“He who blinded by ambition, raises himself to a position whence he cannot mount higher, must thereafter fall with the greatest loss.”- Niccolo Machiavelli
As the rate of scientific discoveries and innovations grow exponentially, the question arises; is there a limit to how high we can soar?
Ambition is a great trait to possess, however, like all things in life, too much can be unknowingly dangerous. A mind fixated in an end goal overlooks many of the issues that arise around it. Though largely neglected, the world reveals this behaviour in many circumstances. For example, the antagonist in a film, who destroys and neglects everything in their path due to an idea in their mind. Consequently, in a world where science is making almost everything possible, by default, we would want more. The question is,
Are we concerned about the ethical issues of our discoveries?
While ambition drives us to new levels of science, it is possible that we overlook many of the moral problems that arise with it.
It is this ambition and neglect for some of the important ethical issues that is explored in Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein, and Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner. They both explore how an end goal can drive a person’s attention away from one of the fundamental aspects of being a human – being ethical. Dr Victor Frankenstein in the novel, and Dr Eldon Tyrell in the film, were both scientists who were driven, beyond imagination, to create artificial humans – the monster in the novel and the replicants in the film. Mary Shelly and Ridley Scott use these characters to clearly display the off sides of being ambitious and the actuality that returns to us, post the mistakes we make.
Mary Shelly begins her novel, Frankenstein, by pushing her readers into the dreadful aftermath of Dr Frankenstein’s creation. She aims to expose her audience to a post-disastrous situation from the beginning, hinting that devastating problems are a definite aftermath of disrupting the natural path of nature. The novel later shifts into a recollection by Dr Frankenstein where he describes his journey as the creator of the monster. Throughout the narration, it is evident that his focus was on an end goal, which was to create life; resemble God. It disgusts me, and surely other readers, that he does not realise the atrocity of his actions, even as he dig graves in search of body parts to create his 8-foot monster. However, later in the novel, Shelly invites the readers to feel for the monster, who is accused of evilness, by displaying the much outrageous actions of his creator.
Dr Frankenstein speaks about the source of his obsession, “For when I would account to myself for the birth of that passion, which afterwards ruled my destiny, I find it arise, like a mountain river, from ignoble and almost forgotten sources; but swelling as it proceeded, it became the torrent which, in its course, has swept away all my hopes and joys.” In this quote, Mary Shelly effectively uses a poetic style of writing to highlight Dr Frankenstein’s knowledge, as well as displaying his ignorance to his moral responsibilities. Dr Frankenstein refers to his ambition as a raging river, which swept away everything in his path. This directly relates to the aftereffects of his creation. Like a river sweeps away anything in its path, Dr Frankenstein’s ignorance of his ethical duties, destroyed everything around him. Blinded by his ambition to create life, Dr Frankenstein overlooked many of the moral issues that might have arisen from his actions.
Dr Frankenstein’s character reflects that of a greatly ambitious man who was blinded by his perceived future as a scientist. He focuses on his quest to create life. While Dr Frankenstein chases the supposed praise and glory that he could get from his discoveries, he disregards the ethical problems of creating life; he overlooks the possible consequences of disrupting nature. This is true in many situations where we are so concentrated on the rewards attainable from an action, that we neglect many of our responsibilities. Dr Frankenstein’s obsession over science lead him to devote all his time studying, sacrificing his health and relationships. Mary Shelly purposefully designs her character in this way to show that just as Dr Frankenstein forgets about his relationships, he also forgets about the Monster’s need for relationships. Mary Shelly’s clever construction of Dr Frankenstein shows her audience that his personality greatly contributes to his neglect of the moral issues with his creation.
Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, explores a similar concept of neglect for moral problems to achieve ones overpowering ambition. In the film, Dr Tyrell creates replicants who are bioengineered androids that are used for off world purposes. Like Dr Frankenstein, Dr Tyrell neglects the likely consequences of his creation. However, unlike Dr Frankenstein, he does not seem to reach a realization for his mistakes; he takes pride in his creations. Dr Tyrell knows, but neglects the ethical issues of his creations that are “more human than human.” As he implants a four-year life span into his replicants, it is evident that he is aware of the issues, which makes the moral implications of the replicants more questionable. It astonishes me that this ‘great’ scientist does not realize his mistakes until his last moments.
Ridley Scott further explores Dr Tyrell’s mistake by really portraying the replicants as humans through the quote, “we’re no computers, Sebastian, we’re physical.” Roy speaks these words at an attempt to convince Sebastian to take him to his creator. Roy’s desperateness to be reprogrammed shows that he is as human as he can be.
What is more human than the fear of death?
Scott perfectly portrays Dr Tyrell’s mistake as a creator as he ignores the possible development of real human characteristics in the replicants.
Ridley Scott’s development of Dr Tyrell’s character speaks great lengths, as he creates a character that brilliantly captures a man lost in the run for power and glory. Scott’s character works hand-in-hand with Mary Shelly’s 17th century creation, Dr Frankenstein. Both characters try to play God by creating life from scratch, however, unlike Dr Frankenstein, Dr Tyrell goes further to declare himself God. Scott further makes this clear through the pyramid like building that Dr Tyrell lives in, making reference to the Egyptian Pharaohs, who were believed to be gods. Living in the Pyramid building, he proclaims himself god-like and powerful. Dr Tyrell’s great ambition and greed for power made him overlook the problems that arise in taking over the role of God.
Mary Shelly and Ridley Scott perfectly developed and portrayed two stories that captures the consequences of over ambition. They use their two perfectly crafted characters, Dr Frankenstein and Dr Tyrell, to display that scientific discovery definitely have its boundaries, after which the results would be catastrophic. Frankenstein and Blade Runner truly reminds their audience the value of not being blinded by glory and power, and making sure that the ethical issues behind ones actions are always considered.