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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 14.67%
Average: 4%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 2.67%

1 review, 69 user ratings

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Elephant Man, The
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by dionwr

"David Lynch's best film, and one of the all-time great ones"
5 stars

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.

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
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User Comments

4/13/15 jokerass lol 1 stars
3/14/15 stanley welles beautifully acted and photographed 4 stars
2/20/15 Chris Jarmick Surprising 'normal' David Lynch film superb acting 5 stars
6/11/11 Jack Lantern Beautiful film. Flawlessly made. 5 stars
4/19/10 art im at a loss for word's! 5 stars
12/26/09 Dr.Lao Far more exploitative than any carny hustler, excellent make-up work though 3 stars
4/24/09 matt slightly overwrought, still a must-see 4 stars
4/03/09 Dane Youssef A lot of greatness in this film, but the life of John Merrick is too abridged. Too reduced. 4 stars
1/10/09 Bethany Cox Heart-rending and emotionally disturbing. john hurt gives best performance of his career. 5 stars
3/02/08 Pamela White makes our struggles dim by compare 5 stars
5/15/07 Jan Excellent And Breath-taking 5 stars
3/02/07 action movie fan title deformity inteon first sight but wears thin as slow film progresses 3 stars
12/31/06 mr.mike fantastic 5 stars
12/22/06 Matt Interesting that you mention "From Hell"...the Elephant Man shows up briefly in that... 4 stars
10/27/06 Isaac Baranoff Powerful. Haunting. Brilliant. 5 stars
6/26/06 Josh Racine Beautiful film. 5 stars
6/22/06 TB Great Bio Tale 4 stars
4/11/06 roxy it's awesome ... it's very emotionally and at the same time very very interesting...:D 5 stars
11/25/05 Charles Bolton Riveting, emotionally devasting, ultimately uplifting. Stunning to look at. 5 stars
8/18/05 Rob A beautiful, beautiful film. Please see it. 5 stars
6/13/05 Agent Sands Ditto. 5 stars
6/10/05 Indrid Cold A stunning, gut and heart-wrenching masterpiece. Possibly Lynch's overall best. 5 stars
6/08/05 Jeanne "Oh, Mr. Merrick... you're Romeo." 5 stars
9/26/04 Bucky Buckner Boone Hopkins and the rest are well served by Lynch and vice versa 5 stars
9/25/04 DM Almost certainly Lynch's best film 5 stars
7/07/04 Lord Durvok 2 The most beautiful film I have seen in my entire life, next to "Silent Running" 5 stars
6/05/04 MyGreenBed My pick for the saddest film ever made. Perfect choice in director (thanks Mel Brooks). 5 stars
5/07/04 gray poor Merrick 5 stars
4/07/04 Joel I wept openly as he recited the 23rd Psalm from memory. 5 stars
2/18/04 john beautiful 5 stars
1/06/04 shohid life changing 5 stars
10/06/03 Mrs. Jake Gyllenhaal Oh my God...tragic 5 stars
7/21/03 Katy This is one of the saddest movies ever! 5 stars
7/06/03 Mr. Hat (I'm Back MoFos!!!) Very very very good directing from David Lynch, and great perfs from Hurt and Hopkins. 4 stars
6/29/03 Dave Hopman Touching True Story..... 5 stars
2/04/03 Jon "Thumb the Toad" Lyrik Incredible filmmaking. 5 stars
1/19/03 luftslott en härlig korv 5 stars
12/31/02 Chowie-Pie This was a beautiful, sad, touching movie... John Hurt should have won the Oscar for sure 5 stars
9/30/02 Charles Tatum Lynch proves he doesn't have to be "edgy" to be entertaining 5 stars
5/14/02 adum aynja graphic,interesting,moving 5 stars
4/15/02 Spyguy2 A masterpiece. A work of art. I can't say enough about this film. 5 stars
2/06/02 June Marshall Vastly underated; On my all time list; Touches the very soul 5 stars
1/27/02 Andrew Carden Excellent Movie...Just Wonderful. 5 stars
12/15/01 Monster W. Kung Deeply moving and superbly filmed. Lynch's best. If you think it sucks, you're an idiot. 5 stars
11/21/01 Todd Beautiful Movie 4 stars
10/08/01 Adam A perfect film.Deeply moving.Beautiful performances,script,a true masterpiece. Superb. 5 stars
6/26/01 Blue Awesome! 5 stars
6/10/01 Lukasz It sucked 1 stars
6/05/01 Just like a Wop . . . Gave me nightmares . . . then I grew up. I bawl my eyes out when he removes the pillows. 5 stars
5/18/01 Bada Bing Crosby Made with care and respect; all involved were at or near the top of their game 5 stars
5/06/01 Gracelander Pure emotion 5 stars
3/07/01 Mike Lynch is a genious! 5 stars
2/12/01 john d(THE DUDE) I love the elephant man 4 stars
11/24/00 David Hall Superbly portrayed, ingenious acting. 5 stars
11/03/00 Cristopher Revilla The first film that made me cry, arguably Lynch's best film and my all time favorite. 5 stars
9/18/00 Tom McCullough Beautiful and unforgettable..... 5 stars
9/13/00 Tamer Abouzeid BEST MOVIE IN YEARS. 5 stars
7/28/00 nico it was really funny! 5 stars
7/11/00 Jami A hauntingly beautiful film that breaks my heart each and every time I view it 5 stars
6/04/00 Matt Absolutely superb film. Very atmospheric filming techniques, and a truly moving story. 5 stars
5/16/00 donna slatter very good but sad 5 stars
4/08/00 michelle A brilliant, moving film- you can really imagine how the real John Merrick must have felt. 5 stars
10/26/99 Karahde Khan One of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. 5 stars
7/22/99 PhilmPhreak Great Art 5 stars
7/04/99 J-Dogg Liked it better when I was a baby. Still a moving picture, though. 4 stars
6/16/99 David It's easy to forget how touching David Lynch can be 5 stars
6/15/99 Dylan Vick! Wake up - Its fucking movie magic! 4 stars
6/13/99 Vick Di Brecci Surprisingly formulaic upon review 3 stars
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  03-Oct-1980 (PG)
  DVD: 11-Dec-2001

  02-Feb-1981 (PG)

  02-Feb-1981 (M)

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