Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Self-Deluded Animal

“I am not an animal, I am a human being!” is a famous line from the critically acclaimed 1980 David Lynch film The Elephant Man which tells the story of Joseph Merrick, a severely deformed man afflicted with the Proteus syndrome in 19th century London. It was based in part on the anthropologist Ashley Montagu's The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity (1971). The famous line then gave rise to the title of Peter Baynham’s “I Am Not An Animal,” an animated black comedy, released in 2004, about animals who escaped from a vivisectionist laboratory and attempted to survive alongside humans in the big cruel world.

Whenever humans are reduced to animal status it is the stuff of tragedy. Whenever animals impersonate humans is the stuff of comedy. There are few exceptions. Pantomime horses are not particularly tragic. Fortune telling parrots and monkeys on the streets of Moscow are perceived as tragic by certain defenders of animals’ rights. But I get the feeling that comedic possibilities are present whenever humans and animals get mixed up. Even the film depicting the tragic circumstances of Joseph Merrick’s life were co-produced by Mel Brooks of Blazing Saddles and other epic comedies. His name was struck from the credits for fear of confusing the audience into thinking that the film was a comedy.

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