McNutt, Myles. ‘Cultural Interview: PBS Digital Studios’ Frankenstein, M.D. [Part One]’. Cultural Learnings: Television Criticism by Myles McNutt (18 Aug 2014). https://cultural-learnings.com/2014/08/18/interview-frankenstein-md-bernie-su-anna-lore-pbs-digital-studios/. Accessed 19 May 2017. Google Scholar

Meyer, Angela, Amelie Cserer and Markus Schmidt. ‘Frankenstein 2.0.: Identifying and Characterising Synthetic Biology Engineers in Science Fiction Films’. Life Sciences, Society and Policy 9.1 (2013): 9. ‘Frankenstein 2.0.: Identifying and Characterising Synthetic Biology Engineers in Science Fiction Films’ Life Sciences, Society and Policy Google Scholar

Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. New York: Methuen, 1988. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters Google Scholar

Moers, Ellen. ‘Female Gothic’. The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley’s Novel. Ed. George L. Levine and Ulrich C. Knoepflmacher. Berkeley: U of California P, 1979. 77-87. ‘Female Gothic’ The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley’s Novel. 77 87 Google Scholar

Mossman, Mark. ‘Acts of Becoming: Autobiography, Frankenstein, and the Postmodern Body’. Postmodern Culture. 11.3 (2001). http://pmc.iath.virginia.edu/issue.501/11.3mossman.html. Accessed 19 May 2017. Google Scholar

Noonan, Bonnie. Women Scientists in Fifties Science Fiction Films. Jefferson: McFarland, 2005. Women Scientists in Fifties Science Fiction Films Google Scholar

Picart, Caroline Joan S. Remaking the Frankenstein Myth on Film: Between Laughter and Horror. Albany: SUNY Press, 2003. Remaking the Frankenstein Google Scholar

Rodas, Julia Miele. ‘Frankenstein’s “Monster”: Autism and Articulation in Mary Shelley’s Novel and Beyond’. BIBLION: OUTSIDERS, The Afterlife of Shelley and Frankenstein (7 Jun 2012). http://exhibitions.nypl.org/biblion/outsiders/outsiders/essay/essayrodas. Accessed 19 May 2017. Google Scholar

Schmeink, Lars. ‘Frankenstein’s Offspring: Practicing Science and Parenthood in Natali’s Splice’. Science Fiction Film and Television 8.3 (2015): 343-69. ‘Frankenstein’s Offspring: Practicing Science and Parenthood in Natali’s Splice’ Science Fiction Film and Television 8 343 69 Google Scholar

Schummer, Joachim. ‘Historical Roots of the “Mad Scientist”: Chemists in Nineteenth-Century Literature’. Ambix 53.2 (2006): 99-127. ‘Historical Roots of the “Mad Scientist”: Chemists in Nineteenth-Century Literature’ Ambix 53 99 127 Google Scholar

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Ed. Susan J. Wolfson. Harlow: Longman, 2003. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus Google Scholar

Skal, David J. Screams of Reason: Mad Science and Modern Culture. New York: Norton, 1998. Screams of Reason: Mad Science and Modern Culture Google Scholar

Steinke, Jocelyn. ‘Cultural Representations of Gender and Science: Portrayals of Female Scientists and Engineers in Popular Films’. Science Communication 27.1 (2005): 27-63. ‘Cultural Representations of Gender and Science: Portrayals of Female Scientists and Engineers in Popular Films’ Science Communication 27 27 63 Google Scholar

Toumey, Christopher P. ‘The Moral Character of Mad Scientists: A Cultural Critique of Science’. Science, Technology & Human Values 17.4 (1992): 411-37. ‘The Moral Character of Mad Scientists: A Cultural Critique of Science’ Science, Technology & Human Values 17 411 37 Google Scholar

Tudor, Andrew. ‘Monsters and Mad Scientists’. Genre 1 (1989): 1931-60. ‘Monsters and Mad Scientists’ Genre 1 1931 60 Google Scholar

Weingart, Peter, Claudia Muhl and Petra Pansegrau. ‘Of Power Maniacs and Unethical Geniuses: Science and Scientists in Fiction Film’. Public Understanding of Science 12.3 (2003): 279-87. ‘Of Power Maniacs and Unethical Geniuses: Science and Scientists in Fiction Film’ Public Understanding of Science 12 279 87 Google Scholar

Wilt, David. ‘El Santo: The Case of a Mexican Multimedia Hero’. Film and Comic Books. Ed. Ian Gordon, Mark Jancovich and Matthew P. McAllister. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2007. 199-220. ‘El Santo: The Case of a Mexican Multimedia Hero’ Film and Comic Books 199 220 Google Scholar

Benziman, Galia. ‘Challenging the Biological: The Fantasy of Male Birth as a Nineteenth-Century Narrative of Ethical Failure’. Women’s Studies 35.4 (2006): 375-95. ‘Challenging the Biological: The Fantasy of Male Birth as a Nineteenth-Century Narrative of Ethical Failure’ Women’s Studies 35 375 95 Google Scholar

