Movie Review: The Elephant Man

I caught this on YouTube earlier in the year during a cold winter day but was distracted by my surroundings. Yes, I know that’s not a good thing, even when watching something by Lynch, one of my favorite directors. However, it wasn’t until yesterday’s viewing of Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus for Film Club that I realized I needed to rewatch this film as I found more connections to that than with Freaks. I’ll detail those particular connections in the Fur review.

In Victorian England, a severely deformed man tries to fit in with society.

Right off the bat, there’s a Lynchian moment with elephants and John Merrick’s mother and his birth. In slow motion, an elephant knocks the mother down and does something. When John is born, it’s represented by a cloud of smoke and a baby’s cry. From what can be inferred, it seems like the elephant rapes the mother and from that, the “Elephant Man” is born. That, or the elephant attack harmed the mother as she was pregnant. Take your pick.

The revelation of the Elephant Man’s face does not come until thirty minutes into the film. After the reveal, we can see the particular make-up used for John. Using casts from Merrick’s original body, this is as close to the actual person that the film can get. Alas, this was not recognized by the Academy despite the eight nominations for the film (it did not win anything). Because of that, the following year introduced the category for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

The second of Lynch’s filmography, this is shot in black and white like his previous film, Eraserhead. What’s interesting about this particular film is that this is the first use of having a severely deformed character based in reality. Unlike The Lady in the Radiator from Eraserhead, John Merrick has depth in his character and we follow him throughout the film. The Lady is more fantasy-based and does not have much to offer other than hope for Henry. Also, we see John struggle with his surroundings and attempts to become accepted. With The Lady, she just is.

With the print that I saw, the StudioCanal logo at the beginning had some Lynchian qualities and I though he had some hand in it; nope. It turns out that the logo was just strange to begin with. Don’t believe me? Click here and imagine it in black and white.

As for the 1001, I prefer this over Freaks for reasons other than it being a David Lynch film. With Freaks, there was malice and revenge. True, those are human qualities, the way they acted upon their desire to “right the wrong” is unsettling and mean-spirited. Here, John doesn’t want to harm anybody. With the quote from the poster above, he wants people to understand him for what he is, regardless of appearance.


1001 MYMSBYD selection

IMDB Top 250


7 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Elephant Man

  1. Good review Thomas. Probably Lynch’s most straight-forward movie, as well as his most crowd-pleasing. Some probably hate it for that reason alone, but it really touched me.

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