Re-printed from the Cape Times April 9, 1999, without permission.
Final reel of god who made a monster.
4 Star rating
With Ian Mckellen, brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave. Directed by Bill Condon
JAMES WHALE directed of two of the most successful 1930s Frankenstein movies with Boris Karloff as the star. Gods and Monsters, which is based on Whale's life, is a reminder that Frankenstein's creation emphasises the loneliness of the outsider.
The monster, so alienated by society because of his physical ugliness, becomes as monstrous as people force him to be. Whale (Ian McKellen) understands that people fear what they fail to understand. In Gods and Monsters he is at the end of his life, ailing, suicidal and haunted by unwanted flashbacks. He is reminded of his struggle to leave behind his working-class English background and his involvement in the war. He has spent his adult life in Hollywood trying to portray the British upper-class man he is not. Unimpressed by the phoniness of the film world, he left its environs after a project he cherished was ruined. Deciding rather to retain his integrity, he retired and continues to draw.
Although well-off, with an opulent house and beautiful swimming pool, he lives an isolated life, cared for by his,devoted housekeeper, Hannah (brilliantly played by Lynn Redgrave). Whale's bitter humour and attempts to come to terms with his ill-health are interrupted by a difficult friendship that develops between him and his gardener, Clayton Boone, somewhat self-consciously depicted by Brendan Fraser.
Whale, attracted by Boone's beautiful body, asks to sketch him. In Boone and Whale's relationship the Frankenstein's monster theme emerges. For Boone, Whale, a gay man, is the monster. Repressed and homophobic Boone is eventually humanised by Whale. Whale understands Boone's sense of alienation and empathises with him in the same way he identified with the monster in his Frankenstein films.
Boone exhibits the mind-set he grew up with. As far as society is concerned they are both monsters: Whale for his gay lifestyle and Boone, locked in his emotional prison and prejudices, is as unapproachable as the monster. By sharing feelings and concern for one another they express a godliness common to such outsiders.
Whale points out that he injected humour into his Frankenstein movies but he never laughed at the monster - the monster is far too tragic a figure to mock. And whereas Whale laughs at practically everything he holds dear, he never ridicules Boone. He makes fun of the pretensions of Hollywood, of misguided ambitions and the superficial. He delights in being different and blatantly refuses to conform. His former partner is an established director who is nervous about treading on the toes of the influential and visits Whale from time to time, one feels as much from a sense of duty as affection.
Gods and Monsters, focusing on Whale, Boone and Hannah, has the feel of a stage play. Although this makes it somewhat static, the style also contributes to the sense of intimacy between the trio and the filmic devices used add to the thematic complexity.
Although Gods and Monsters is overly long and has dogmatic overtones, its emotional depth, excellent performances by McKellen and Redgrave and many-dimensional layers make this a moving and rewarding film.