“Victor Frankenstein,” starring James McAvoy as Dr. Frankenstein and Daniel Radcliffe as his protégé Igor Strausman, is a “Frankenstein” movie unlike any other. While inspired by Mary Shelley’s classic novel and the countless interpretations of that story, screenwriter Max Landis’ “regeneration” focuses on the relationship between Victor and his best friend and assistant Igor. In fact, it’s the first story to be told largely from Igor’s perspective. “It’s a love story between these two mean, really,” notes director Paul McGuigan. “Victor and Igor need each other; in fact, Victor needs Igor probably more than Igor needs Victor in his life.” The film arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on March 8 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Moreover, the film, though set in 1860, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, has a contemporary sensibility. “I don’t think of it as a period film,” says Radcliffe, Victor and Igor have cutting-edge ideas; they’re the tip of the spear. They view science as being more than just observational. They believe it could be creative and re-shape the world. I like the film’s irreverent tone and how it avoids being Victorian and ‘buttoned-up.’ Victor and Igor are forward thinking.”
“Victor Frankenstein” is also, notes James McAvoy, a love letter to the myriad films featuring those characters and themes. “This film has many of the familiar elements you expect to see in a Frankenstein movie, but adds unexpected dimensions of character, relationships and entertainment.” Adds McGuigan: “Max Landis has done nothing less than capture the zeitgeist of all the Frankenstein movies he’s watched. He’s cherry-picked ideas and created his own ‘monster,’ so to speak.”
McGuigan was especially drawn to Landis’ decision to tell the story through Igor’s eyes. That notion points to a key misperception about the character and his role in Frankenstein lore. Igor was not a character in Mary Shelley’s book, nor did he appear in most of the subsequent film interpretations. Actor Dwight Frye’s hunchbacked lab assistant in James Whale’s “Frankenstein” (1931) is the main source for the “Igor” of public imagination, though the character he played was actually named Fritz. Most moviegoers know the character through Marty Feldman’s performance in Mel Brooks’ beloved comedy “Young Frankenstein,” though Feldman’s character insists on being called “Eye-gore.”
A different kind of moniker mix-up accompanies Victor himself. Many people attribute that name to the monster, instead of its creator–the good doctor. “So we give the name ‘Frankenstein’ back to the scientist–to Victor Frankenstein,” says McGuigan. “Whenever somebody asked me what I was doing at the moment, I would say, I’m playing Frankenstein, and they’d reply, ‘You’re a little short to be playing the monster.’ And I’d correct them and say, ‘No, no, it’s the doctor.’ So, yeah, we’re giving the name back to Dr. Vic.”
A pivotal moment for both Victor and Igor is an early scene where Victor straightens Igor’s hunchback, which McGuigan says is “a metaphor for the entire movie.” Having rescued Igor from a London circus, Victor takes him to his flat and within minutes throws Igor against the wall and produces a massive syringe with which he performs a lightning-fast medical procedure on his new “patient.” Moments later, Igor’s hunchback is corrected. “If you think you knew Victor, the first few minutes of the film will prove you don’t,” says McGuigan. “He’s dangerous and fun to watch.”
Fun and dangerous, yes, but he’s also, brilliant, obsessed–and a sociopath. As Victor walks a fine light between lightness and darkness, and between life and death, only Igor can keep him from a descent into madness from which there’ll be no return.
That’s no easy accomplishment, given that Victor and Igor are exploring fundamental questions, such as: Where do we come from? Where do we go when we die? Can we prevent–or reverse–death?
“Victor and Igor are at the forefront of scientific and medical research,” notes McAvoy. “But just because they can cheat death, should they do it? I think Victor’s intentions are good. He’s looking to improve the human condition, which is very fragile. Victor is trying to make it more robust and, ideally, eliminate death, which has been a human obsession for ages.”
Victor’s friendship with Igor is one of equals. Igor’s knowledge of anatomy instantly impresses the scientist, who takes Igor under his wing. Even as Igor is in many ways Victor’s first creation, Victor learns much from his friend and assistant.
Notes Radcliffe: “Igor has a very rich, intellectual life and, if he’s not the academic equal of Victor, he’s certainly a partner in terms of what they’re creating. Victor lifts Igor out of those horrible conditions, which sets up an interesting dynamic in their relationship. He has created a new life for Igor. As Igor and Victor embark on this journey together, Victor starts losing his mind, and Igor tries to pull him back from the edge of insanity. But how do you stand up to somebody after they’ve given you everything? So, there’s an imbalance and tension in their relationship that is fascinating to me.”
Like Victor, Igor is a man of action. “Igor is quite well matched with Victor, in terms of physicality,” says Radcliffe. That translated into a lot of what Radcliffe calls “chucking each other around,” including the aforementioned and vigorous hunchback-removing procedure.
“Every time Daniel and I had a scene together, we’d ask each other, ‘How physical and dangerous-looking can we make this? Come on, man!,’” says McAvoy. “We are similar in energy levels and physical ability, so we just kind of went at each other, 12 hours each day. Adds Radcliffe: “James is a bold actor and really hits the ground running in an exciting way. That enabled us to make some interesting choices together.”