Castro, Adam-Troy. ‘Director Says Splice Is the New Frankenstein’. SyFy Wire (14 Dec 2012). http://www.syfy.com/syfywire/director_says_splice_is_t. Accessed 22 May 2017. Google Scholar

Davis, Lennard J. Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body. London: Verso, 1995. Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body Google Scholar

Fisch, Audrey A. Frankenstein: Icon of Modern Culture. Hastings: Helm, 2009. Frankenstein: Icon of Modern Culture Google Scholar

Flicker, Eva. ‘Between Brains and Breasts - Women Scientists in Fiction Film: On the Marginalization and Sexualization of Scientific Competence’. Public Understanding of Science 12.3 (2003): 307-18. ‘Between Brains and Breasts - Women Scientists in Fiction Film: On the Marginalization and Sexualization of Scientific Competence’ Public Understanding of Science 12 307 18 Google Scholar

Flores, Glenn. ‘Mad Scientists, Compassionate Healers, and Greedy Egotists: The Portrayal of Physicians in the Movies’. Journal of the National Medical Association 94.7 (2002): 635-8. ‘Mad Scientists, Compassionate Healers, and Greedy Egotists: The Portrayal of Physicians in the Movies’ Journal of the National Medical Association 94 635 8 Google Scholar

Forry, Steven Earl. Hideous Progenies: Dramatizations of Frankenstein from Mary Shelley to the Present. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1990. Hideous Progenies: Dramatizations of Google Scholar

Frayling, Christopher. Mad, Bad and Dangerous?: The Scientist and the Cinema. London: Reaktion, 2013. Mad, Bad and Dangerous?: The Scientist and the Cinema Google Scholar

Friedman, Lester D. and Allison B. Kavey. Monstrous Progeny: A History of Frankenstein Narratives. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2016. Monstrous Progeny: A History of Frankenstein Narratives Google Scholar

Garber, Megan. ‘Call It the Bechdel-Wallace Test’. The Atlantic (25 Aug 2015). https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/08/call-it-the-bechdel-wallace-test/402259/. Accessed 26 Jan 2018. Google Scholar

George, Susan A. ‘Not Exactly “of Woman Born”: Procreation and Creation in Recent Science Fiction Films’. Journal of Popular Film and Television 28.4 (2001): 176-83. ‘Not Exactly “of Woman Born”: Procreation and Creation in Recent Science Fiction Films’ Journal of Popular Film and Television 28 176 83 Google Scholar

Greene, Doyle. Mexploitation Cinema: A Critical History of Mexican Vampire, Wrestler, Ape-Man, and Similar Films, 1957-1977. Jefferson: McFarland, 2005. Mexploitation Cinema: A Critical History of Mexican Vampire, Wrestler, Ape-Man, and Similar Films, 1957-1977 Google Scholar

Haynes, R.D. ‘Whatever Happened to the “Mad, Bad” Scientist? Overturning the Stereotype’. Public Understanding of Science 25.1 (2016): 31-44. ‘Whatever Happened to the “Mad, Bad” Scientist? Overturning the Stereotype’ Public Understanding of Science 25 31 44 Google Scholar

Hitchcock, Susan Tyler. Frankenstein: A Cultural History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. Frankenstein: A Cultural History Google Scholar

Hirsch, Walter. ‘The Image of the Scientist in Science Fiction: A Content Analysis’. American Journal of Sociology 63.5 (1958): 506-12. ‘The Image of the Scientist in Science Fiction: A Content Analysis’ American Journal of Sociology 63 506 12 Google Scholar

Hoeveler, Diane Long. ‘Frankenstein, Feminism, and Literary Theory’. The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley. Ed. Esther Schor. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. 45-62. ‘Frankenstein, Feminism, and Literary Theory’ Frankenstein 45 62 Google Scholar

Jackson, Kimberly. ‘Splice: The Postmodern Prometheus’. Horror Studies 3.1 (2012): 125-38. ‘Splice: The Postmodern Prometheus’ Splice 3 125 38 Google Scholar

Jackson, Kimberly. Technology, Monstrosity, and Reproduction in Twenty-First Century Horror. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Technology, Monstrosity, and Reproduction in Twenty-First Century Horror Google Scholar

Keller, Evelyn Fox. ‘From Secrets of Life to Secrets of Death’. Body/Politics: Women and the Discourses of Science. Ed. Mary Jacobus, Evelyn F. Keller and Sally Shuttleworth. New York: Routledge, 1990. ‘From Secrets of Life to Secrets of Death’ Body/Politics: Women and the Discourses of Science. Google Scholar

Kirby, David A. Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011. Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema Google Scholar

Leitch, Thomas. Film Adaptation and Its Discontents: From Gone with the Wind to The Passion of the Christ. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2007. Film Adaptation and Its Discontents: From Gone with the Wind to The Passion of the Christ Google Scholar

Macek III, J.C. ‘Bernard Rose’s “Frankenstein” Is a Tale of the Postmodern Prometheus’. PopMatters (10 Mar 2016). http://www.popmatters.com/review/frankenstein/. Accessed 19 May 2017. Google Scholar

