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True courage, he suggests, requires a degree of choice.
In the film, however, after a few snuffles to warm up, he quotes the Twenty-Third Psalm and Romeo and Juliet. The film could have chosen to develop the relationship between Merrick and his medical sponsor, Dr.
Frederick Treves, along the lines of the bond between doctor and child in Truffaut's The Wild Child.
As the sad and unique story of John Merrick, “the elephant man,'; unfolds, all are taught a lesson about strength and courage.
When Sir Frederick Treeves first discovered John Merrick in 1884, he could only be described as, “a huddled mass of loneliness';(14).
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Ashley Montagu tells John Merrick’s unusual story in the book that studies human dignity, The Elephant Man.
In the film and the play (which are similar in many details), John Merrick learns to move in society, to have ladies in to tea, to attend the theater, and to build a scale model of a cathedral.
Merrick may have had greater achievements in real life, but the film glosses them over.
The Elephant Man forces me to question this position on two grounds: first, on the meaning of Merrick's life, and second, on the ways in which the film employs it.
It is conventional to say that Merrick, so hideously misformed that he was exhibited as a sideshow attraction, was courageous. But there is a distinction here that needs to be drawn, between the courage of a man who chooses to face hardship for a good purpose, and the courage of a man who is simply doing the best he can, under the circumstances.