I Can Fix That
Author: Dave Stuart Keywords:
Death, resurrection, science, loss, acceptance
Film title: Frankenweenie
Director: Tim Burton
Screenplay: John August
Starring: Charlie Tahan Frank Welker, Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Landau
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (USA/UK)
Cinema Release Date: 5 October 2012 (USA); 17 October 2012 (UK)
Certificate: PG (USA); PG (UK) Contains mild threat, scary scenes and one use of mild language
Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) has two main loves in his life: science and his dog, Sparky. A loner at school, he spends his time making stop-motion movies (a self-referential joke that sets the tone for the film from the very first scene), and studying for the upcoming science fair, inspired by his imposing, but well-meaning science teacher, Mr Rzykruski (Martin Landau). Until, that is, one day when an attempt at joining the baseball team, at the behest of his concerned dad (Martin Short), results in tragedy for Victor’s beloved pet. Taking inspiration from a classroom demonstration of reanimating frogs’ legs with electricity, Victor races home, determined to get Sparky back. But little does he know the impact his ultimately successful experiment will have on the whole town.
Once Victor’s secret gets out, all the other kids in his class want to steal his methods for their own science projects. The situation is worsened when Mr Rzykruski is forced from his position following an accident involving a student during an experiment. The film culminates in a disastrous town fair, which descends into classic monster-movie carnage as giant turtles and flying cat/bat hybrids are unleashed on the population, leaving only Victor and Sparky to save the day.
A reimagining of one of Tim Burton’s earliest short films, Frankenweenie is a stop-motion, black-and-white homage to the history of classic horror movies. It is full of sly, and not-so-sly, nods to renowned characters and scenes from the genre’s past. It also manages to be a simple and affecting tale of love and loss, which is undermined slightly by its all-too-conventional ending. Frankenweenie deals with themes of science and knowledge in a manner which is light-hearted and genteel, yet which seems to advocate against extremism on both sides of the debate. It is also concerned with the very human desire we all harbour to put right things that are often out of our control.
After the accident involving the student, the school holds a meeting to discuss Mr Rzykruski’s future. During this, we are initially clearly meant to side against the angry townsfolk, the collective attitude of whom is summed up by the replacement science teacher, who warns the class that, ‘sometimes knowing too much is the problem.’ Ignorance is not a healthy position in any aspect of our lives, but there is also a cause for concern in the riposte from the other side, whereby intellectual power brings with it arrogance and condescension. Mr Rzykruski takes to the stage and, instead of defending himself, lashes out at the town and parents for their small-mindedness and ignorance, decrying their fear of scientific knowledge and insulting their intelligence. It’s a funnier scene than it sounds when described; Martin Landau’s exaggerated performance leaves Mr Rzykruski’s bluntness as unintended and his message misconstrued, but it hints at a deeper concern as well – and a very real conflict at times in our modern world.
Soon after the debate, Victor goes to say goodbye to Mr Rzykruski, who explains to him the importance of scientific knowledge, but also its limitations. ‘Science is not good or evil,’ he says. ‘It is merely the uses it is put to that make it so.’ And it is here that our human desires and emotions often cloud the issue. Christians believe that God reveals himself to us through his creation, and that our understanding of the world that surrounds us should not diminish the need for him, but instead increase our grasp of the scale and complexity of his design.
Victor doesn’t fully understand the experiments he performs, but goes ahead with them anyway; his desire to bring Sparky back is a selfish one, borne out of a need to fix things. In what becomes something of a catch-phrase in the film, Victor reassures Sparky as he loses his tail, or an ear, that ‘I can fix that,’ and this attitude gets right to the core of the film’s message. Victor misses Sparky and struggles to let him go: dealing with pain and loss is never easy, especially as a child, and the revelation that we are not fully in control of the events that happen to us is a scary one. But Victor never stops to think of the consequences of his actions; he brings Sparky back for the sole purpose of keeping things as they were, but even once he succeeds, it is clear that things can never be the same.
We like to think that we have control over our lives, that we can fix things when they go wrong, and can prevent the bad from happening. But the Bible tells a different story – a story of our broken nature, of a world that will never be truly fixed by our actions alone. But this is also a world into which God himself stepped in order to put things right, out of love for us and a desire for reconciliation: ‘For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them.’* Our desire to know more about the world should be enhanced by the knowledge of the one who created us, in whom we can put our trust when our earthly limitations fail us, for it is only through him that, one day, all things will be made right once and for all.
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Author: Dave Stuart
© Copyright: Dave Stuart 2012
Unless stated otherwise, Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation (NLT) copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.