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There is an age-old fear under the surface of Venom. In the premise of investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) having his mind and body invaded by a parasitic alien known as Venom, the film addresses a concern that has plagued humankind for centuries — a fear of ourselves, our potential for duality and self-destruction, and the idea that who we are can be fundamentally and irrevocably influenced by outside forces. From charges of demonic possession that were often part and parcel of witchcraft accusations to our ongoing fascination with things like hypnosis, these fears have repeatedly captured the human imagination with regard to real-world events, but also — perhaps especially — in fiction.

In 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson, a Scottish author otherwise best known for child-friendly adventure tales like Treasure Island and Kidnapped, published a gothic novella that epitomized a particular manifestation of these fears: Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In the story, the scientist Dr. Henry Jekyll seeks to create a “transcendental medicine” to cure “the evil side” of his nature and bring an end to the constant war he feels within himself. Instead, while the same war rages on inside his soul, the serum he invents causes all the darkest corners of his personality to cohere into a second consciousness, an alter-ego known as Mr. Edward Hyde, who quickly grows more and more powerful in spite of Jekyll’s constant battling against it.

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