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Gods and Monsters (1998)

by on 2012/12/23

Gods and Monsters (1998)

“My mind is lovely. And yours?”

* * * *

As an historical figure, James Whale is arguably most noted for his 1930s Frankenstein films. Gods and Monsters, a biopic chronicling his final days, posits his work was as influenced by the Great War as it was by Mary Shelley’s writing.

Haunted by what we now would call a post-traumatic stress disorder, he had hoped to exorcise his demons with another effort, The Road Back (1937). In a scene of poignant frustration, he (portrayed by X-Men’s Ian McKellen) describes an incident of studio interference, where his creation was co-opted, compromised, then released to widespread ignominy.

Adding insult to injury, Whale was publicly blamed for its shortfalls. Despite his best efforts to the contrary, he was burdened by the failures of others. Disillusioned, he gave up and retired to solitude . . . and was taken aback by its unexpected freedoms.

Now an elderly “hedonist”, he’s living in Santa Monica in the wake of a recent stroke. Soon after, he strikes up a friendship with his gardener, Clayton Boone (Brain Candy’s Brendan Fraser). Clay is “a big, fun, irresponsible kid” who draws Whale out of his beguiling state, and into a confessional mode. Through their interactions, layers are both built up and exposed.

Whether by function of shell shock, age, illness, or medication, our hero develops an unprecedented retrospection. He revisits his childhood, wartime service, and bittersweet love affairs. Perhaps most significantly, he affects a sense of humour to deal with the horror he feels at having dealt with horror humorously. (How’s that for a meta-level mind-bender?)

The story suggests those who live in the past, so to speak, may be better off than those who run from or repress it.

It’s not quite My Dinner with Andre . . . if anything, it’s more Sunset Boulevard. Add to its Hollywood machinations the angst of being different in a mixed-message world, the trauma of life’s injustices, and the weight of advancing time.

Gods and Monsters lacks Sunset’s noir, but also its histrionics, an absence which proves immeasurably appealing.

* * * *

Rated R

105 minutes

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