Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Elephant Man

Fig 1: Film Poster
The Elephant Man, a film from the 1980s directed by David Lynch, is centered around the true and tragic story of Joseph Merrick who spent the majority of his life in the carnival as an attraction with the same name as the film.

Fig 2: At the freakshow.

To many, this was their first introduction or the most memorable of Lynch's work. For me, this was one of the most powerful tear-jerking films I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.

During the first five minutes, the audience is treated to Lynch's sense of surrealism, though the movie rotates around Merrick's tale.

"It is filmed beautifully in black and white. It is a very well made piece of cinema. Lynch, for the most part, stays away from his trade mark imagery and symbolism, and sticks to more traditional story telling, although the elephant involving opening sequence is straight Lynch nightmare. That the characters come from real life and not Lynch’s twisted imagination only serve to add to the surrealism of the film."
-Brewster, 2005

Merrick is at first portrayed as a simple-minded mutant who cannot understand speech or speak himself. However, later on in the film we find out that after some help from a benevolent doctor that rescues him from the life of carnivals, being mocked and being gawked at, we find that he is actually quite in telligent and can in fact speak.

John Hurt does an incredible performance as Merrick, managing to pull off some of the most convincing movement and body language once could bear witness to, seemingly not at all hindered by his make-up.
Though his life in this film doesn't correspond zealously with his real life, the heart and emotion is all present along with both subtle and in your face insights about what it means to be human and how it is to be treated like one. There are many scenes in the film that are easily capable of evoking strong emotions--such scenes of cruelty, in this instance, as the one where Merrick is exhibited as a carnival attraction in his own room in the hospital by a guy looking for a quick buck evoke strong feelings of disgust in humanity, but then makes us look at ourselves and how some have been shunned for being different.

"It has been said that Lynch is too sentimental in this movie. That he manipulates the audience too much. Ebert even goes as far as saying Lynch tricks the audience into believing that Merrick is a noble and courageous man. He suggests, that rather than being noble, Merrick is merely doing the best that he can, under poor circumstances. It is true that the film is sentimental. There is hardly a scene that does not prick the audiences emotions."
-Brewster, 2005

Fig 3.

The most memorable scene is after Merrick had been chased into a train station restroom by a mob of people and cornered. If the lines: "I AM NOT AN ANIMAL! I AM A HUMAN BEING!" do not shake you to the very core with emotion then you have not seen the movie.

"In the end, however, the film is carried by Lynch's masterful orchestration of the relationship between Merrick and Treves, and by the former's fight against society. Merrick is a meek, religious man, quite intelligent, and his bane is that he understands why society treats him as it does, making his ordeal even more painful. But throughout his ordeal, the he keeps his soul unsoiled, and when all things are considered, he is perhaps the most human of all."

Fig 4: "My life is full because I know that I am loved."


Illustrations used:
Fig 3:
Fig 4:

1 comment:

  1. Again, Tom - your review is articulate and engagingly written, but you're missing all the stuff that you're asked to include, and, more importantly, would enrich and scaffold your view. Some well-chosen, insightful reviews would lend some much needed critical 'meat and potatoes' to your reviews. Take a look at the comment on your Wolves review for some additional info and link to an example of what I'm asking you to do.