Fascination With the Beast Within: Mr Hyde as Venom
A man accidentally adopts a second personality that is simultaneously a part of him and a completely separate being. This second personality has carnal desires that the man does not support, and he struggles to come to terms with its existence within him. They have vastly different appearances and the man goes through a transformation process that, initially, he finds terrifying but eventually becomes easy for him to go through. By finally accepting this part of himself, he actually begins to enjoy the loss of control and the things he can do through this second personality. In the end, he has a kind of separation from this entity, and he is acutely aware of its loss despite telling outside parties– with whom he begins his story– that he is glad that the second personality is gone. This story deals with societal expectations of outward appearances, frames its plot as a detective story, and addresses mankind as wanting to be better than he actually is.
Did I just describe the plot of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, or that of 2018 blockbuster Venom? The two share enough parallels that inspiration, at least for some elements, can be claimed to have come from Stevenson’s iconic double-identity novella.
“We… are Venom.” Transformation gif courtesy of http://tomhardyvariations.tumblr.com.
Eddie Brock, the “Dr. Jekyll” of Venom, is an investigative reporter whose style of journalism makes him both loved and hated, as he has no regard for any social constructs that prevent him from digging into the truth of his investigations. He is also engaged to a woman named Anne Weying, who is the lawyer figure of this story (the Mr. Utterson of this plot). Eddie’s next interview is with the CEO of “the Life Foundation,” Carlton Drake. The Life Foundation is a company that is trying to find cures to a multitude of diseases, and it begins testing Symbiotes on random homeless volunteers to see what exactly the alien species can do to help mankind. This runs as a parallel to Dr. Jekyll’s experimentation, except that in this instance he is more like Drake than Eddie. Eddie, seeing that something strange is happening inside the Life Foundation’s laboratories. He sneaks into the lab, accidentally picks up Venom, a Symbiote that has been unsuccessfully attaching to various volunteer hosts, and the two discover that they are compatible with each other– Eddie now has his “Mr. Hyde.” This leaves Eddie to deal with trying understanding the alien now living inside of him, and the incident spurs his investigation further in order to obtain justice for the volunteers who have died in the Life Foundation’s experiments.
Unfortunately, just as Jekyll struggles to control his transformations into Hyde, Eddie also struggles with Venom and his man-eating urges. Much of the conflict set between the two is centered around Venom’s desire to, initially, completely destroy humanity, and later boils down to Venom’s desire to eat human heads (and eyes, and lungs, and pancreases…). Jekyll goes through immense inner turmoil after Hyde begins killing; Eddie also must negotiate with Venom, who settles on only eating humans that he and Eddie deem bad enough, such as a thug who repeatedly robs Eddie’s favorite convenience store.
Eddie Brock: We cannot just hurt people.
Venom: Look in my eyes, Eddie. The way I see it… we can do whatever we want. Do we have a deal?
(Quotations courtesy of IMDb)
“It wasn’t like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut,” says Mr. Enfield of the horrible sight of Mr. Hyde (Stevenson, 1781). While Mr. Hyde is otherwise described as being “a little man,” “small and very plainly dressed,” and “pale and dwarfish,” the disgust with which Mr. Utterson reacts to the man is very similar to how most people generally react to the sight of Symbiotes, the alien species of which Venom is part (Stevenson, 1781, 1786, 1797). Mr. Hyde may be visually dramatically different from Venom, who is like a black mass of oil that covers Eddie’s body completely and makes him significantly larger than the body underneath, but they both are terrifying because of the raw power that they possess to utterly destroy other human beings. Their superhuman strength and bizarre, unnatural appearances single them out from the rest of society.
The Strange Case… in this way grapples with the idea that one’s outer appearance alters the way that one acts and thinks; Mr. Hyde’s ugly appearance reflects his ugly intentions. Venom, being an impenetrable suit of flesh encasing Eddie’s body, makes Eddie bolder and more willing to step in to help others because he knows that Venom will keep him safe. Stevenson is writing in the context of Victorian era England, which has an interest in maintaining respectable outward appearances despite the knowledge that everyone is falsely representing themselves. Hyde, being small and ugly, is the inner desire of Jekyll and frees him from his respectable persona. Simply put, “Jekyll liberates Hyde who liberates Jekyll,” because Hyde’s freedoms allow Jekyll to experience pleasures of which he otherwise would never partake (Pennington, 207). Venom, in parallel, forces Eddie to confront the things he fears and take risks– although these are less along the murder and sexual lines of Hyde and more along the lines of Eddie’s fear of heights and getting hurt.
Estrangement from society is an important part of the doppelganger trope utilized by both The Strange Case… and Venom. Both works use this double-self to illustrate “the fragmentation or deconstruction of the self” but, arguably more importantly, “the fragmentation of society, and the fragmentation of art grounded in the postmodern” (Pennington, 204). The French Revolution concluded some fifty years before the Victorian era, but its literary and artistic influence permanently altered future creators. Stevenson uses the allegory of the doppelganger to challenge the idea of an internal and external self in a society that demands gentlemanliness and respectability despite its dirty underbelly; Venom is a doppelganger trope in an age of social media, where presentation of self must adhere to certain standards in order to obtain validation. This “fragmentation,” as Pennington refers to it, is relatable to audiences who are witnessing this separation of selves in their own everyday lives.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was an important novella in establishing the double identity trope, and its legacy remains within the media that we consume in the 21st century. Venom (2018) uses elements of The Strange Case… in its characters and themes, as a man must deal with the monster living inside him (except, in this case, it is in fact a physical monster inside of the man…). Both grapple with issues of society, identity, and accepting the urges and desires that are generally shamed or hidden otherwise, in order to have a fuller experience of self. Because these are issues that are still felt by modern society, The Strange Case… continues to impact our perceptions of identity, even if this is absorbed second-hand through its influence on modern media, such as a Marvel film about an alien parasite with man-eating urges.
Fleischer, Ruben. Venom (2018). 2018, Marvel Entertainment. TomHardyVariations, Tumblr, http://tomhardyvariations.tumblr.com/post/173284263961/diablito666tx-venom-2018.
Miyoshi, Masao. “Dr. Jekyll and the Emergence of Mr. Hyde.” College English, vol. 27, no. 6, 1966, pp. 470–480. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/374021.
Pennington, John. “Textual Doubling and Divided Selves: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mary Reilly.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, vol. 6, no. 2/3 (22/23), 1994, pp. 203–216. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43308217.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature, by David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar, 4th ed., vol. 2B, Longman, 2010, pp. 1780–1817.
“Venom (2018) Synopsis.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 2018, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1270797/plotsummary.
“Venom (2018) Quotes.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 2018, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1270797/quotes/?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu.