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Jack the Ripper

Wed, Oct 24, 2001 12:02AM -0600

So I watched the movie "From Hell" [IMDb entry] last night, a perfect night to watch this kind of movie, what with the roaring thunder, the flickering flashes of lightning, the pounding hail, and the eerie fog. I suppose Jack the Ripper has always fascinated me ever since I watched "Time After Time" [IMDb entry], a movie in which somehow both H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper get sent to San Francisco in 1979. (I wonder if it is perhaps igniting my love of science fiction, my interest in the Bay Area, and my revulsion of surgical instruments, all in one blow.) Now I know I have been requested not to speak of this movie by at least one of my friends, so I will only pick out some peripheral snippets.

I think Johnny Depp [IMDb entry] is one of the best underated actors of our time. I think "Edward Scissorhands" [IMDb entry] is one of my favorite movies (he looks kind of what I would imagine Dream from Neil Gaiman's Sandman to look like), but the movie that clinched it for me was "Nick of Time" [IMDb entry] which I watched on video in a charter bus on the 12 hour drive between Manila and Dingras, Ilocos Norte. Maybe because it was set in L.A. and started off in Union Station (and it probably fed into my fascination with trains.... I always get kind of excited to take the Surfliner down to San Diego to visit my sister....) But the premise is pretty novel, even though the movie isn't often favorably reviewed. When I finally saw "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" [IMDb entry] I was totally sold. (The way he looked a lot like Hunter S. Thompson in that movie was uncanny.... I do think it was meant to be a caricature, though.... Thompson seems to have even wrote it that way, but what do I know.)

Probably because of the opium pipe, in "From Hell," Johnny Depp looks a lot like how I imagine Edgar Allan Poe (the cause of my obsession with poetry) looked like. (Yes I know there are pictures, but I have always preferred my imagination.)

While mostly incidental, I was intrigued by the narcotic and alcohol usage. Now opium and its derivatives (such as laudanum, which figures somewhat in the movie) are quite dangerous drugs, and its weaker relations (hydrocodone, codeine, diphenoxylate) hint at its pleasures.... Hell, even dextromethorphan (DXM) has its uses (Get that 'Tussin in there....) And even before this movie, I've been interested in absinthe (One speculation is that the active ingredient is thujone, which is chemically related to tetrahydrocannabinoids (THC)). It's amazing what sort of chemicals rich people are willing to put in their bodies (If the rich didn't want it so bad, there would be no reason for "The War on Drugs." Crack ain't exactly cheap.)

But the references to pharmacology weren't the only didactic part of this movie. I swear it would've been better to watch it before my Pathology exams. (What kind of weak-ass forensic pathologist would puke at the sight of the Ripper's victims? Or maybe its just the sign of our times.... Maybe the sick shit they see nowadays didn't exist back then. Mutilations are par for the course now. Although I hear that pathologists working on the WTC cases have been quite traumatized. The Ripper is the harbinger of the 20th century indeed.) They even had (for some random reason) an advanced case of neurofibromatosis in there, and a little mini-lecture on the properties of the heart. There was even a little neuroscience, with a demonstration of a frontal lobotomy. (It's disconcerting how just two years of medical school can desensitize one to blood and gore. I never thought I'd be disappointed in not seeing brains ooze out.)

It's funny how the last horror movie I watched was the director's cut of "The Exorcist," and medical mayhem figured quite significantly in that too. (I honestly thought the cerebral angiogram scene was one of the more freakier scenes in that movie.) So maybe "From Hell" should be added to the list of movies med students should see. (I thought the discussion about the "surgeon's malady" was quite amusing.)

All in all, I found it quite entertaining.

Parting Thoughts

I'm kind of intrigued by the Freemason connection. I hear that they kind of figured into the illustrado movement in the Philippines in the 19th century for reform and then for independence from Spain. Does the illuminati really exist? Are we just puppets on strings? (Did George Orwell have it right all along?) That's the part that really freaked me out.

I also found the coincidental parallel of one of the plot devices in the movie with Jorge Luis Borges' story "Death and the Compass" interesting. (This is regarding murders committed in a pentagram pattern.)

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