October is the time for scary stories. Halloween has a lot to do with it, all the way back to its roots in the celebration of Samhain by the Celts. But even without the spirits and specters associated with October 31, October would feel like a time for scary stories, at least here in the northeast.
There’s something about cold weather and stories – people gathering close to tell tall tales around a fire. But scary stories are too much for winter, when the cold and snow outside are dangerous. Better to tell stories with happy endings then, to keep everyone warm and cozy and save the scary ones for October, when the chill in the air is just enough to send a shiver down your spine but not enough to freeze you. The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer, and the shadows on your window might just be from the trees… or might not be.
Last night I went to see Frankenstein, the film version of the London National Theatre’s 2011 production starring Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s showing at a number of movie theaters and performance spaces in NYC this week, undoubtedly because of the holiday, and it’s showing in other places as well. My family went to see it last night, too, and my mom and I compared notes afterward. You can find more information, including venues and show times, here: http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/16546-frankenstein.
I’ve never read Frankenstein, never seen one of the movies (except Young Frankenstein, which doesn’t quite count); I only knew the basic outline of the story. I knew, for instance, that it’s not a happy story. All does not end well. Perfect, then, for October.
In this production, Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternated the roles of Frankenstein and his Creature each night. I saw Cumberbatch as the Creature, and it was remarkable. The popular depiction of Frankenstein’s monster is of a hulking, stuttering giant of a man, and there is stuttering, and Cumberbatch was tall and threatening. But his Creature, and apparently the Creature of the novel, can speak, by the end, as well as you or me. He stutters sometimes, but he also recites lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost and talks of his feelings of love and rage. In the end he is more monstrous and yet more human than Victor Frankenstein.
The set and the staging were stunning, the acting by both leads superb, and while some moments went on a little long and some secondary characters felt a little flat, the questions the production raised about creation and morality and love were fascinating. What is our responsibility to something — or someone — we create? What does it mean to love and be loved?
I won’t tell you more specifics, except that the final scene is heart-wrenching. While I can’t quite bring myself to go see it again this week, at some point I’d like to see the version where the roles are reversed. My friend had seen it before and felt Jonny Lee Miller’s Creature had a sweetness missing from Benedict Cumberbatch’s.
If you’re looking for a frightening but thoughtful way to celebrate Halloween and October, check if there’s a screening this week near you! If you’ve already seen it, what did you think? And if you haven’t, what’s your favorite spooky movie?