Wife to No One: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Whether or not you believe in the literal story of Adam & Eve, consider this for a moment: What if Eve rejected Adam as a mate?

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It’s difficult to separate James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein from it’s very obvious and sometimes laughable connections to the Bible. In episode 22, Abbey and I talk a bit about these connections but we also talk about the Bride’s (Elsa Lanchester) memorable scene of defiance towards becoming the Monster’s (Boris Karloff) friend and more importantly, his wife. The scene understandably, comes as a shock to the viewer. I certainly wasn’t expecting it when I first saw the film 20 years ago. In fact, I was pretty bummed. Not only is the Bride’s screen time less than 5 mins but she doesn’t really do anything with that time… or does she?

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On first viewing of Bride, I was left feeling disappointed. I hoped in my 10-year-old heart that she and the monster would get together and that she would kill Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) and run off into the sunset with her new hubby; wreaking havoc all over Europe until the end of time. But no. She doesn’t do anything particularly monstrous in the film. In fact, she doesn’t even look monstrous. Apart from a few hidden stitches on her neck and teased hair, she’s beautiful by society’s standards. It wasn’t until I grew up and recognized the patriarchal society I lived in that I started to appreciate her and begin to understand why the Bride is so important for all film genres; not just horror.

One of the key topics in this episode is the fact that the Bride rejects the Monster straight away. As he takes her hand and smiles at her, her face twists from shocked and confused to absolutely horrified. “She hates me…like others,” the Monster says as the Bride screams in his face.

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Why does she hate him though? What did he do? Well, nothing….

Some have argued with me that the Bride has only known handsome gentlemen up until the point she meets the ugly brutish monster. He’s not like Dr. Frankenstein or Dr. Pretorius, who so lovingly dressed her and (I guess) slapped on her makeup beforehand. In the film, she seems to have a deep connection to Frankenstein in particular. She seems so transfixed by him that she can’t even stand properly. Less than 5 years ago I probably would have agreed with that but I don’t think so now. I think that she, like most newborns do, connected to the doctors like they were her parents rather than her lovers. We could get into how this theory illustrates the concept of “babying” women or the freakish convention of “born sexy yesterday” but I can’t get into that now. Just click this link HERE to watch an amazing video about it by Pop Culture Detective because it’s definitely relevant to Bride of Frankenstein.

What I do want to write about is how love and the title of “bride” cannot be manufactured by an outside source not even in fiction. This is something we talk about in the episode but I wanted to expand on it here. Technically the monster did nothing wrong to the Bride. He just existed in her company and took her hand which, now that I’m thinking about it, could be a “bad touch” moment. He doesn’t say anything to offend her or to scare her off, in fact, he calls her his friend rather than his wife when he meets her. She’s not having it though. She hates him and wants nothing to do with him and honestly, why would she? She doesn’t know him and even if she did who cares? The Bride was created for one purpose and one purpose only and that was to marry the monster and she freaking pulls a rug from under him and the doctors by saying NO. She doesn’t love him even though she’s a monster like him. That’s pretty good writing.

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This is so incredible for so many reasons. Abbey brings up an interesting point in the episode: maybe the Bride is a lesbian? Sure! She could totally be a lesbian! We all know that our sexual orientation is determined before birth. It’s not something we choose. Not only could the Bride not be interested in male genitalia but she could also not be interested in sex at all. She could be A-sexual for all we know! She could be a transgender man who is interested in women! Just because she was put into the body of a woman by the doctors doesn’t mean that she feels like a woman. The Bride could easily be a man! There are so many reasons why she rejects the Monster and all of them are great guesses. All we really know is that she doesn’t like him like that. She wants to be more than a bride and unfortunately she dies before we can ever find out what that is. Oh, and there’s no “GROOM OF THE MONSTER” horror movie is there!? Nope. Never the Monster, always the Bride. Aside from all that, not only does her rejection work thematically for the film but it also works in terms of female representation in film.

