Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Gods and Monsters

MPAA Rating: R for sexual material and language.

Reviewed by: Brian A. Gross

Extremely Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Biography Drama Adaptation
1 hr. 45 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
November 4, 1998
Copyright, Lions Gate Films click photos to ENLARGE

Starring: Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave, Lolita Davidovich, David Dukes, Kevin J. O'Connor, Mark Kiely, Jack Plotnick | Director: Bill Condon | Written by: Christopher Bram (novel Father of Frankenstein), Bill Condon | Distributor: Lions Gate Films

In the past decade Hollywood directors, and financiers, have brought filmmakers of old into the spotlight once again. Tim Burton filmed Ed Wood (about the transvestite director) and Richard Attenborough lovingly filmed Chaplin but, with Chaplin being the exception, they are about men with severe emotional sicknesses or perversions. “Gods and Monsters”, directed and adapted by Bill Condon, is the story of famed Frankenstein director James Whale. Needless to say, he was a man of “issues”, as the psychologists would say.

Mr. Whale (Ian McKellen) is now retired from films and moves about his small estate in perpetual airs. He is not wealthy but lives comfortably in a good area, employing a maid and a gardener. His new gardener, Clay (Brendan Fraser) is of particular interest to him. A strapping young man less than half Whale’s age, he arouses homoerotic feelings in the older man. The years have not banked his libidinal fires and the old man lusts constantly after male bodies and has recurring dreams of his past days as a Lothario of the same sex. He immediately invites Clay in for tea and wonders if he might do a sitting for him to be drawn. Clay has an “aw, shucks” Midwestern sensibility about him and is hesitant but could use the extra money.

He is fully heterosexual and is not too slow of mind to understand that Mr. Whale wants more from him than just to sit. Eventually he does tell Clay—with the help of Hanna (Lynn Redgrave), his maid—that he is gay but never does he totally reveal himself. He seems incapable of being sincere but is most genuine around Clay; dropping his pretentious manner and confiding in him stories of a poor childhood, and of past loves during the War.

The interesting thing is that Bill Condon is not sincere either. He does not flesh out James Whale as a fully realized human being with faults. More to his purposes seem to be dual: to have a coming out party in the form of a film (Ian McKellen is a homosexual—the first to ever be nominated for an Oscar playing a homosexual—as well as an executive producer) and to provide homage for a boyhood hero. Surely, the old Frankenstein pictures mean as much to older filmmakers as the ’70s films of Scorsese mean to new filmmakers and maybe someday it will be chic to the Hollywood crowd to make a film about Capra or Ford; men whose lives were clean and whose talent made them pioneers in the industry. For now we settle for the stilted stories of hacks and has-beens.

Sex and Nudity: Implied sensuality and lust throughout. One scene of fully nude men at a pool party including full frontal nudity. Violence: Several non-graphic flashbacks to World War I. Language: Profanity and obscenities peppered all through.

Viewer Comments
Capra and Ford, while great filmmakers, were definitely not good people by your standards; why don’t you read a little more about Hollywood history first, before you make such statements (you’ll find that nobody was a saint). BTW, despite this negative review, “Gods and Monsters” is a good film.
—Tim, non-Christian
Apparantly, the reviewer is unaware that Mr. Whale also directed the first version of Showboat—he also was responsible for Universal’s Invsible Man. To call the director of Frankenstein, the man who sketched the look of the creature himself, a “has been and hack?” Whale was a homosexual. Making this movie unacceptable for anyone to watch accept their degenerate kind? Does not the bible teach Christians to condemn the act of Homosexuality, and not the person committing that act? My Ratings: [2/4]
—Joe Foster, age 20, non-Christian
Some thoughts: James Whale was hardly a hack and a has-been. He had directed over 20 films in 10 years, including recognized classic versions of “Show Boat” and “The Man in the Iron Mask.” Perhaps he had been disillusioned with what he might have considered potential unfulfilled, but the characterization of “hack and has-been” is stretching it, I think.

Also—Mr. Gross makes reference to Charlie Chaplin being excepted from having “emotional sicknesses or perversions.” That’s not the way he was portrayed in Attenborough’s film, in which he seemed very much the monied hedonist pursuing teenage brides. I think the comparison between the films is not apt.

“Chaplin” was a valentine, however tawdry and superficial, to its subject. “Gods and Monsters” has a little bit more on its mind than lionizing James Whale. And this film can hardly be seen as a “coming out party” for Sir Ian McKellan, who went public with his sexuality over ten years ago. And one might note that homosexuality is not sanitized in this film—the character of James Whale lusts unrepentantly and wistfully for men in a very “politically incorrect” manner. And there is little attempt to “justify” his sexuality—a flashback about an abusive childhood but any connection to a “dysfunctional” family upbringing and his sexuality is tenuous at best.

This is not the most “complimentary” view of homosexuality and not one likely to further any agenda. In the film, Whale’s brain is deteriorating due to a stroke (a point Mr. Gross has either missed or chosen to ignore).

I imagine it’s a terribly traumatic experience to have your body turn against you, prompting unwanted visions and mood swings. What Mr. Gross interprets as “pretentious manner” might have been a man desperately holding on to whatever wits he might have left. Even his teasing of the obviously gay interviewer in the beginning of the film seems to have more to do with keeping his mind sharp than it does with lust. And the character of Clay, who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, finds in Whale a teacher who makes him feel special—even if his intentions might be a bit muddled. And in the end, he seems to feel as much a creation of James Whale as his movie monster was, hence the name Clay. I can understand, to some degree, Mr. Gross' discomfort with “Gods and Monsters” because it’s not clear what the film is trying to say.

It’s not exactly an “homage to a boyhood hero” since it doesn’t flinch from the more unpalatable aspects of Whale’s imagined life and personality. (How Mr. Gross can say that Whale has not been fleshed out as a human being with faults and yet make reference to the character’s “incapability of being sincere” and moving around his estate in “perpetual airs” seems a little careless.) It’s certainly not a pro-gay political tract. It seems to me to be an interesting character study about two lonely misfits who find each other at the right time and impart unlikely comfort to one another. I found it touching in ways I can’t quite comprehend, and discerning viewers might feel the same if they give it a chance. My Ratings: [2½/5]
—Robert Baldwin, age 31, non-Christian