To be loved solely for who you are, irrespective of any superficial appraisal of your physical appearance is a longing that most human beings have. Joseph Merrick was no exception. Born in the late 19th century, Merrick had a rare medical disorder that left him severely deformed. Object of unrelenting derision at an early age, he was scorned by his loved ones, abandoned by his family and forced to live as an oddity in a traveling circus. The contempt of the world was poured on him, but through it all, he remained a kind, gentle soul, a humbling lesson for anyone who has ever struggled to love his neighbor or forgive his enemies. When penury and destitution finally threatened to take his life, an English surgeon admitted him as a patient at London Hospital, where he studied literature and lived the remainder of his days. In broad strokes, this is the real life story of the sensitive and intelligent human being the world dubbed the elephant man.
In 1980, David Lynch directed a movie version of this story, starring Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt and Anne Bancroft. This year, Bradley Cooper is starring in its theatrical version brought to London after a short stay in Broadway. Unlike the movie, where John Hurt is hidden beneath untold layers of prosthetics, the basic premise of the play is to denude the actor, divesting Bradley Cooper of any special makeup and forcing him to rely on pure, unadulterated talent. And this perhaps is the greatest message of the play: the man the world deemed to be a monstrosity actually turned out to be a beautiful human being, but some of the outwardly elegant members of high society were in fact truly deformed. Where does true beauty lie? Far beyond the reach of our eyes.
PS- Tom Cruise sat right in front of me. Much to my surprise, he was extremely kind and humble. This just goes to show how stupid it is to pass judgment on others based on preconceived notions completely divorced from personal experience. As Merrick would have said, there is only one true measure of a man:
“Tis true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God;
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you.
If I could reach from pole to pole
Or grasp the ocean with a span,
I would be measured by the soul;
The only true standard of the man.”