The Beast Within: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

hyde4

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.

hyde1

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.

hyde2

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?

hyde3

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.

22 Replies to “The Beast Within: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde”

  1. Very strange coincedences, I’ve been reading Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for the first time this week (love it, lots of thinky-nuggets, like you said,) and happen to have just finished a post on human nature as well. I guess this story has a habit of spawning blog posts!

    I’m still having a hard time picturing Anthony Andrews being quite that alarmingly evil, (especially enough to spook you!) but the film does appear to be completely impossible to find. So, I guess I’ll just have to take your word for it.

    Beautifully written post! It’s always worth a reminder of just how far we can fall without the guidance of The Spirit. If we give evil even an inch of leash it takes a mile. That’s something so easy to forget, but so important to remember.

    1. Sherlock Holmes would say there are no coincidences — but this is a lovely one! =) It’s a good book, isn’t it? Easy read, but very thought-provoking.

      I read your post (and now I’m following your blog!) and it was very good. My memory is a bit hazy this morning (it’s not even 7am and I just got up) but I may have answered your post already — if not, I’ll get to it! =)

      Yes, this particular film is hard to find. There’s the last 11 minutes of it up on YouTube but it’s out of print on VHS and HBO never put the full series on DVD!

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. This story is on my to-read list — I somehow missed it in both high school and college. Now you have me quite eager to read it! I know the basic story, of course, but I didn’t know it got so deep!

    I’ve been a Christian all my life, and I know that even if, with the desire to live my life for the Lord, I can sin the way I do every day, I don’t even want to imagine what I would be like without Christ in my life.

    I’ve been enjoying your posts for the blog hop!

    1. It’s a good read — and fairly fast, too. It’s not a very long book — I think it took Stevenson a weekend to write it! Let me know what you think of it, when you read it! I’m always delighted to discuss it with people. =)

      1. I’ll try to remember to return here and let you know what I think, but I don’t know quite when I’ll get to it, so no promises. But I will assuredly post about it on my blog, whenever I do read it.

  3. How odd. I just read this book last week for the first time in about fifteen years. I remember enjoying it much more than anticipated in high school, but I simply hadn’t read it in ages and did so on a whim. And now here’s your lovely blog post on it.
    I love your musings about how Hyde takes over Jekyll as one’s evil nature may. Just recently I was reading a commentary on Romans, and when it came to the part where Paul says that God gave certain people over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done, the commentator explained how often sin is its own punishment. The more you sin, the more you’re led into sin and the more it destroys you. This is perfectly illustrated with Jekyll and Hyde.
    I am also very thankful not to have had a life of desperate sin to be redeemed from. I was also saved as a very young child, and I have often wondered what kind of person I would be without God’s kind presence in my life my whole life. I don’t know if I want to know, really.

      1. I haven’t read the book in several years — and sadly, have too much to read at the moment, so it’s likely I won’t get to it for another few weeks. But it IS a good book. I love it.

        The awfulness of sin is that the more you sin, the more it consumes you — and the less you enjoy it. That’s why one perversion is never enough, and leads you further and further into it — in the same way after awhile, one joint isn’t enough to get you high, with any sin, after awhile you’re so immune to it, you have to go further and further for a rush. I think it was C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters whose demon said the objective was not only to ensnare humans in sin, but see to it they received no enjoyment from the sin itself, yet were bound to it.

        I suspect most of us know what we would be capable of without God in our lives — those thoughts that float into our heads and get cast aside by our conscience, or our morality, or our faith, would no longer have a net to catch them. I’ve been told by my friends that I’m a bit “scary” — I could be a much, much scarier without my faith to hold me back. I’m very drawn to dark things.

  4. It’s kind of scary how completely I block things out when I don’t want to remember them. I have almost no recollection of Anthony’s Hyde because, as you said, it was so traumatic. I don’t always mind my heroes playing the occasional villain, but it was terrifying how his Hyde reminded me of the sin nature lurking within all of us. We truly are saved through grace, and not of ourselves. The story of Jekyll and Hyde resonates with society, even now, and it needs to because it reminds us that we are, all of us, capable of great evil. What keeps us from acting on it? Murderers are born when they stop listening to that little voice called Conscience and start letting Hyde out of his box.

