Get Your Reps In: Ian McKellen Stars as “Frankenstein” Filmmaker James Whale in “Gods and Monsters”

What to see at Portland’s repertory theaters.

Gods and Monsters (Lionsgate)

Gods and Monsters (1998)

To hear pioneering horror director James Whale (Ian McKellen) tell it in Gods and Monsters, he prefers much of his oeuvre to his Frankenstein pictures. The Invisible Man (1933) is better, he argues, and he directed Showboat (1936) for God’s sake. That’s a serious film, in Whale’s mind.

So why does every person the retired director encounters in this snapshot biopic want to talk about Frankenstein? Pathos, pliability, costume design—you name it. In fact, Gods and Monsters finds its heartbeat when it just makes every character sit down and watch The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

Upon viewing, Whale is both delighted and touched. His loyal caretaker Hanna (Lynn Redgrave) recoils in moralist fear. Across town, Whale’s gardener-turned-confidant Clay (Brendan Fraser) is upset that his barfly friends find Bride funny.

These responses speak to the many valid reactions to and intentions within great horror movies, but it’s the perilous quest for connection that resounds through both Frankenstein and Gods and Monsters. The dynamic between the ill, exiled director (Whale) and the wayward, boozy gardener (Clay) is complicated by exploitation and homophobia, but more powerful is their desire to be understood before it’s too late.

None of us ask to be created, but the monster’s guttural grumble of “friend” cuts to the core of what we need afterward. Hollywood, May 22.


5th Avenue: Canoa: A Shameful Memory (1976), May 19-21. Academy: Mulholland Drive (2001), May 19-25. Wayne’s World (1992), May 19-25. Cinema 21: Blue Collar (1978), May 20. Clinton: Dead Ringer (1964), May 20. School of the Holy Beast (1974), May 20. Embrace the Serpent (2015), May 23. Hollywood: Dog Day Afternoon (1975), May 18. La Haine (1995), May 22. The Hidden (1987), May 23.

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