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A film that defies conventional logic and storytelling, fueled by its dark nightmarish atmosphere and compellingly disturbing visuals. Henry Spencer is a hapless factory worker on his vacation when he finds out he's the father of a hideously deformed baby. Now living with his unhappy, malcontent girlfriend, the child cries day and night, driving Henry and his girlfriend to near insanity.Written by
David Lynch had a lot of trouble getting financial assistance from the AFI, because the script was only 20 pages long. He received a grant from AFI but after about 3 years of production, ran out of money. At one point Terrence Malick screened the film for a potential financial backer, who walked out, calling the movie "bullshit". See more »
Towards the end of the film, there is a picture of what appears to be the Hiroshima explosion hanging over Henry's nightstand. In the next shot, the picture is gone See more »
Unlike some of Lynch's more recent works ("Mullholland Drive" and "Lost Highway" for example) Eraserhead is a film that doesn't benefit from being "figured out".
The film left me with several strong emotional impressions, mainly having to do with the hell of a forced marriage and the burden of caring for an unwanted child. In spite of truly bizarre occurances (Roast chickens start kicking and oozing blood at the dinner table while Mom has a seziure apparently unnoticed by everybody else; grandma seems catatonic, but mom still gets her to toss the salad, etc., etc., etc...), Mary comes from a rigidly "traditional" family, completely crass in it's need to know if Henry had sex with Mary, what Henry does for a living, and it's assumption that he will marry Mary after presenting him with flimsy evidence that they've had a child together. The values that force Henry and Mary to marry are shown to be as much a part of the machine that has created the industrial hell in which they live as any other force.
Their universe seems post-appocalyptic in its desolation; not a wisp of vegetation anywhere, and almost no clues about time of day. I suspect a rational explanation for the setting of Eraserhead might include some alien takeover; Henry and Mary's "premature baby" doesn't really look human, and it's introduction to their lives is more than a little suspect. Not to mention the "worms" that keep appearing everywhere,looking like dissected human central nerve chords.
While I firmly believe there is no one way to interpret Eraserhead, it
does touch on a number themes that fall into the "social commentary" bin. Isolation deepening simultaneously with physical connection (pipes)as a metaphor for sex that alienates, marriage forced by circumstance, etc. It manages to get the viewer (at least this one) thinking about these issues in an abstract way. I don't know that I really enjoyed the film (although Harry's dream where his brian gets turned into eraserheads was humorous) but I didn't find it worthless. As an image and soundscape, it was truly brilliant.
The intentional mix of plot and diversion succeeds in tempting and then thwarting analysis, like a painting or a sculpture. As such, this film is guaranteed to alienate a large audience. Some of Lynch's more recent films ("Mulholland Drive", for example) are puzzleboxes that start the viewer out in this state of confusion, but actually make a lot more sense once the puzzle is figured out. "Eraserhead" deliberately induces confusion, and intentionally maintains confusion throughout, with no resolution intended. As such, it is typical "student work", untainted by the need to be palatable to large numbers of people, unencumbered by the idea that many will lose interest because they do not see value in maintaining states of confusion (it's called developing an attention span). As with all things, it's a matter of taste.
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