    The film was thought-provoking, but not one I would ever want to re-watch. I don’t like watching our Anthony being that . . . brutish. Like when I saw Joe Flanagan beat up his wife in some crime drama episode. The details might fade, but the after effects of the experience linger for a very long time.

    Great post!

    1. I’m not surprised you mentally blocked it — I did too, all but the experience I had watching it. I remembered a few vague details but nothing specific. It’s really a rather… daring adaptation, but then it was produced by HBO — we’re lucky it wasn’t worse than it was!

      Without God in my life, I think I could be capable of some very Hyde-like behavior. Someone once said that everyone has considered murder at some point in their life — either in a passing thought or more seriously; yet, our morality does (or at least should) hold us back.

      Joe Flanagan?! Really? That cutie-pie? No… that’s just BAD casting.

      1. Without God I would be manipulative, vindictive, and violent. I would have no reason not to live up to the sinful nature that the Lord has forgiven in me. You know, it’s interesting, but I think that Christians who find the Lord as children really need to take a step back and examine themselves from a distance. What are we saved from? How would we be without Jesus? What impact has He had upon our lives? I’ve got relations who would say that I wouldn’t be any different, but I know better because I’ve taken that step back and without Jesus, I wouldn’t be very nice at all. The Lord has blessed us both with salvation and forgiveness, so at least we’ll never suffer the guilt of acting out the sins we know our nature would commit!

        A part of me contemplates re-watching this film for my villains post. I wonder if I could manage writing a blip about it from memory instead of having to give it another go. I probably remember enough, at least I remember the trauma, to include it in the post.

        And YES, it was terrible seeing Joe play such a violent man! Scary, scary, scary! I don’t even remember what show it was now, but I would never watch the episode again!

        1. The problem with salvation at a young age is that we forget we are sinners – since we grow up in church, and “behave ourselves,” for the most part, we think we’re good people. That goodness tends to make us forget that we do need a savior, and that our actions are far from pure. It gives us a holier-than-thou attitude that is a sin in of itself, because it’s a proud arrogance that we don’t do the low, vulgar things that unsaved people do. I honestly don’t think I really was saved until two years ago, when I did stop and think about what I’m like, and realize that YES, I NEED A SAVIOR. I made a very convincing Christian for 28 years – but I wasn’t one. Or if I was, I certainly wasn’t humble!

          Someone argued with me once about a person’s inability to be “good” without God – he reasoned that how do I know I wouldn’t still be a nice person without God? How do I know that? Because I’ve thought about doing some awful things. I haven’t done them, but I’ve thought about doing them. And where do thoughts lead to, without God to hold us back? ACTIONS.

          You could always re-live the experience with me, since I do have a copy of it (it’s out of print, and damned near impossible to find) but… you may not want to. Perhaps I can sum him up for you nicely: Jekyll is a shy, introverted, intellectual easily cowed in the face of others, who at first cannot comprehend his own behavior as Hyde. He is shocked when a coworker admires Hyde’s ability to think and do whatever he likes, because he finds it “repulsive,” until emboldened through his coworker’s admiration of Hyde (his coworker is also blatantly immoral), he unleashes the monster. As Hyde, he beats the employer he hates nearly to death, threatens to rape the woman he loves (Hyde calls it lust, and that may very well be the truth), and winds up strangling a young woman to death. His last redemptive act is when Jekyll prevents Hyde from killing the woman he loves and allows her to escape, but also sets the lab on fire and perishes in the flames.

          It can be a truly traumatic experience to see an actor we like play someone truly horrible. If they start out as a villain and we like them regardless, that’s much different than if we know and love them in a likable heroic role and then see them transition into a cold blooded murder, rapist, etc. But even then, even going from one villain to the next, some acts as a villain are irredeemable.

          1. Also, that argument about being “good” is a pretty weak one. Unsaved people do a lot of good in this world, but where does that get them? Without Christ, they’re doomed to an eternity of eternal separation from God. On the flip side, an unsaved person can do some pretty awful things, but (like you said) can be saved.

