I saw the film Babadook the other day, and thought about it as I read Frankenstein. A review of the film that I read online made the following interesting observation:
“Zero-sum” is a term from game theory. Broadly, it describes a situation where the only possible result of conflict is that one side wins, and the other loses. (It’s zero-sum because if you state mathematically that the winner is +1 and the loser is -1, the sum of the two results is zero.)
The majority of action, suspense, and especially horror films follow this format: there is a clear winner and a clear loser. Horror as a genre has more of a tendency than most for that endgame to not necessarily favor the protagonist — often, the supposed hero doesn’t win.
But, in The Babadook, something else happens…
Similarly, as the plot of Frankenstein unfolded, I felt that the correct pathway offered to our protagonist was one that would allow for the monster's existence-- i.e. the monster would be tolerated and nurtured. What is clear to readers, as we are allowed to spend a great deal of time in the monster's head during the central part of the narration, is that the monster is not inherently evil, and that it is driven to evil acts by being constantly pushed away and out of the light of human companionship. It's only when driven into the shadows that it seeks to enact malicious deeds. If Victor had been able to accept the monster, to teach it and to guide it, to bring about a non-zero-sum solution, who knows what other ending to the story he could have created? As is, he spurns it and thus sets up the nasty karmic rebound he must suffer as a result. Mary Shelley seemed intent on showing us that as we reject the amoral impulses of our nature as being somehow tainted and unworthy of conscious integration, we set ourselves up for horrifying results.