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If one was to turn on David Lynch's The Elephant Man midway through,
without knowing what it was, one might be startled at the appearance of
the main character. One might even be tempted to make fun of the
character. But if one was to watch the film from the beginning, one's
sympathy with John Merrick (John Hurt), 'The Elephant Man,' would be
strong enough to deny that the former situation was ever a possibility.
Lynch does not allow his audience to glimpse Merrick sans mask until
his appearance has been built up substantially. When we the audience
are at our zenith of anticipation, we see him-no dramatic music, no
slow motion; a simple cut and he's there. There he is. And it's no big
This is the beauty of Lynch's direction. We are led through our morbid curiosity at the same rate the characters in the film are. We develop alongside them. More specifically, we develop alongside Frederick Treeves, played with an astounding sublimity of emotion by Anthony Hopkins. Next to Treeves we pity Merrick, respect him, pity him again, and then ask ourselves with him, 'is he just a spectacle to me? Am I a bad person?'
Lynch certainly doesn't let us bypass this question easily. Are we bad people for being intrigued or are we good people for pitying? Certainly there is a mix of intrigue and pity with every character who first meets John, and we are not excluded. However, as with almost every character who truly comes to know John and confer with him, we learn to respect him as a human being and not as a spectacle. Nonetheless, this issue never finds close in the film, nor do I feel it ever can be closed in actual life. Hopkin's Treeves is never fully sated in how he feels about this dilemma, and so, neither can we be.
Technically, The Elephant Man is a beautifully shot film. In crisp black and white, the film recalls the cinematic technique of American cinema circa the 1930's. The scenes dissolve into one another; there is no brisk editing. The lighting is kept low-key during dark scenes, balanced during daytime scenes-this is standard film-making of the era. The one digression from this form are the distinctly Lynchian surrealities-pseudo-dream-sequences of commendably original imagery that break up the film and serve as distinct mood-setters for the audience. These are, for the most part, fairly intimidating sidenotes. We as an audience are caught off-guard because in these tangents we are not identifying with Treeves, we are put instead into Merrick's shoes. It is unsettling.
But Lynch has never been a director to flinch at unsettling prospects. We must watch Merrick beaten, abused, harassed, humiliated, and tormented. We may feel a surge of happiness when he finally stands up for himself, but by that point we still have to cope with what we've already, what he's already, experienced. I suppose that is the greatest and most devastating aspect of the film-empathy. Every moment is heartbreaking. Yet no matter how hard it gets, and how much better it then turns, there is always the threat of another jab. And those jabs only get more and more painful.
The Elephant Man is a perfect film. It is sorrowful but it apologizes not at all for it. It is a film about where our empathy stems from, a film that asks you to feel sorry but rebukes you for your blind pity. It asks you to respect Merrick, not cry for him. But you can't help crying. The Elephant Man is a film that treks you through despair and asks for your hope in the end. It asks you to hate humanity but to love the humane. It asks you to look at a man who appears sad and know that inside, he's okay.
This movie changed my life forever. To see someone so beautiful, dignified, and unique, hidden behind a body and face that society considers ugly, made me realize how the body is a decaying pile of dust, but the soul is a breath-taking and uniquely formed indestructible diamond.
I believe that everyone should get a chance to see this film, for those of an open mind, and a caring soul, there is nothing else like it.
It also shows the detestable ways some people treat others. I felt at first pity for John Merrick, but then my feelings changed to admiration, as the film went on. John, in the film starts as a severely deformed mute figure being badly mistreated, as the story progresses, he becomes the hero. A bold and courageous man, standing against the evils of modern society.
Joseph (John) Merrick, was a man so one-of-a-kind, that someone else like him physically or emotionally will never appear again. His life should be taken as an example to everyone.
As in the film, John's mother says "Nothing will Die", Joseph Merrick will live on in the hearts and souls of everyone who has witnessed the story of his life.
My love goes to Joseph Merrick, where ever he may be.
I just watched this movie last night and i must say... it touched me in a
way no other movie has... some of the scenes even brought me to tears,
has never happened to me before.... John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins are
incredible, and this movie is just filled with unforgettable scenes....
but like some people have mentioned here before, it is an incredibly hard movie to watch, especially after you realize what a sweet, kind, smart and innocent man John Merrick was, it is often painful to watch the way he's treated by some people, and like Hopkins says after he sees him for the first time "I pray to god that he's an idiot", sadly, he is everything but that...
