February 17, 2009
The other night I saw the 1931 "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde", starring Frederic March, on Turner Classic Movies. Wow, is it disturbing. Truly a horror film. As a pre-code talkie, it also has some surprisingly sexual moments with "Champagne Ivy", Miriam Hopkins. Rouben Mamoulian directed, and March won the Best Actor Oscar. (Reason for the entry title: everyone calls the lead character "Dr. Jeee-kyll").
What's disturbing is how effectively it shows that "The line between good and evil runs down the middle of the human heart" as Solzhenitsen said; how intractable, overwhelming the evil can be. Jekyll--an intelligent, well-behaved young doctor, a "good" person--believes that the good and evil inside a person can be separated, and invents a potion to do so. But it coalesces all the evil inside him, and releases it to control his whole person, becoming the cruel character Hyde. And bad stuff happens:
That part is kind of scary, but that's not what makes this a horror movie. What's piercing is Jekyll's terror when he returns to himself, and realizes that he has no control over Hyde, that the evil side can now spontaneously emerge, and there is nothing he can do to stop it.
"Oh, God. This I did not intend. I saw a light but did not know where it was headed. I have trespassed on your domain. I've gone further than man should go. Forgive me. Help me!"
I think we live in an age where "repentance" doesn't make sense, because everybody is basically good at heart (as Anne Frank said, before her death offered evidence to the contrary). There are only a few really terrible people, and the rest of us are OK, only human, a few foibles, but the important thing is that we're nice. That kind of fuzzy feel-good helps grease the wheels of a consumer-focused economy, because people buy more stuff when they're flattered.
But the Gospels are so different--Christ's emphasis on repentance is so different. Life in Christ is a process of healing, and healing requires recognition of evil, enough to be scared by it, as Jekyll was. The psychology (and even theology) of this movie is so different from the way we look at things today; I found it very thought-provoking.