The Green Jekyll: Stevenson’s Influence in Raimi’s Spider-Man
The dichotomy of man’s innate good and evil has always been a fascinating literary subject to me. Among the stories that attempt to look at this troubling juxtaposition of the human soul, none stand out more or have influenced our cultural view of this theme as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There have been so many adaptations and callbacks to the story that Google exploded when I tried to search for them all (and, if you find a bunch of Google bits scattered all over your internet browser, I’m sorry); and it’s admittedly pretty easy to compare Stevenson’s gruesome twosome to paradigmatic characters we still see today, such as Marvel Comics’ The Hulk or DC villains like Two-Face from the Batman series.
However, while these two characters’ alter egos exemplify (even embellish) Hyde’s destructive nature, I feel their former personalities fail to parallel a character as problematic and dark as Jekyll. The thing most people fail to understand about Jekyll and Hyde is – spoilers – they’re the same person, not two completely separate people. It’s not as though Jekyll isn’t conscious of what Hyde does; hell, in the story Jekyll even assures Mr. Utterson “the moment I choose, I can be rid of Mr Hyde (Stevenson, 1789),” but instead chooses to indulge himself until he can no longer be rid of his alter ego.
The aforementioned Hulk is created when Bruce Banner saves a child from a blast of gamma radiation, and Two-Face is simply the product of Harvey Dent’s unfortunate disfigurement and the resulting psychosomatic breakdown that ensues. See the difference? The Hulk and Two-Face are accidents – events that just happened to victims who had these identities forced onto them; Hyde was concocted, self-inflicted and above all, tantalizing. And keeping to my self-imposed topic of comic book icons, I believe I’ve found one that better exemplifies both sides of the “good” Dr. Jekyll: Marvel Comics supervillain The Green Goblin. For those who don’t remember, this clip recounts the conception of the supervillain in the Spider-Man trilogy directed by Sam Raimi:
Not the most well-written scene in cinema history, but the exposition says it all. CEO of Oscorp, Norman Osborne is under pressure by his military contractors to make a new “super soldier”. Here we can see that Norman is a high-class, very established businessman who is under pressure to keep up his reputation, much like Dr. Jekyll, who is a highly-acclaimed and respected doctor who feels the pressure of societal conformity slowly encroaching on his identity. Both look to their concoctions as an escape from these pressures, albeit under different circumstances.
It’s also worth mentioning that, like Jekyll, Norman develops “early homicidal tendencies as a means of relieving the stress of his father’s abuse” as a child, which he continues to repress until the moment he takes the formula, according to his Wikipedia page (Hey, don’t give me that look! You try finding a more scholarly-accredited article for the biography an esoteric comic book character, and tell me how that goes!). Of course, the inlaid tendencies found in Jekyll aren’t quite as violent as Norman’s, but we can see that both characters have darker sides of their former selves which are never disclosed to anyone, but are exacerbated through the administration of their unstable concoctions.
Yes, it is true that the effects of their formulae differ in that no distinctive physical change comes about once Norman takes his magic potion aside from enhanced strength and mental capabilities, but there is also a dramatic change in his disposition like we see in Jekyll once he dons his disguise as Mr. Hyde. This clip shows the difference between Norman and his dark side:
Another difference, which we see in this scene, lies in the fact that, at first, Norman isn’t aware of what his dark persona, brought into existence by the single dose of his formula (rather than the multiple doses taken by Jekyll), is doing behind his back in order to raise his status in the business world. And, of course, Jekyll can’t directly communicate with Hyde in his laboratory mirror (though, like Norman and his dark side, they are the same person). However, we can also see in this scene that there are striking similarities. The “board members” the goblin kills were trying to take control of Oscorp away from Norman, thus inciting the goblin to do his host a, um…favor. Like Hyde, Norman’s inner goblin serves as a destructive aid in his alleviation of the pressures that surround him, and, like Jekyll, Norman willingly adopts and nurtures his dark side and becomes Green Goblin as a result.
It’s also interesting to see that in both stories, Jekyll and Norman can both clearly see there’s something wrong with them (addiction to the thrill of being Hyde in Jekyll’s case, and, in Norman’s case, powerlessness to control the madness growing within him) and yet they never confide in anyone to help them. In the final chapter of Stevenson’s work, Jekyll admits that after two months of disowning Hyde, that “time began at last to obliterate the freshness of my alarm…I began to be tortured with throes and longings, as of Hyde struggling after freedom; and at last, in an hour of moral weakness, I once again compounded and swallowed the transforming draught (Stevenson, 1814).”
While it’s not an exact re-telling of the story, the story of Norman Osborne shares surprising similarities with Dr. Jekyll’s – both esteemed men of their trade whose moral weakness and worry for their own self-image leads them down a dark, irreversible path that inevitably ends in their own violent deaths. If ever there was one intriguing literary parallel to come out of the Raimi Spiderman duology (because that third one will forever remain in my mind as a void space in movie history that never happened), this is it.
Raimi, Sam, dir. Spider-Man. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. 2002. Film. 3 December 2014.
Stevenson, Robert. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Trans. Array The Longman Anthology British Literature . . 4th ed . Boston: Pearson, 2010. 1780-1817. Print.
“Norman Osborn.” Wikipedia. Web. 3 Dec. 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Osborn>.