Jekyll and Hyde Adaptations: in a League of Their Own

Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), sought to confront the social norms of the Victorian Period by infusing realism into Gothic tropes. No longer were characters seen as haunted by supernatural beings in secluded castles. Instead, Stevenson saw the monsters as real people in urban landscapes struggling with their own individual battle of duality. The Strange Case lends itself to adaptation so well because the battle of good and evil rages inside every being, and the question of what can occur when we allow evil to overtake us frightens us to this day. Jekyll and Hyde adaptations are seen quite often in visual media, and while the film received horrible reviews, both versions of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) show clear literary connections to The Strange Case.

Fig. 1; Jason Flemyng transforms back to Dr Jekyll in “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (2003) (based on the 1999 comic book series by Alan Moore and Kevin O’neill).
http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/jason-flemyng/images/13447651/title/lxg-screencap

Stevenson’s imagery of Jekyll’s physical transformation into Hyde and vice versa was essential in order to sway Victorian audience’s fears from supernatural to the secular world. “O God!” I screamed, and “O God!” again and again; for there before my eyes—pale and shaken, and half fainting, and groping before him with his hands, like a man restored from death—there stood Henry Jekyll,” (Stevenson 1808). In this particular scene, Dr Lanyon who previously did not believe in such “unscientific balderdash” is so shocked by the spectacle of Mr Hyde returning to the form of Dr Jekyll that he literally dies a short time after. The same portrayal of the violent struggle between the two personas was necessary for director Stephen Norrington, and actor Jason Flemyng. This is the first glimpse viewers of the film see that sets up the competition which Jekyll and Hyde have for dominance over one another, as well as creating the embodiment of a “man restored from death”. (Begin watching at around 45 seconds and go to about 1 minute to see the full recap of the transformation scene). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGqkjOKPiK4

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen not only pays homage to Robert Louis Stevenson, but each character in the action hero film comes from a work of Victorian fiction. Popular names include Dorian Gray, and Mina Harker. In her scholarly article Deviation in the League, Brittany Westerblom mentions many of the characters (based on the 1999 comic book) and how they compare to their ancestor literary work. For Jekyll and Hyde, Westerblom’s most useful analysis comes with the comparison of the 2 different character’s appearance and morals. She reminds the reader that Stevenson describes Mr Hyde as closely resembling a primitive troglodyte type figure while also being “…pale and dwarfish,” (Stevenson 1787). The film stays true to Westerblom’s account of the comic book description of Hyde and presents “a simian looking, overtly hairy, monstrous giant…” (Westerblom 23).

These adaptations illustrated in both forms of The League place a majority focus on Mr Hyde’s jaw dropping stature and capabilities. Allan Moore and Stephen Norrington emphasize the commanding physical presence of Hyde “… by having the character drawn with clothes that are exceedingly too small and tattered from the sudden growth spurt he encountered during the change” (Westerblom 24). As seen in the image below, this addition of tattered clothes shows off the overall size and vascularity of Jason Flemyng’s characterization. While this is absolutely necessary to the hero narrative found in The League, it completely disregards Stevenson’s original description of the first Mr Hyde character and appears to focus more on the outward display of his inner possession of power. “… And the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine…. exulting in the freshness of these sensations; and in the act, I was suddenly aware that I had lost in stature,” (Stevenson 1810).

Image result for mr hyde league of extraordinary gentlemen movie
Fig. 2; Flemyng shows that “…he (Hyde) had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness,” (Stevenson 1787).
https://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2012/11/50-worst-special-effects-movie-history/the-league-of-extraordinary-gentlemen

While the picture above may have clocked in at number 31 on complex.com’s “50 Worst Special Effects in Movie History,” both authors and the director of The League adaptations eventually look past the characters stature, whether it be great or small. This shift from exterior appearance versus the interior experience was prominent in many of the themes of Victorian era literature, and The Strange Case was no different. Along with the primitive physical characteristics of Hyde came the instinctually driven suprression of evil, Stevenson compares this to a drunkard’s state of mind. In this state, the drunkard does not take the time to question whether his decisions are rational or irrational, they simply act on their primitive instincts. “My devil had long been caged, he came out roaring,” Jekyll had “voluntarily stripped himself (myself) of all those balancing instincts, by which even the worst of us continues to walk with some degree of steadiness among temptations; and in my case, to be tempted… was to fall,” (Stevenson 1814).

Image result for duality of man
Fig. 3; Jacob Ming-Trent from Showtime’s comedic TV series channeling his inner English major
https://tenor.com/view/white-famous-its-that-duality-of-man-shit-man-duality-deep-gif-10346120

As seen via the pop culture GIF to connect with the cool kids who read blogs about Jekyll and Hyde adaptations, the duality of personality is found in every individual. What Stevenson, Moore, and Norrington all build their characters around is the untapped potential for both good and evil. The curiousity surrounding rational versus irrational instincts of the human being is not only thought provoking to scientists who can create potions to distinguish the good and evil intentions. Jekyll states himself in the Full Statement of the Case “…I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both,” (Stevenson 1809).

These analyses of modern Jekyll and Hyde adaptations contrasted against Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 literary work reveal multiple important lessons. The first one being that much like Dr Jekyll, we are straddling 2 worlds via our “profound duplicity” at all times. The second takeaway of the adaptive study is that literary studies should not focus solely on entertainment value, but “to capture the underlying truths of the human condition, including the struggle between good and evil,” (Stevenson 1779). The final teaching comes from the priest Gerard Manley Hopkins who confessed to a friend of his when asked about the realism of Stevenson’s work, “You are certainly wrong about Hyde being overdrawn: my Hyde is worse,” (Hopkins 1780).

Works Cited/Consulted

Stevenson, Robert Louis. “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature: Volume 2B – The Victorian Age, edited by David Damrosch and Kevin J.H. Dettmar, 4th ed., Pearson, 2010, pp. 1780-1817

Norrington, Stephen, director. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. 2003.

Westerblom, Brittany. “Deviation in The League.” C Extended Essay, pp. 22–26., http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1020598/FULLTEXT01.pdf.

Moore, Allan, and Kevin O’neill. Https://En.wikipedia.org/Wiki/The_League_of_Extraordinary_Gentlemen, America’s Best Comics (ABC).

Images

“Jason Flemyng Jekyll and Hyde Transformation.” Fanpop, http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/jason-flemyng/images/13447651/title/lxg-screencap. Accessed 12 December 2019.

Barone, Matt. “Flemyng as Hyde.” Complex, 21 Nov. 2012, https://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2012/11/50-worst-special-effects-movie-history/. Accessed 12 December 2019.

“Duality of Man GIF.” Tenor, 24 Nov. 2017, https://tenor.com/view/white-famous-its-that-duality-of-man-shit-man-duality-deep-gif-10346120. Accessed 12 December 2019.