10/10, no question
David Lynch is a remarkable director and The Elephant Man is a remarkable film. Inspired by a true story in the streets of London during the Victorian Age, the film is based entirely around the life of John Merrick (John Hurt), an individual dubbed by his `owner' Bytes (Freddie Jones) and others as 'The Elephant Man' because of his hideous deformities. With this film, Lynch grasps his audience and stretches them to a new parallel of an emotionally capturing film. And what makes this so daunting and so intriguing is the fact that 'The Elephant Man' is a true story, no part of it is fictional. Anthony Hopkins plays Dr. Frederick Treves, the man who somewhat saves John from those who persecute him for being a freak, being a `monster.' A story of human triumph could never be so remarkable as that of The Elephant Man. Lynch takes The Elephant Man to a new level of technical aspiration with a dark, dank setting shot completely in black and white. This film is amazing and would undoubtedly be just okay any other way. The black and white adds to the story in a way that touches the audience much deeper and much more personal. Not to mention stunning performances and dialogue by all cast, `David Lynch's portrait of John 'The Elephant Man' Merrick stands as one of the best biographies on film.' Literary critic Leslie Fiedler maintains that freaks stir `both supernatural terror and natural sympathies' because they `challenge conventional boundaries between male and female, sexed and sexless, animal and human, large and small, self and other.' In this very interesting and moving film, we are challenged to clarify our values in regard to `very special people.' However, in one powerful scene of tension and curiosity, John Merrick screams out, `I am not an animal! I am a human being! I.am.a man!' This particular sequence, I believe, is incredible and it ties in with the whole focus of the film itself, human dignity and emotion. David Lynch is known for some pretty twisted films, and yet, The Elephant Man is not that twisted at all. Even though his audience views John Merrick as not the average person because of his medical condition, the story is cherished because of how it is put onto the big screen. Compared to his other films such as Blue Velvet and Eraserhead, The Elephant Man is more surreal in terms of what Lynch was going for. Lynch does a magnificent job in portraying his version of The Elephant Man, and many people along with critics alike agree. I can easily rate The Elephant Man with four stars because David Lynch deserves no less. The Elephant Man is a classic, a striking and devastating film depicting the account of John Merrick's search for a dignified and normal life. I would definitely recommend this film to those in search of a wonderful story about one man's conquest to a regular life. Dr. Treves' account with John not only presents him with respect and normalcy, but also takes him as far as an uplifting scene where upon John states `my life is full because I know I am loved.' With such an inspirational and true story, David Lynch puts on a film that should be loved by many, if not all.
There have been many films made dealing with an individual who's outer appearance is completely at odds with their inner character. Some of these films are quite good but this is by far and away the very best. This is probably one of the most perfect films ever made. It succeeds on every level. Visually it transports one into a dark, grey, industrial nightmare of a world. It's within this world that we come to discover true beauty. It lies within one hideously deformed, abused and unfortunate soul who is being kicked around in this hellish existence. The screenplay, acting, direction all come together to create this extraordinary viewing experience. You really feel like you get inside this man and his tortured existence. The ending is one of the most effective and completely engrossing I've ever seen. Rarely does a film find a way to leave us with such a sense of closure and lingering fascination. The thing that really makes this film truly great is it changes the way people see themselves, other people and the world. I can still remember the palpable air of silence and awe over the audience when leaving the theater both times I saw it on the big screen. There's a transforming quality about it. You only need to read the many other user comments to see how people were moved and changed by this film. If you haven't seen it, it's a must!
Man, this is a powerful and great movie. We are all moved different
degrees by different things, but to witness sincerely nice people being
treated cruelly always bothers me big- time....so this film is tough to
watch in spots. Some scenes are just painful and depressing to view.
Whatever your sensitivity, the movie is very involving and hauntingly shown with eerie black-and-white photography. Eerie, and downright beautiful camera-work in here, so kudos to cinematographer Freddie Francis, one of the best in the business.
A young Anthony Hopkins is very likable and John Hurt is, well, someone you won't soon forget as John Merrick, "The Elephant Man."
This is an uplifting movie at times, too, not just a tear-jerker or horrific in showing man's cruelty to man. Be prepared for an emotional experience and an amazing story.
this is a brilliantly done film. it is quite raw and blunt about its
subject matter, however, so it should not be viewed for "entertainment"
purposes, thought he story is inherently intriguing. we must just sit and
watch in curiousity and amazement, but in concurrence with extreme sorrow,
as we are shown the brutality that john merrick must face as his reality. a
smile from another human being, or even a pleasant greeting (which is
something that we all take for granted), is treated by this man as the
highest form of complimentary behavior possible.
one of the best films that i have ever seen. it wouldnt be called a top 25 of all-time film by the public (though i may place it there), however, based solely on the fact that it, as i mentioned earlier, is lacking in terms of typical "entertainment" value. even though you will certainly be immersed the entire way through. ah, who knows! im not expressing myself very well. make it a priority to see this film. enjoy
absolutely amazing and memorable - 10/10
I saw this movie for the 1st time on 5th December 1999. I was about to go to sleep as it was about 00-40 in the morning and I flicked over to the movie and even though I was falling asleep as I flicked over to it, within five minutes I was wide awake and totally captivated.
