Gods and Monsters (1998)
Rated R

Starring: Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, and Lynn Redgrave

out of

When I was a boy, I used to love Saturday afternoons. I'd always get up early to watch countless hours of horror and science fiction films that were shown on the afternoon TV matinees. While my favorite movies were the ones that featured large rubber-suited monsters, like Godzilla, there was another type of movie I liked. I called it the "man monster" movie. One of my favorites was Frankenstein, with Boris Karloff as the monster. I don't think that in my wildest childhood imagination I could imagine a more tortured creature than the monster. After viewing Gods and Monsters, I know where that tortured soul may have come from.

Gods and Monsters is a speculative look at the final days of James Whale (Ian McKellen), the director of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Whale was an openly gay man in the then hush-hush days of Hollywood homosexuality. The movie finds him recovering from a mild stroke, which has not affected his ability to walk or think. However, he is struggling with bouts of nostalgia and hallucinations from his service in World War I. Having been retired from filmmaking for fifteen years, Whale has taken up painting.

A young yardskeeper named Clay Boone (Brendan Fraser) has been hired by Whale's housekeeper (Lynn Redgrave.) Whale finds Boone attractive and asks him to model for one of his drawings. Boone hesitantly agrees and so begins a somewhat odd relationship between the two men, one gay and one heterosexual.

Whale takes the opportunity to exorcize some of his inner demons by confiding in Boone. Boone likes to listen to the old man's stories, having no prior knowledge of who Whale really is (or was.) The dialogue between the two men enables the audience to get to know the man that created the look of the Frankenstein monster and the Hollywood out of which it was born.

Film fans get a behind-the-scenes look at the Bride of Frankenstein set and a feel for the psychology behind the portrayal of the monster in Whale's movies. The main focus of the film, however, is not on the movies but rather on the monster that can dwell within someone who slowly losing their only link to the past. Memories are all that Whale has left. His stroke has caused them to come rushing back to meet him for the last time as his brain erupts into an electrical storm of confusion.

The script, while based on Whale's life and acheivements, is only speculating about the relationship between Whale and Boone. All that is really known about Whale's last days is how he ended up -- drowned in the swimming pool he hadn't used for years.

Director Bill Condon has a fine pallette to draw from as he sketches in the details of those final days. Ian McKellen is wonderful as Whale. His depiction of Whale as a man slowly coming apart at the seams is priceless and deserving of the Best Actor nomination. Lynn Redgrave, also an Academy Award nominee, is fun-to-watch as the doting Hanna. Brendan Fraser, usually associated with drek like George of the Jungle or Encino Man, is the real surprise here, though. He holds his own with the great McKellen with no visible strain. His performance is an eye-opener. Hopefully, this will lead to better roles for him in the future.

Although overlooked as a Best Picture nominee by the Academy, Gods and Monsters is a haunting and moving depiction of a man's painful conflict with his inner demons and vices.

Trivia: Jack Betts, who plays Boris Karloff, is sometimes credited for playing "Elder" Karloff, due to a trademark on the Boris Karloff name. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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