If hideous progeny and the mutating narrative of the Frankenstein story can be considered a critical lens for understanding adaptation, the films Gods and Monsters and Hugo demonstrate an obsession with artistic progeny and offer an analogy between textual adaptation and the ability to shift perspectives on earlier life and work. In the narrative of Gods and Monsters (1998) and Hugo (2011), filmmakers are seen as refashioning materials in life and art. In fact, the films are strikingly similar: They both fictionalize the life of an important director in cinema history, James Whale (Ian McKellan) and George Méliès (Ben Kingsley) respectively. These directors are, as the stories told in these films begin, lost—alienated and depressed. Having repressed the experiences of their early filmmaking successes as these gave way to personal trauma, the two men are brought back to life by the workings of another male figure who has his own personal psychological agenda; Clay Boone (Brendan Fraser) and Hugo (Asa Butterfield) seek meaning in their lives after having been left or abandoned by their fathers. Redeemed and revivified by their relationship with the boys they encounter, Whale and Méliès come to terms with their past: they “rejoin the living,” in the case of Méliès, and rest in peace, in the case of Whale, who commits suicide after confronting his guilt and regret surrounding past (Barnard) and present (Clay) “creatures” he has loved. However, as I hope to show, both films explore the relationship between the magical and the monstrous, affirming the power of “hideous progeny” to reveal new ways of seeing the past and the present.
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