tek's rating:

Mary Reilly (R)
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Caution: potential spoilers.

This came out in 1996, but I didn't see it until 2014. Where does the time go? I should say I had several thoughts about where to put my review. It sort of has the feel of an art film. Sort of a scary film. Sort of a paranormal film. Most of the time I was watching it, I thought I'd likely categorize it as a period piece. But ultimately, I decided to just call it a weird movie. Um... it's based on a book I've never read, from 1990, which itself was based on Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella "Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde." There have been many adaptations and parodies of that story over the years, but I don't think I've ever seen a proper adaptation (and I gather most adaptations are not very faithful to the story, anyway). I remember seeing cartoons as a kid that gave me a basic concept of the plot, with which everyone is pretty familiar, I think, even if they've never read the story. Except, of course, that they're not familiar with it; not really. I guess in 2007 I saw a modern day British serial called Jekyll, and sometime after that I finally read the novella... in which it turns out that what everyone thinks is the plot is actually the twist ending. So probably the best thing I can say about this movie is that the truth about what's going on is a surprise, at least from the perspective of the characters. Of course, the audience knows what's going on the whole time, because like I said... we all know the plot of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, i.e., we know the twist.

Anyway, the movie is set, I suppose, in the 1880s. It's about a maid named Mary Reilly (Julia Roberts), who is not a character in the original novella. She's been a servant since she was a kid, but has only recently joined the household staff of Dr. Henry Jekyll (John Malkovich). Mary and Dr. Jekyll start to become somewhat friendly, though Mary is obviously hesitant, because it's improper, since they're from different stations. And the head of the staff, Mr. Poole, often chastises Mary. (Not that he's a bad guy, per se, just rather a stickler about society's silly rules.) It's also clear that Dr. Jekyll has feelings for Mary beyond friendship, though he couldn't possibly say so. I think that's only partly because he cares what society would think, but also partly because he thinks he's too old for her, and that she couldn't possibly think of him that way (an assumption about which I think he's mistaken). Anyway, one day he tells his staff that he's going to be taking on a partner, Mr. Edward Hyde, who is to be treated with the same respect they'd show the doctor. Obviously the audience knows the truth about Mr. Hyde, but the staff doesn't.

I'll explain the truth, which I don't consider a spoiler, because it is not within my power to believe you don't already know it. Mr. Hyde is Dr. Jekyll. The doctor had created a serum that he could inject himself with to transform into... a version of himself without inhibitions, and another serum to turn back into himself. Ostensibly this transformation was an unexpected side effect of a cure for an ill-defined malady, but that's not something I really took seriously, considering the nature of the alleged malady. (I can't imagine any cure other than Mr. Hyde.) For awhile, no one on the staff actually sees Hyde, so they're curious about the mysterious figure, but eventually they do meet him. And it's hard for me to believe there was any doubt that he was actually Dr. Jekyll, because to me it was entirely obvious that both "characters" were played by John Malkovich. Sure, Hyde looked a bit younger and had darker, longer hair, but their faces and voices were almost identical. At one point one member of the staff did say Hyde looked a bit like the doctor, enough that he guessed him to be the doctor's illegitimate son. So I'm glad the resemblance wasn't completely ignored, and I admit that guess would make more sense than the truth, but still... he looked a lot more than "a bit" like the doctor.

But anyway, um... Hyde becomes a murderer. And Jekyll seems quite willing to turn himself into Hyde specifically to get away with murder, sometimes, while other times he's upset about the murders Hyde commits. Meanwhile, he also seems to think Mary is more likely to have feelings for the younger-looking Hyde than she is for himself. In spite of the fact that Mary seems to dislike Hyde. So that doesn't really make a lot of sense, and it makes even less sense (to me at least) when she does start to get confused about her own feelings. Another important part of the film comes earlier, when Mary shares details of her troubled childhood with him. And there seems to be a parallel between her relationship with her father and her relationship with Hyde, which I just find disturbing on at least a couple of levels. Mary... is in some ways more repressed than most of the nineteenth century British characters, which I suppose is meant to explain why she's more likely to potentially break out of that repression for a "bad boy," and they don't come much badder than Edward Hyde. But I still feel that's implausible, and if it's tied to the fact that she had an abusive father (who also "changed into a different person" when he drank), it's... disturbing, as I said.

And I guess that's all I want to say about the plot. I didn't like the movie very much, but it was alright. I'm glad to have finally seen it, but I can't imagine I'd ever care to watch it again.

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