Let’s jump to 2013 with the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

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Yes. We’re about to jump on over to the fantasy film genre. Listen though, what I am about to talk about goes for all genres in film. I’m just using this one as an example.

I have a lot of issues with The Hobbit films but one of the franchise’s major flaws was putting Evangeline Lilly’s character into a love triangle. Lilly is no stranger to this outdated stereotype in media (I AM LOOKING AT YOU ABC’S LOST) and that’s a shame. In The Hobbit, Lilly plays a made up elven character named Tauriel. This character is not in the J.R.R. Tolkien book, The Hobbit but I guess I can see why they added her to the films: there are no women in The Hobbit. This brings up a question that I won’t answer here but that we can all think about collectively: is no representation better than bad representation? Think about it and let me know at goodmourningnancy@gmail.com.

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So, without getting into too much detail as to why The Hobbit films fell apart early in production, Lilly’s character Tauriel was just supposed to be Legolas’s (Orlando Bloom) badass girlfriend who would also be the token female representation the film “needed.” With that said, Tauriel is a completely flat and unremarkable character because she doesn’t fit into the story let alone the world that Tolkien created. After the films were completed, Lilly got called back to do some re-shoots. Normally re-shoots are no big deal… but these re-shoots were huge. The studios wanted to completely change her character arc as well as the character arcs of two others: Legolas and Kili (Aidan Turner). That’s right. The studio wanted a love triangle. *SMH*

It was bad enough Tauriel was created solely for the purpose of being a man’s love interest but TWO!? When you watch the films, the love triangle seems rushed and tacked on and that’s because it was! I would have loved to have seen Tauriel become self-aware and just scream into Legolas’s and Kili’s faces like the Bride and then just run in the opposite direction. If they were going to have a new female character in The Hobbit, I wish that they had written her to say NO like the Bride.

I want to finish by saying that there is NOTHING WRONG with being a wife  (I am) or someone’s girlfriend (Abbey is) and maybe bad representation IS better than no representation at all (again, it’s a touchy subject, so email us what you think). But very recently, the well-known feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (We Should All Be Feminists and Americanah) spoke to Hillary R. Clinton about her twitter biography which, at the time this essay was written, says:

 

“Wife, mom, grandma, women+kids advocate, FLOTUS, Senator, SecState, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, 2016 presidential candidate.”

 

Adichie, who is a Clinton supporter, found the beginning of Clinton’s bio to be disappointing mostly because not many successful men (including Clinton’s husband, Bill) have the title “husband” starting off their own Twitter bios. Successful women are expected to include their domestic/personal lives with their professional ones and not just include them but put them first. Again, there is nothing wrong with this if it’s YOUR CHOICE to put “wife, mom, grandma” before your other successes. I think that’s great! I think the problem here is that women who have both domestic lives and professional ones are more likely to be condemned if they don’t mention their domestic lives first (whether it’s on social media or in a conversation). I can almost guarantee you that Clinton’s campaign team wrote that Twitter bio for her to help “humanize” her. Can you imagine if she started off with “hair icon” or “Senator” first? I wonder what people would say?

As someone who was raised by a stay-at-home-mom and someone who has a mother-in-law who worked three jobs to support her family, I have a huge respect for mothers of all kinds. Both of them have domestic lives but they also have dreams and goals outside of wifehood and motherhood too. What’s wonderful is that they both recognize that. They’re not one arc women and neither is the Bride.

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It makes total sense to me now why the Bride doesn’t want to marry the monster. Her realization is sort of meta in a way. To me, she’s trying to tell us something. She’s trying to say “I’m more than this.” We can’t force fictional female characters to be just brides and girlfriends. The audience isn’t going to buy it. We can tell when it’s fake and forced. By having female characters in films proving to be more than just token female reps, we can begin to tell truthful stories about ourselves in fantastical settings.

  • Gracie

Episode 22: The Bride of Frankenstein – Friend Zoned premieres Tuesday, April 24 *EST* on SoundCloud, StitcherTune InGoogle Play,  Podbean and iTunes/Apple Podcast

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