It was a dark and stormy night…
Well, actually, it was a rainy afternoon. I’d been living in the apartment complex a few months and my BFF was visiting. As usual, I’d kept my eye open for something we both might enjoy. And a few days earlier, in the dusty VHS archives of the library, I’d found The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, starring none other than our shared favorite obscure British actor, Anthony Andrews.
Usually, I watch things first before sharing them with other people, just in case there’s anything in them that might offend. This time, I didn’t. Foolishly, I wanted us to experience it at the same time. So we sat down with our chocolate and bunny slippers, and pushed Play.
Twenty minutes later, we were both approaching something akin to trauma. I’m not sure if it was the subtle menace of the film, or the fact that our lovely Anthony could play Mr. Hyde, the monstrous, cruel, callous, brutal murderer with such… well, ease. That charming, sweet baby face that won over our hearts as Sir Percy was now cold, taut, and cruel. And we didn’t know what he would do. Since I hadn’t watched it first, I couldn’t reassure her that he wouldn’t rape someone (he doesn’t, but not for a lack of menacing). We kept shrinking smaller and smaller on the couch, fearing he would do something truly unforgivable– and when it was over, we were both a bit shocked, horrified, and freaked out. It was among our shadier shared experiences and the horror of not knowing what he would or wouldn’t do seared it into my mind. (I have since never made that mistake again, and always watch things first!)
The details did not stick with me, but the remembrance of the horror of dreading what might happen did. It has taken me ten years to pluck up the courage to give the film another go – and not unexpectedly, I experienced some of the same dread since I’d blocked most of it from my mind. Putting aside the fact that Andrews does full-blown evil rather well (I’ve seen him do it before, from Moriarty to Murdstone, but never with quite this level of menace), it left me, as usual, with much to think about.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been a favorite Victorian horror story of mine since I discovered it in my early teens. I’ve always gravitated toward stories that ask their audience to think, and Robert Louis Stevenson threw lots of thought-provoking ideas into his book. Dr. Jekyll, in an idealistic desire to eradicate evil, creates a serum he believes will allow him to separate good from evil. Unfortunately, under its influence he becomes the cruel and murderous Mr. Hyde. For a short time, allowing his dark side out is a liberating experience—but after prolonged exposure to Hyde, the antidote that turns him back into Jekyll fails to work, and Jekyll gradually becomes a victim of Hyde’s devouring nature.
The story asks the primal question of, “are humans basically good, or basically evil?” Jekyll believes the former but discovers the latter too late to save himself – that he is not good, but that an awful man lives inside him, held at bay through his moral conscience and timidity. Christians share this view, although not to that extreme (I doubt there is a murderer in very many of us): man is basically evil and if left to his or her own devices and without the check of a conscience, will grow less and less like God, and more and more like our “earthly” father, Satan. The story takes it a step further by asking, if you allow evil into your life, will it overcome the good?
Considering how Hyde first indulges the whims of Jekyll, and then at the conclusion has complete control over him, one may suppose that yes, this is the case. It’s the same old story told a thousand times over in history – the one indulgence of sin that leads to another and becomes an all-consuming fire (symbolized in this film by Hyde inside an inferno of his own making – Jekyll literally throwing himself into hell, to save humanity from his evil). Is it any wonder the Bible tells us to turn away from sin? I’m reminded of another morality tale, A.S. Byatt’s Possession, in which the heroine states, “One cannot stand in a fire and not be consumed.”
The reason the story is so disturbing doesn’t lie in its excesses, but in the questions it begs of its audience – namely, is there a Mr. Hyde lurking in all of us?
Many believers know what their godless state is like, because they came to repentance late in life. This is not the case with me; I grew up hearing the stories of the Bible, and accepted Christ into my heart at a young age. So I am left grateful that I never had to make the mistakes my parents did, but also wondering what I might have been like without God in my life. He knows me better than I know myself, but deep down, I know what my tendencies are. I know what sins I fight on an ongoing basis. I am who I am because of God, not in spite of him. Endless flaws and all, I am still better with him than I would be without him. And that makes me very grateful that I’ve never had to look in a mirror and see my Mr. Hyde.
This is part of the Anthony Andrews Blog Hop.