As I have mentioned in my Eraserhead review, I will be reviewing every David Lynch film in chronological order. This means it’s going to take some time till I get to my next review of his films as the next feature film he directed is Dune and I wish to read the book before I watch the film, only because it’s so famous and there’s an upcoming adaptation in production. I just started reading The Wheel of Time, I’m a slow reader and it’s a really long series.
The Elephant Man is the second feature by David Lynch. It came out in 1980 and has great use of monochrome cinematography, just like Eraserhead except this is in 21:9, which might I add is absolutely stunning. Because of this choice, the film has achieved this vintage look, but everything just feels much sharper than any film then, and the ultrawide gives it a modern touch, it almost makes the film feel timeless. As a matter of fact, it feels more like photographs from the 19th century, restored and come to life.
I must say, I enjoyed this film much more than Eraserhead. That’s not to say that Eraserhead isn’t a good film, it still is a fantastic film but there’s more of a plot to this. It feels as though David Lynch has refined his skills and decided that this film wasn’t going to be a house party with all your sleep paralysis demons invited. He’s scarcely marked this film with his signature style, in fact, it’s the moments that are explicitly David Lynch that bring this film down, personally. They’re not bad, but they feel out of place, this film is too grounded. Though there are a few characters that feel larger than life, this film feels real, it’s got believable characters, it’s dark and it’s slow, just like real life. So, when I see these weird images and stars coming at me, I’m just taken away from the emersion and the film has separated itself from the world it’s set in. But it’s only there like twice so it’s not that important.
The Elephant Man (which is not at any way adapting the stage play and insists on distancing itself from it) tells the true tale of Joseph Merrick, referred to as John Merrick in the film, an unrecognisable performance by John Hurt, a young man who suffers from a physical deformity and has been a social outcast his whole life, being part of a freakshow in carnivals. It is when a surgeon, Frederick Treves played by Anthony Hopkins, decides to study him and care for him, that people start to see the charming, warm-hearted character inside him. But even then, it’s still not easy for him, he is constantly bullied and pushed around, kidnapped by his former owner, this time more angry and abusive, chased around a train station.
Anthony Hopkins is splendid as the empathetic surgeon who’d rather be curious about something than judge it according to its appearance. He’s not a saint or anything, in fact over time a lot of people open up to John. He even questions if he’s just as bad as his tormentor, bringing in very famous people who would like to meet him, whether or not they would like to get to know him or just see him, wondering if he’s just trying to gather an audience, to get recognition, if he’s doing it all for himself.
The makeup on John Merrick is exceptional. If I had to guess while watching to film, I’d say they got a real person with a similar deformity. But no, someone did that. But that’s not the only thing that makes John Hurt so unrecognisable; his performance is so real. He talks like he really is deformed, wet noises coming from his mouth as he prepares to sound words that are near impossible for him, you can’t pronounce an M if your top lip is fixed into a crooked position without it coming out awkward. But even the way he walks. He looks like he’s carrying huge lumps of skin on his back, and his legs are twisted and unwieldy. It’s a very emotional performance, there’s a lot of heart and Hurt is really good at bringing the character to life.
There’s obviously a lot more talent in this film, and they all are really good. But I’m not going to name all of them.
The music in the film is just beautiful. It’s used sparingly, but I couldn’t imagine this film without it. At one part you’re hearing this menacing tune, then in another part, you wanna tear out your heart cos it won’t stop punching you in the gut.
As I have already said, the visuals are stunning.
I think that this film is a must-watch. Everyone should watch this film at least once in their life. Although It’s got a 12A rating from the BBFC (which even then kids could still watch, as long as they’re with an adult), there’s nothing explicit in this film. Sure, some imagery could be frightening, and the themes are heavy, but if you asked me, a child should watch this when they’re at least nine years old. Some people never get it in their heads the true nature of bullying and discrimination, even if they’ve heard it a thousand times to the point they’re rolling their eyes, they’re still oblivious. Schools should be showing this film (they probably do), instead of The Others (an English Language Film) dubbed in Spanish subtitled in English for Spanish class.
It is a slow film though. I mean, I like slow films and this film is fairly paced, but the film slows down even more during the film, those bits do get boring.