By AJ Cross
Today I watched the Elephant Man which starred a very young Sir Anthony Hopkins, a ravishing Anne Ankcroft and the ever talented Mr. John Hurt as Joseph Merrick (called John Merrick in the film). The story is truly a study of human dignity, cruelty and compassion. It is always astonishing to me the cruelty of men and truly heartbreaking at times. The film captures the true-life story of a 21 year old English Man born with a rare skin disease which caused such deformities that he spends most of his teen years as a cast member of a traveling carnival and was named “The Elephant Man”. An important note is that the film was produced by Mel Brooks, but due to the seriousness of the content, Mr. Brooks insisted that his name not be attached to the film in any way, so as not to be mistaken for a comedy.
The travesty of the story is not how Mr. Merrick looked or the physical impairments caused by his condition, nor the fact that he was a performer in the carnival. In fact, after the film was made it came to light that not only was Mr. Merrick well compensated by the owner of the carnival, but had accumulated great savings as a result of his work and was very close friends with the owner which was not accurately portrayed in the film. There are many additional discrepancies in the film; however the spirit of the story is certainly captured.
We act so often in extremes. There are instances when humans have the ability to be so thoughtless, cruel and inhuman that it sickens me. The Elephant Man is easily a representation of anyone that is different, whether obese, esthetically unattractive, handy-capable, or simply of different mind and the way in which general society exhibits intolerance and lack of acceptance of such people. The indignation which Mr. Merrick suffers at the hands of ignorance is a constant theme in the film.
Even as sophisticated and kind and intelligent as this man was, his exterior prevented people from seeing anything other than a freak, or imbecilic monster. There were so many moments when I was so angered that I wish I could have jumped back in time to defend him. But humans have other characteristics as well, such as compassion, kindness, pity and love. Mr. Merrick was shown many kindnesses in his short life as well including that of the Queen Victoria after whom is named the Victorian Period, the Princess of Whales as well as famous 19th Century theatre actress Madge Kendall. He receives great friendship during his final days in the hospital and it is said by many that knew him, that there was never a kinder man and that any goodness that existed in his presence was brought out by him.
If there is anything to be taken from this film, it is simply to understand that we are no better or worse off than anyone else and that we are all desperately seeking the same thing, which is to be appreciated; to be relevant and to be loved.
Perhaps we could come to that end if we helped instead of hurt, listened instead of shut out and loved instead of hated.