Gods And Monsters (1998), or Beautiful Old Soul

11 11 2009

Nothing is quite as morose as the idea of being forgotten. It’s the very idea that everything that we ever did will be erased by time’s deepening shadow. I personally rue the thought that in the pages of history, I, if anything, will be not even a mere mention, not even a ghost of a name in some intergalactic social studies book of the 22nd century. It’s a dour thought, but at least I’m preceded by a billion nameless and faceless before me who are lost to time, and in a way we will be remembered as those who are lost but not entirely erased from our collective thoughts. Or maybe we’ll all be dead. Who knows? But I’m not the only one who entertains these thoughts; so does the main character in Gods and Monsters, the 1998 Oscar-winning drama from Bill Condon.


It’s a somewhat-fictitious account of the last days of director James Whale that really hits in all the right emotional spots. If you don’t know about James Whale, don’t feel too ashamed. He is a footnote in film’s history, albeit an important one. The director of the original and beloved Frankenstein, the smash sequel Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and The Old Dark House, he was a well-respected director in the industry for much of the 30s, many of his films riding high on a sea of success and positive word-of-mouth. But by the late 30s and into the 40s, his career faltered and struggled as he tried to move on as an artist from his horror days. The industry and movie-goers alike declined to keep up with Whale, and by 1950, he was on the outs. His final years were filled with tumult and personal anguish, and this film takes place near the time of his death in the late 50s. It tells a sensational “what-if” story revolving around Whale’s gardener, Clayton Boone, and their ensuine friendship in his declining years. Boone is straight, while Whale is openly gay, and thought this strains their bond at times when Whale flatly proposes they have sex, it is a rich and compelling relationship that takes both of them in places they never expected.


I genuinely enjoyed this film. It is a perfect blend of romantic film, drama, buddy movie, and that’s all in one relationship! The bonding between Whale, played by Ian McKellan, and Clayton, played by Brendan Fraser, is very touching and genuine, and it is worthy of much of the adulation that has surrounded this film throughout the years. They start out a little coy, naturally so, but it blossoms in such a way that it really beautifies the male relationship and all of its many splendors. It develops in that very special, tentative way that I think any man who is willing to examine the circumstances around which he and his best male friend starting hanging out together will instantly recognize. I like the way the dialog flirts around for a while without talking about the big gay elephant in the room; the subtlety and patience involved is simply amazing.


Bill Condon is a very classy director who reminds me of James Ivory only with more energy. He is an auteur who writes screenplays and shoots them not long afterwards. It sounds very indie and slapdash, but trust me when I say that Condon has a legendary patience with the camera. It’s truly amazing the shots that he gets. My favorite is at a party where Whale has a photo-op with Boris Karloff and Elsa Lancaster, aka Frankenstein’s monster and his bride. It’s such a bittersweet moment that Condon catches like a butterfly escaping the bounds of the earth. His favorite subject, however, seems to be Lynn Redgrave’s character, Hanna. She’s Whale’s caretaker, who disapproves of his deviant sexual lifestyle (it’s a sin, you know). But the gorgeous and breathtaking shots we get of this lovely lady who still has it today do not go unnoticed. She is a strong actress who adds a lot through the subtleties of her character, who you can tell like Whale despite his tendency towards the male persuasion.


There’s a lot to say about Gods and Monsters, and I’ll definitely be covering this in more detail later for an essay. It is a film that has a very passionate message about the end of life, the sadness of obscurity, and the pressing creep of loneliness. It’s as uplifting as it is totally shattering, and nobody can deny its powerful characters and its incredible dialog sequences. It’s probably Brendan Fraser’s best performance by far, it’s another feather in the cap of Ian McKellan, and a brilliant masterstroke by auteur Bill Condon. Old Hollywood’s magic is alive and well in the nooks and crannies of Gods and Monsters, and I therefore give it a well-deserved 9 Hollywood Horror Heroes out of 10! A high recommendation!


Tomorrow I am finally giving The Shawshank Redemption another chance. Many people have called me crazy for not liking it, but we’ll see what I have to say after giving it one final critical opportunity! Until then!!!