In a pivotal scene in David Lynch’s film, The Elephant Man, the main character turns on those who are cruelly taunting him and declares “I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I...am...a man.” The crowd disperses. Ever since the first time I saw this movie, I’ve had the same reaction. As a sympathetic viewer, I’m relieved that Merrick decries his abusers, but in making a claim for the dignity he deserves as a man, the implication is that the abuse would be acceptable if he were “an animal.” And yet, human and non-human, we are all animals. We are all made of the same stuff, evident even in the word “animal,” whose root word means “soul.”
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