Monday, 18 February 2013

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Book vs. Film

For your...(pure enjoyment, perhaps?) I advise you to have read Stevenson's novel and watched the 1968 film version of
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but I will not suffer anyone to prerequisites to reading my thoughts. This is an unconventional post, but it is an unconventional story...
I had a wonderful time writing it, so I hope it's worth the time to read.  Enjoy!

                                             A Tale and the Foibles of its Film

          Pink potions, murderous monsters, obsessive occupations, and a literal split personality: If any of these elements possess something in common, it would be found in a Gothic novella, namely Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The novella's popularity has never diminished since it was published in 1886, mainly because of its gripping suspense, dark mystery, and horrifying discoveries the characters make.  Because of its popularity, the novella was used to produce different film versions.  However, because the film produced by Dan Curtis emphasizes various other themes while altering main plots and characters, Stevenson's novella remains the better. Why? Not only does the film and novel evoke different conflicting feelings, but the evils of the character of Hyde contrast, and Hyde's appearance is left no imagination while a love interest leaves viewers giving Jekyll more sympathy than is healthy.

          Stevenson's Gothic novella evokes feelings that differ from Dan Curtis' production of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  While the original story is intriguing, the film is painful to watch not only because of the clanging, dissonant, pounding, musical themes but also because of what is portrayed in the film.  I felt uncomfortable while watching certain scenes because they had not been in the book, scenes such as those of Hyde carousing with the dancers in the pubs (MPI Home Video 2002).  These conflicting feelings drawn from the book and film are obnoxiously mixed and accounted for because I prefer to have some elements left to my imagination.  When a film fills in all the blanks and leaves no room for imagination, it loses a certain attraction which cannot be replaced. In the novel, when two characters, Enfield and Utterson, talk about Mr. Hyde, the descriptions are vivid, but because Hyde is not seen when reading, the mind creates more of a horrific idea of Hyde by using imagination (Greenblatt, 1679).   

            While watching, reading and imagining, I analyzed. Which was more evil, the film's Hyde or Stevenson's original Hyde? Both are quite evil, but they are different evils.  While the film portrays Hyde's evil in the form of debauchery and extreme anger, Stevenson's Hyde carries events or affairs off like Satan with an air of “black, sneering coolness,” which translates as a sneakier, secretive, albeit hiding character (Greenblatt, 1679).  The movie attempts to make viewers sympathize with Hyde even if it was for a few minutes of the show. His character remained unafraid of others as he embraced the ideas of wild living, especially with an added love interest.  It is human nature to love, and the film strategically placed a love interest in Hyde's life to make viewers sympathize, but he did not really love, he lusted. The Mr. Hyde Stevenson initially crafted was a hunched, hissing, slinking character that trampled a young girl and killed a member of parliament (1678, 1688). The film, however, painted Hyde as one tall, guffawing, sinister, macabre fiend who slept carelessly and killed more than those initially fated so by Stevenson.

            If Stevenson had doomed a woman to be in the story as the film did a character named Gwnyth, I would have accepted it, but the fact that the film took the liberty to add a love interest to expound on a part never mentioned in the novel was quite unconventional.  Although I did not agree with the addition of such a woman, I realized that Mr. Hyde's character was being explored in a new way, for even in the original story, Dr. Jekyll had never had relations with a woman. In the film, Hyde drinks in the pubs and doles out money and even himself to a woman. In a way, the film made a statement that perhaps since Jekyll had always been such a good man his entire life he wanted to experience the bad and the ugly, not just the good.  The effect the added love interest had on the film is extremely interesting, as when the two were together, the producer wants viewers to be happy for them, but I knew it was wrong and would not last.

            Cries of anguish and screams of pain were often heard by Jekyll, but, like the temporary happiness of Hyde and the film's added woman,  these cries did not last, for he either turned into his alternate, or his alternate reverted to Jekyll.  The novella never led the reader through the process of Jekyll's transformation into Hyde, and consequently, Jekyll forever held my sympathies.  In the film, though, I did not even once sympathize with Jekyll because I saw him running to his obsessive occupation and his pink potions only to turn to a murderous monster.  Just as when one sees an alcoholic returning to drink after he or she has promised to cease the addiction, so was Jekyll, and because I witnessed his disgusting impulse to experience evil, I could not sympathize. I would not sympathize, except for one detail; the love interest.  When Dr. Jekyll left his home to make a Doctor's visit on the woman Hyde had beaten, she overtly aimed to seduce him.  She had paid him visits to his home and they had met on other occasions, but he had always remained the dignified and upright Doctor Jekyll, never stooping to accept her overtures. It was when he gave in to her pleas and sad faces that I felt all was lost, and soon it was, for it was almost immediately that he turned into Mr. Hyde once again.

            Apart from the blaring orchestra and old musical themes, Dan Curtis' production of Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde was not just a surprising film edition of the novella.  While the film leaves no room for imagination and strips one from sympathizing with Jekyll, it endeavored to insert scenes that would evoke more emotion by adding a love interest.  Films should not strip books, they should enhance them. This film made this mistake and hoped to camouflage that mistake by adding other elements.  Stevenson's classic is reliable. It is his creation, and it is a novella which tells the story of a literal split personality, pink potions, obsessiveness, and murderous monsters in a way that surpasses that of any film.

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. E. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dir. Charles Jarrot. Prod. Dan Curtis. Perf. Jack Palance, Denholm Elliott, Leo Genn. MPI Home Video, 2001. DVD.

On a lighter note...
The same year this strange film was released, somebody messed around and fused a Camaro and Chevrolet for a project.

The name of their project? Jekyll and Hyde. How fitting.

The things people do.

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