When I first thought about taking part in a David Lynch theme week, I decided I should probably sit this one out, even though I’m always up for a Guts and Grog theme. The thing is, I’m just not very familiar with his work. I have to this day never seen an episode of Twin Peaks, and aside from Eraserhead, Lost Highway, and The Elephant Man, I don’t think I’ve seen any of his films. When I found out that nobody had claimed Elephant Man, which I’d assumed would’ve been the first film to go, I threw my hat in the ring. This is one of those movies that I can’t watch, but can’t not watch. It’s a beautifully crafted heart breaker of a film.
This is the story of a man named John Merrick, the most prominent victim of sad circumstance I’ve ever seen. He was born severely deformed, and spent most of his life as a part of a circus freakshow attraction because of his appearance. His “owner”, a man named Bytes, was an abusive drunk who beat him severely. John lived a life devoid of any kind of hope, he never spoke, he just endured his torment, waiting to die. His life was changed, however, when he was discovered by a young surgeon named Frederick Treves. Treves, wanting at first to study John and his condition, makes arrangements with Bytes to meet the so called “Elephant Man”. After his initial findings, and presenting John to a medical board, Dr. Treves, suspecting that there’s more to Mr. Merrick than he’s presenting, decides to save him from his life of abuse. He arranges for John to stay in a hospital, where he can be cared for, and for the first time in his life, be treated like a human being. What Dr. Treves discovers is that John Merrick is an intelligent, sensitive, soft spoken man, and far from a monster, or “Elephant Man”.
This movie is one of those that gets to me every single time, no matter how many times I watch it, it never gets any easier. David Lynch achieves with this movie something that I hope for almost every single time I sit down to watch a movie, a reaction. I run the gamut from rage to deep sadness from start to finish. If you can watch this movie and not feel a thing for John Merrick, then you simply do not have a heart. It’s maybe time to see the Wizard and get some shit sorted out.
Technically, this film also shines. Jack Hayes’ score is perfectly haunting, and compliments the tone. The camera work is superb. It’s shot in crisp black and white, and the scenes often fade to black before changing. This is especially appealing to those of us who grew up watching the Universal Monster flicks of the 1930’s and 40’s. The Elephant Man may have been released in 1980, but I’d have no problem believing it had been from the same era as Dracula and The Wolf Man. There’s something to be said about almost every decision Lynch made with this movie, but the most interesting to me is the decision how the tone of the movie initially puts you in the mindset of a monster movie, only to have the movie do a complete 180, showing us that John was very much not the monster he was thought to be.
This movie wouldn’t have worked without strong performances from the actors portraying Treves and Merrick, and thankfully, both Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt more than deliver. Watching Anthony Hopkins in this movie is nothing short of watching a master of his craft at work.
The Elephant Man is still my favorite of all of his wonderful performances. John Hurt is also wonderful, bringing the tortured soul of John Merrick to life. His make-up being what it is, forces him to mainly work with nothing but his eyes, and even when he’s in the hospital, and for the first time being treated civilly, you can see the pain in them. The rest of the cast, although maybe not quite as important, are also solid. You’ll hate Bytes and Night Porter because you’re supposed to, they’re despicable characters, and are played accordingly by Freddie Jones and Michael Elphick. The one and only nitpick I have with the cast is Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Kendal, there’s just something kind of awkward about some of her delivery. It isn’t particularly distracting, but it’s there.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting The Elephant Man. It’s one of those that’s a definite kick in the feels. Every time I watch it, I take something else away from it. I think most of us have at one time or another felt a little like a John Merrick. Whether it’s being looked down upon, mocked, stared at, beaten up, or simply ignored, when if the people doing so would simply stop to listen, they might discover that we’re not all that bad, and we may have something to say that’s worth listening to.
|Mitch goes by the internet moniker Mister Bones. He’s a simple minded fellow, who loves comic books, horror movies, hockey, and video games. He can be found writing about such as that, and all manner of other meaningless topics over at this blog, Tales From the Batcave.|