A Victorian surgeon rescues a heavily disfigured man who is mistreated while scraping a living as a side-show freak. Behind his monstrous facade, there is revealed a person of intelligence and sensitivity.
After a car wreck on the winding Mulholland Drive renders a woman amnesiac, she and a perky Hollywood-hopeful search for clues and answers across Los Angeles in a twisting venture beyond dreams and reality.
John Merrick (whose real name was Joseph, as this is based on a true story) is an intelligent and friendly man, but he is hated by his Victorian-era English society because he is severely deformed. Once he is discovered by a doctor, however, he is saved from his life in a freak show and he is treated like the human being that he really is. Written by
One of the greatest films, but so little appreciated
I first saw The Elephant Man at its pre-release showing in 1980, and it struck an immediate and resonant chord with me. Few movies are like this, and it remains (many viewings later) one of my top 10 films of all time.
The plot is presented well in other reviews here, so I will not repeat it or comment further. Of the film itself I would only add that it is without doubt the most mature and satisfying of David Lynch's works - in many ways it is the final, polished jewel carved from the rough and ugly (but fascinating) diamond of Eraserhead, with the self-conscious artiness and juvenile qualities of the earlier film distilled into a potent and poignant statement on the human condition.
Some critics have dismissed The Elephant Man as an exercise in emotional manipulation, however I believe this completely misses the point. All films are manipulative to some degree, but it is a manipulation in which we as an audience engage by consent. The Elephant Man will stand the final test and it will be appreciated fully by future audiences, in much the same way as Citizen Kane had to wait for some decades until audiences were able to fully comprehend its greatness.
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