Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was first published anonymously in 1818 by Mary Shelley. The novel captured the public’s imagination and the first theatrical adaptation was made in 1826. Since then, the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his creation have been the subject of multiple film adaptations. Boris Karloff played the iconic role of Frankenstein’s monster in the 1931 Universal film. The public likes Dr. Frankenstein. We’re repelled by what he does but we still watch. The title calls Dr. Frankenstein “the Modern Prometheus.” Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans, the idea is that he took forbidden knowledge and gave it to those who were unworthy. We can see this theme in contemporary movies like Jurassic Park and The Human Centipede.
2011 brought The Human Centipede to the art-house set with Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In/La Piel Que Habito. The first thing that I took from this movie is that Antonio Banderas can really act. I used to make fun of him for being the Nasonex Bee and Puss-in-Boots and for some of the action movies he did in English in the nineties. Yeah, I have to take that back because Banderas is an ok actor in English, but he kicks ass in Spanish. I guess it also helps that he was working with Almodóvar.
Banderas stars as Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon/scientist whose wife died as a result of a fiery car crash.
Since then, he’s been obsessed with the idea of creating skin that can withstand burning. He tries to sell it as skin that resists insect-bites and will, therefore, be resistant to malaria, but one of his colleagues realizes that his miracle skin was created using transgenetic experiments on humans. Thus, his experiments are shut down…or are they?
Hell, no! Robert is a man with a plan and he practically owns a castle in which to carry out his experiments.
I particularly like how in Robert’s lab you can see elements of his very old house through the glass.
He lives in relative tranquility with his servant, Marilla (Marisa Paredes), and Vera (Elena Anaya), a mysterious patient who’s confined to her own quarters.
Vera is being subject to some kind of experiments regarding her skin. We don’t know why she’s confined, just that she can’t leave and that she’s probably the subject Robert used to develop his ultra-tough skin.
The arrival of Marilla’s son, Zeca (Roberto Álamo), spoils the tranquility.
He’s a career-criminal who’s only out because it’s Carnival and he can go out in costume. He demands that Marilla hide him for a couple of days but then he spies Vera on one of the many televisions throughout the house. He immediately hunts her down and rapes her. Oddly, he seems to recognize her.
Robert kills Zeca. That evening, in a series of very linear dreams, the audience finds out how Robert knoww Vera. We also learn the fate of Vicente (Jan Cornet), a young man who raped Robert’s teenaged-daughter, Norma (Blanca Suárez). Norma killed herself as a result of this rape.
The movie becomes about how far a man will go for vengeance. In a way, it’s like any standard mad scientist flick, where we see the scientist become perverted by their work and obsessions. I have a soft-spot for mad scientists and I do feel, not an affinity, but a kind of support for Robert. I don’t want to say too much and feel myself dancing around the main subject because I want you to be as delightfully surprised as I was by the twist.
I can’t really say much more about this movie without giving the secret away, so I’m going to focus on a really small aspect of the movie that I think helped create such a realistic world. It’s the use of the artwork of Louise Bourgeois. She’s probably most well-known for her spidery sculptures and her drawings of women as houses, known as femme-maison. Vera seems to be obsessed with Louis Bourgeois, based on the drawings she makes on her wall. The first two pics are going to be from the movie.
Now look at some of the originals;
It’s funny that when Bourgeois first showed her work, critics interpreted it as meaning a natural affinity between women and the home, but, if you look at the picture, you see the woman’s head has been replaced by the home so she can’t talk or breathe anymore. It’s more like the home is stifling her. I wouldn’t say the movie necessarily addresses gender issues but it’s more like there’s this continuous tension between the sexes. Vera finds comfort in yoga in the movie and some of her yoga poses even emulate some of Bourgeois’ sculptures, specifically “Arch of Hysteria.”
My final thoughts about the movie are about genre. Almodóvar is quoted as saying that the movie is, “a horror movie without screams or frights.” I think that’s a fair assessment, I consider it body-horror mixed with a thriller. In the time before I watched the movie, I’ve been calling it The Human Centipede for the art-house set. I enjoyed it but it also feels like a movie that would appeal to those who look down on horror movies, especially because they’re “not smart enough” or are trash. I’m not really going to defend the horror genre right now because this post is already overlong. I’d rather say, ha ha, suckers! You just watched a scary movie. A mad-scientist scary movie, nonetheless!