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The Sublime in Frankenstein and Blade Runner

‘Sublime’ refers to the effect of nature on the human -


the beauty and/or terror of the scene creates a sense of
awe in the observer.

In Frankenstein, the sublime transcends romanticism and the traditions of


gothic literature. Shelley’s vivid descriptions of the natural landscape
convey a romantic appreciation of the beauty of nature, but they are
mingled with a sense of Gothic terror. While the natural landscape is
presented as a place of tranquillity and beauty, it is also amidst this natural
beauty that Frankenstein’s monster confronts him and commits some of his
atrocities.

Blade Runner presents a postmodern sublime, in which the natural world


has become virtually obsolete. Visions of beauty (and particularly the
beauty of nature) are still abundant in the film, and again there is the sense
of mingled beauty and terror. Rather than being awed or impressed by the
natural world, the viewer is in awe of the extent of human civilisation and
the grandeur and magnitude of Los Angeles in 2019. The imposing pyramid
structure with it’s twinkling lights presented to the viewer through the
panning shot in the opening sequence is juxtaposed with the terrible acts
which occur inside it. The scale and opulence of the Tyrell Corporation is
also juxtaposed with the seedy underworld it towers over. The sublime in
Blade Runner transcends romanticism and science fiction.

Frankenstein Chapter 10:


The immense mountains and precipices that overhung me on every side –
the sound of the river raging among the rocks, and the dashing of the
waterfalls around, spoke of a power mighty as Omnipotence – and I ceased
to fear, or to end before any being less almighty than that which had
created and ruled the elements, here displayed in her most terrific guise.
Still, as I ascended higher, the valley assumed a more magnificent and
astonishing character. Ruined castles hanging on the precipices of piny
mountains, the impetuous Arve, and cottages every here and there peeping
forth from among the trees, formed a scene of singular beauty. But it was
augmented and rendered sublime by the mighty Alps, whose white and
shining pyramids and domes towered above all, as belonging to another
earth, the habitations of another race of beings.

1. What techniques are used to convey a sense of the sublime?


2. Locate the adjectives and emotion words
3. Compare this excerpt from Frankenstein to the opening scene of Blade
Runner. Refer to techniques used by each composer to communicate ideas
about the sublime.

Excerpts from Wendel, E. L., “Worldspace in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Ridley Scott’s
Blade Runner: From Romantic Nature to Artificiality”, 2006

Highlight the words which refer to techniques:


The Tyrell Corporation, residence and business place of Eldon Tyrell, the Godlike
scientific “genius” behind the creation of the replicants, occupies a space central
to Blade Runner’s narrative as well as this analysis. From the very outset of the
film, in which we see an extreme long shot overlooking the futuristic cityscape of
Los Angeles— defined by massive techno-towers and near perpetual twilight,
interrupted only by violent lightening strikes and fiery explosions resulting in
stunning plumes of flame—the camera visually guides us towards the grandiose
Mayan-style pyramid structures that are the headquarters of the Tyrell
Corporation. The slow-moving journey over the cityscape is never comfortable,
and the ominous non-diegetic music makes matters all the more disconcerting.
Throughout the movement, there are several cuts to an extreme close up of an
eye, in which we see the fireballs of this horrific worldspace vividly reflected in the
iris. The flames become the sensorial experience through which the eye relates to
its physical environment, and because the eye is never associated with a specific
character, it easily becomes our eye. Experience becomes something which must
be negotiated via a non-natural, technologically overdetermined worldspace,
whereby we are alienated by the extreme lack of anything familiar. The characters
in Frankenstein are able to articulate their experience through the spatial surround
of Nature, whereas Blade Runner is completely devoid of Nature.

What is especially interesting here are the noticeable differences between the two
mountains, that is, Mont Blanc and the Tyrell Corporation. In Frankenstein, Victor
reaches the village of Chamounix and later wanders the valley below Mont Blanc,
and states that these “sublime and magnificent scenes afforded me the greatest
consolation that I was capable of receiving.” He elaborates further, saying: “They
congregated round me; the unstained snowy mountain-top, the glittering pinnacle,
the pine woods, and ragged bare ravine; the eagle soaring amidst the clouds—
they all gathered round me, and bade me be at peace” (Shelley, 91-92). Any such
peace, articulated through Romantic language evoking Nature is simply not
possible in Blade Runner. Unlike Mont Blanc, and the valley below it, the Tyrell
Corporation does not exhibit the illusive, indefinable beauty of sublime Nature, but
rather embodies a synthetic artificiality—it is a structure which is both
mathematically and mechanically defined because it is, like almost everything else
in Blade Runner, a manmade creation.

How is the postmodern sublime different to the Romantic sublime? (In


other words how does the context affect the way the sublime is viewed?)
3/4 page, with specific references to film and novel.