Worth A Look: 14.67%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 2.67%
1 review, 69 user ratings
|Elephant Man, The
David Lynch's quirky sensibility and love of the grotesque for its own sake are submerged in this film, and directed towards the end of conveying the story, instead of popping up and impressing us with his talent. The result is the best film he's ever made.Lynch, despite great talent, has made a number of films I consider pretentious, arty CRAP. ("Blue Velvet," "Eraserhead," and "Mulholland Drive" spring instantly to mind.) However well made they are, they leave me with nothing I care about.
"David Lynch's best film, and one of the all-time great ones"
Underneath the white-bread conformity of the suburbs are dark things, hidden away? I'll alert the media.
It's possible to make a film that's all sumptuous coffee-table-book photography of the grotesque? Who cares?
And it's possible to design a mystery so that there is *no* possible logical answerto it? *WHY* is this guy wasting my time?
But in "The Elephant Man," David Lynch's talent was harnessed to a story where his predilections actually fit with, and reinforced, the work, and the result is wonderful.
Filming in black-and-white, Lynch (and cinematographer Freddie Francis) created a tour de force image of Victorian England, where the grotesque walks side-by-side with the normal. (This is how the film of Alan Moore's "From Hell" should have looked, for anyone interested.) Fantasy flows into and out of the film like fog in the London night.
And in the midst of that smoky, clattering awfulness, is John Merrick, a man so grossly deformed people aren't even sure that he's human. Indeed, the scene where Merrick screams at some tormenters that he is not an animal, but a human being, has gone into the collective memory of our time. Even people who haven't seen the film are aware of that line and that scene, from parodies and sendups, if nothing else.
And that leads you to the most interesting aspect of the film. Lynch tells with his images how unyielding, unforgiving, and bleak life was in Victorian England. But contrasted to that is a story of a simple human kindness, as the surgeon, Frederick Treves, found John Merrick, and cared for him. (Anthony Hopkins as Treves and John Hurt as Merrick are both magnificent in the film.)
"The Elephant Man" is based on a now famous true story, which had been turned into a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. The play, if you've never seen or read it, takes the same material to a completely different conclusion. In the play, the point is how little good we can do for each other, how totally alone everyone is, and how hopeless life can be. The film is designed as an emotional answer to the grim intellectualism of the play.
Lynch confronts the grotesque directly to do that. Where the play has the actor mime the deformities of Merrick--never showing anything, but implying how bad he looked through the other character's reactions to him--in the film they hid John Hurt in so much makeup he's not recognizable at all, and then give long-held closeups of him, so we can examine him carefully. In very short order, you grow used to it, and you come to wonder why so many people are reacting so extremely to his looks.
You find yourself, with Treves, caring more and more for the man who's hidden under the deformities. Watch Treves's reaction in the scene where Merrick, having screwed his courage up to do so, finally asks Treves if he can be cured.
And besides caring more for Merrick, you begin to get a sense of his personality, which is actively romantic, despite the grimness of his life. Maybe, it's in reaction to the grimness of his life. The scene where Merrick gets taken to the theater and reacts like a happy six-year-old to the sugarplum fantasies it presents, makes that point especially well.In the end, the film creates a powerful sense that despite the difficulties of any life--and Merrick's problems dwarf almost anyone else's--no one is alone.
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originally posted: 10/21/02 07:21:57