Marchbanks, Paul. ‘A Space, A Place: Visions of a Disabled Community in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and The Last Man’. Demons of the Body and Mind: Essays on Disability in Gothic Literature. Ed. Ruth Anolik. Jefferson: McFarland, 2010. 21-34. ‘A Space, A Place: Visions of a Disabled Community in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and The Last Man’ Demons of the Body and Mind: Essays on Disability in Gothic Literature 21 34 Google Scholar

McNutt, Myles. ‘Cultural Interview: PBS Digital Studios’ Frankenstein, M.D. [Part One]’. Cultural Learnings: Television Criticism by Myles McNutt (18 Aug 2014). https://cultural-learnings.com/2014/08/18/interview-frankenstein-md-bernie-su-anna-lore-pbs-digital-studios/. Accessed 19 May 2017. Google Scholar

Meyer, Angela, Amelie Cserer and Markus Schmidt. ‘Frankenstein 2.0.: Identifying and Characterising Synthetic Biology Engineers in Science Fiction Films’. Life Sciences, Society and Policy 9.1 (2013): 9. ‘Frankenstein 2.0.: Identifying and Characterising Synthetic Biology Engineers in Science Fiction Films’ Life Sciences, Society and Policy Google Scholar

Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. New York: Methuen, 1988. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters Google Scholar

Moers, Ellen. ‘Female Gothic’. The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley’s Novel. Ed. George L. Levine and Ulrich C. Knoepflmacher. Berkeley: U of California P, 1979. 77-87. ‘Female Gothic’ The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley’s Novel. 77 87 Google Scholar

Mossman, Mark. ‘Acts of Becoming: Autobiography, Frankenstein, and the Postmodern Body’. Postmodern Culture. 11.3 (2001). http://pmc.iath.virginia.edu/issue.501/11.3mossman.html. Accessed 19 May 2017. Google Scholar

Noonan, Bonnie. Women Scientists in Fifties Science Fiction Films. Jefferson: McFarland, 2005. Women Scientists in Fifties Science Fiction Films Google Scholar

Picart, Caroline Joan S. Remaking the Frankenstein Myth on Film: Between Laughter and Horror. Albany: SUNY Press, 2003. Remaking the Frankenstein Google Scholar

Rodas, Julia Miele. ‘Frankenstein’s “Monster”: Autism and Articulation in Mary Shelley’s Novel and Beyond’. BIBLION: OUTSIDERS, The Afterlife of Shelley and Frankenstein (7 Jun 2012). http://exhibitions.nypl.org/biblion/outsiders/outsiders/essay/essayrodas. Accessed 19 May 2017. Google Scholar

Schmeink, Lars. ‘Frankenstein’s Offspring: Practicing Science and Parenthood in Natali’s Splice’. Science Fiction Film and Television 8.3 (2015): 343-69. ‘Frankenstein’s Offspring: Practicing Science and Parenthood in Natali’s Splice’ Science Fiction Film and Television 8 343 69 Google Scholar

Schummer, Joachim. ‘Historical Roots of the “Mad Scientist”: Chemists in Nineteenth-Century Literature’. Ambix 53.2 (2006): 99-127. ‘Historical Roots of the “Mad Scientist”: Chemists in Nineteenth-Century Literature’ Ambix 53 99 127 Google Scholar

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Ed. Susan J. Wolfson. Harlow: Longman, 2003. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus Google Scholar

Skal, David J. Screams of Reason: Mad Science and Modern Culture. New York: Norton, 1998. Screams of Reason: Mad Science and Modern Culture Google Scholar

Steinke, Jocelyn. ‘Cultural Representations of Gender and Science: Portrayals of Female Scientists and Engineers in Popular Films’. Science Communication 27.1 (2005): 27-63. ‘Cultural Representations of Gender and Science: Portrayals of Female Scientists and Engineers in Popular Films’ Science Communication 27 27 63 Google Scholar

Toumey, Christopher P. ‘The Moral Character of Mad Scientists: A Cultural Critique of Science’. Science, Technology & Human Values 17.4 (1992): 411-37. ‘The Moral Character of Mad Scientists: A Cultural Critique of Science’ Science, Technology & Human Values 17 411 37 Google Scholar

Tudor, Andrew. ‘Monsters and Mad Scientists’. Genre 1 (1989): 1931-60. ‘Monsters and Mad Scientists’ Genre 1 1931 60 Google Scholar

Weingart, Peter, Claudia Muhl and Petra Pansegrau. ‘Of Power Maniacs and Unethical Geniuses: Science and Scientists in Fiction Film’. Public Understanding of Science 12.3 (2003): 279-87. ‘Of Power Maniacs and Unethical Geniuses: Science and Scientists in Fiction Film’ Public Understanding of Science 12 279 87 Google Scholar

Wilt, David. ‘El Santo: The Case of a Mexican Multimedia Hero’. Film and Comic Books. Ed. Ian Gordon, Mark Jancovich and Matthew P. McAllister. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2007. 199-220. ‘El Santo: The Case of a Mexican Multimedia Hero’ Film and Comic Books 199 220 Google Scholar

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Author details

Szwydky, Lissette Lopez

Pribbernow, Michelle L.

Szwydky, Lissette Lopez

Pribbernow, Michelle L.