Everyone knows the tale of John Merrick, it is so sad and painful to watch and see a man with above average intelligence trapped by his physical deformity and to be physically and mentally abused and tortured for a few meagre pence.
I thought Sir John Gieulgud(?) and Sir Anthony Hopkins were both excellent in their respective roles. John Hurt did Merrick proud.
I had a bit more than water in my eye on 4 occasions during this movie and not ashamed to admit it either. This is the 1st movie to make me cry.
On the Kleenex scale - Titanic is 1 and this is 10!
A movie not to be missed but be prepared to be disgusted and upset by the story told.
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
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Between the surreal dystopia of Eraserhead and the artistic immobility of
Dune, and before critics labeled him as the auteur of Weird America with
permanent marker, David Lynch directed this strange but true story set in
London, England during the late 1800's. Being one of only two films of
to be based on fact it is far less of a personal work than those generated
by the director himself. Despite his sensibilities being contained in a
more formal framework his unique aural and visual style (like the sound of
blowing wind or the peculiar emphasis of the industrial machinery of the
period)clearly comes across, although it's a far cry from the narrative
conundrums that comprise Eraserhead, Lost Highway, or Mulholland
The year before this film was released Bernard Pomerance's play opened on Broadway. This film is not based upon the former work and the latter takes a dramatically divergent path with its namesake subject. One of the most substantial is Merrick's role in his adoptive society once his carnival career is truncated. Pomerance's tale is a tragic one showing us how Merrick becomes caught in the machinery of the repressive and hypocritical society that cultivates him, tempting him with the illusion of normality with the artificial world they erect around him, but ultimately imprisoning him within it. The film depicts Victorian society as a benevolent sanctuary for a man, who while given the props to model himself after the normality he aspires to, is never deceived into thinking he can achieve it beyond his imagination. Merrick's own realization of this is clear in a scene (hauntingly scored by composer John Morris)where he asks his caretaker Treeves if he can cure him. Treeves' reply is no. Merrick's response is of a man who knew the answer all along but still allows himself the indulgence to dream.
Treeves' struggles are similarly reduced. The closest he comes in the film to questioning his motives concerning Merrick is a brief scene where he asks his wife (and audience) if his seemingly charitable act of taking Merrick from his sideshow squalor was possibly something other than altruistic. Pomerance has Treeves questioning the artificial social fabric that's been woven around Merrick and his undeniable complicity in it. The screenwriters seem less concerned with tackling these Victorian dilemmas than focusing on the beauty in the beast theme. Considering Lynch's fascination with organic phenomena this focus seems much more up his alley. In his words Lynch has stated that the eponymous title character is "this beautiful soul trapped in this horrible body and that's what the whole film is about." Yes siree Bob.
Much less effective in the film is the role of the actress Madge Kendall who's really nothing more than a walk on by Anne Bancroft. There is some(even subtly sexual)awkwardness between Merrick and Kendall at the beginning of their meeting together but it ultimately winds up with a scene that feels patronizing towards Merrick and mawkish. It doesn't fit with the earlier tension and Kendall never becomes anything more than a well acted cameo. Much more effective is Merrick's ability to retain the power to disturb the bourgeois society that flocks to see him once he becomes that season's fashionable curiosity. His transformation into a gentrified version of his erstwhile sawdust and calliope music carnival persona still has the same effect on others. In one scene he is serving tea to a noticeably unnerved aristocratic couple who are guests of his. Their cups rattle against their saucers in barely restrained horror as he discusses his mother's beauty in the context of his own deformity. His cherished portrait of his mother becomes an eerily recurring visual motif. She remains a mysterious presence frozen in time. The conflation of Merrick and his mother recalls a line heard early in the film that "life is full of surprises."
Merrick's background remains equally enigmatic. The only glimpse we see of his past are some creepily abstract images during one of his nightmares. Even his beginnings are fictionalized as part of the sideshow spiel recited by his owner Bytes. Treeves' first view of the elephant man is in a private showing by Bytes. He is led down a dark corridor to a room where the terrible freak is kept concealed behind a curtain. Only the flames of a gas lamp illuminate the darkness. Bytes spins a tale of a terrifying encounter between woman and elephant while Treeves stares, mouth agape. The scene has a strange Lynchian spookiness about it.
The costume and production design authentically breathe life into the Victorian era while Freddie Francis' expressionistic monochrome adds both verisimilitude and a sense of an alternative world. These elements together with Lynch's use of both nightmarish and chimerical images, an other worldly atmosphere, pathos and sentiment, make the film a sort of Charles Dickens tale wrapped inside The Twilight Zone with the ethereal touch of a haunting dream. The past a la Lynch.
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