from hell: movie vs book - part 1

After watching the film adaptation a week or so ago, I finally finished reading Alan Moore’s From Hell. As is always the case with adaptations, it’s fascinating to see how the film and graphic novel differ from one another, and how that difference, so dependent on the medium, influences interpretations of the story.

Both the film and the novel center on the Jack the Ripper murders and a now-discredited solution proposed by Stephen Knight in his 1975 book Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution. In brief: Jack the Ripper is identified as the product of a royal conspiracy involving royalty and the police, coming together in Sir William Whitey Gull, Queen Victoria’s personal physician. Acting on her orders, he killed the five prostitutes to neutralize the threat, by blackmail, of exposing a royal scandal involving Prince Albert and the perfectly legitimate birth of his child to one of the women, Alice Cook, whom he secretly married.

In Alan Moore’s book, and in the movie to a lesser extent, freemasonry provides the story’s metaphysical and metaphorical scaffolding, although Moore takes great liberties with actual freemason doctrines. Gull isn’t simply performing a service for the Queen, but enacting dark and profound freemason rituals to achieve specific aims. This is where the book and the movie diverge, in that the movie, centered as it is on Chief Inspector Abberline’s (Depp) investigation, doesn’t get far beyond the fact that masons are, for unexplained reasons, involved in the conspiracy and Gull’s statement that he will be remembered for giving birth to the 20th century. The book, however, is all about the birth and character of the 20th century, with Gull’s motivation for serving as mid-wife at the forefront of the story. In particular, Moore develops the following themes:

-The metaphorical edifice - I choose the word deliberately – of pagan symbols, as revealed in London landmarks such as Hawkmoor’s churches, that points towards the domination of masculinity over femininity via pagan mythology and magic. Thus, the murders are a ritual intended to reinforce that domination in the 20th century, lest the feminine, as it had prior to the masculine rebellion, regain its overthrown power.
-The notion that all time co-exists and it is only our perception that creates discrete temporal sequences.
-The possibility of transcending time and ascending to godhood.

How Moore develops these themes is worth considering before continuing with a comparison of the book and the movie.

Stay tuned...

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