Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Insular Thinking: Adaptations and Interpretations of The Island of Dr. Moreau as Reflections of the Gay Marriage Controversy

David R. Caldwell.

This paper discusses ways in which H. G. Wells’ 1896 story The Island of Dr. Moreau has served as an inspiration for subsequent generations of fantasists through its adaptation to film no few than three times (1933, 1977, 1996). In each case Wells’ original text proves a useful reflection of contemporary social and moral controversies. Late 19th century concern over vivisection, reflected in the reception of Wells’ original story, give way in later filmic contexts to such matters as opposition in the United States to legalized gay marriage. Building upon queer readings of Wells’ text by humanities scholars, this paper focuses on John Frankenheimer’s 1996 adaptation of the story in the context of deliberations on gay marriage by the Supreme Court of the island state of Hawaii at that time. The resulting controversy extends to the present day, fueled by the “full faith and credit clause” of the U. S. Constitution, a provision for uniform application of social practices which prevents any one state from becoming an “island” in its legal relationships with other states. Wells’ story and subsequent film versions, in particular that of John Frankenheimer, reveal much about the human tendency toward “island mentality” and ongoing resistance to new perspectives on traditional institutions such as marriage and family.


David R. Caldwell  (United States)
Professor of German and Co-Director of Film Studies
Department of Foreign Languages
University of Northern Colorado

Born 1954, undergraduate education at University of Texas at Austin and Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany.
M. A. and Ph.D. in German at The Ohio State University, Professor of German and Co-Director of Film Studies at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

  • Gay marriage
  • Film adaptation
  • Narrative interpretation in social context
Person as Subject
  • H. G. Wells John Frankenheimer

(Virtual Presentation, English)