            And you’re right, thoughts do lead to actions. I myself have had some seriously awful thoughts, but knowing that Christ saved me from sin, I trust in Him to help me do what’s right. I will always have this sin nature, and the only reason I’m not an awful, awful person is God’s grace.

            And I agree. It’s so easy to judge addicts and murderers and prostitutes, but it’s not as easy to love them. They’re not a bit worse than I am, even though their sins are more “in your face.” Pride can be a ugly thing, and if I don’t guard myself, I’ll end up like the Pharisees Jesus so often rebuked.

          2. If God doesn’t exist (as the fellow argued) — then doing good in this world as an unsaved person is simply being a “good person.” Since there is no afterlife, according to his logic, then we are fully capable of doing good things with or without God. That may be true, but some of us don’t do truly awful things BECAUSE of our belief in God. Therefore, even if HE doesn’t believe in God, a universal DISBELIEF in God might do him (and society at large) harm! You can go round and round with conflicting logic when you deal with morality or lack thereof, and the pros and cons of religion on society on the whole.

            Someone once said that it rains on the just and the unjust — even those who reject God are still capable of goodness, because they honor a standard of goodness that He established in the first place; our standards of morality revolve around God’s standards of morality in some way, shape or form — ungodly societies, on the other hand, such as Ancient Rome, had no real standard of morality — anything and everything was acceptable, transforming them into an utterly barbaric, brutal nation that inevitably met its downfall.

            Of course, you can take it a step further and say if morals are subjective, WHY does every society throughout the history of existence have certain moral beliefs in common? No society or individual, for example, admires a traitor.

            Sometimes I think the more obvious sins may be the lesser ones — because they are sins outside ourselves, shown for all the world to see and easy for others to challenge — but if no one can see our inner sins, no one can challenge us on them and we may avoid confronting them.

          3. I agree with your last comment quite strongly. I have a friend who just admitted something that I believe she’s quite looked down on for, but her sin in NO WORSE than pride or lying or reading books you should or any other number of sins. But hers is so apparent and open that it’s easy to judge her and think awful things about her. We’re all sinners, and God hates all sin equally. Some sins have a different or stronger effect, but in the end, God hates murdering as much as he does selfishness.

  5. The older I get, the more I am grateful that I, too, received Christ at such a young age, mainly because I can imagine more and more what I would have been without Him. Many people joke about INTJs being supervillains, but they don’t realize how true that is. Without God, I would be a supervillain of sorts (albeit more of a Supreme Empress of my small social circle instead of the more celebrated Lex Luthor variety). Now I just settle for the bossy big sister role and try to help improve everyone and everything around me.

    1. Good for you! You’re doing something good with your natural instincts, instead of using them for darkness. 🙂

      I have a diabolical mind. I’m not sure I could aspire to the INTJ level of executing a brilliant evil plan, but I could manipulate people (Ne-Fe!), use my Ti to help them in diabolical plans, and make other people’s life a living hell. But… I don’t. Thank God, I don’t. That’s not to say I don’t struggle against it, though — manipulation and dark thoughts come very easily to me. =P

  6. I had to read this story for British Lit (I’d read an abridged version as a teenager) and really enjoyed it. But Jekyll, though typically thought of as “good,” really isn’t. He enjoys the evil Hyde does, so much so that he continues to use the potion even knowing what will happen. Sure, he feels bad when he finds out what he’s done, but not bad enough to stop. I wish this story were fresh in my mind, but Jekyll’s not this perfect person so many people make him out to be.

    1. This is so true, and I was going to comment the same thing myself. At the beginning Jekyll does want to separate the evil out of himself, to be sure, but he also wants the chance to enjoy it, or to allow the evil part of himself to enjoy it, while he enjoys his own goodness. He wants to be able to have both without any cost.

    2. Jekyll indulges Hyde, because he likes how it makes him feel — which is really why all of us pursue sin. Because we like how it feels — it gives us pleasure, or a sense of power, or a rush. We know good and well it’s sin, but that doesn’t stop us from doing it. It’s only when sin takes over and destroys our life that we realize it’s gone too far.

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s