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a perfect film
Bastian Balthazar Bux6 November 2004
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 deal.

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.
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10/10
Cuts Deep
Cheetah-621 July 2001
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!
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10/10
Nothing Will Die.
dnights30 July 2003
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.
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10/10
i'm speechless
ofurkusa14 August 2002
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, which has never happened to me before.... John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins are simple 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
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If Your Life Sucks Watch This Movie
philosofee_lvr200327 July 2004
'I am not an animal! I am a human being! I …am …a man!'

John Merrick (as portrayed in The Elephant Man)

'If Your Life Sucks, Watch this Movie' 'The Elephant Man,' directed by David Lynch and written by Sir Frederick Treves and Ashley Montagu, is a macabre story about Dr. Frederick 'Freddie' Treves (Anthony Hopkins) who shows compassion for a man with Proteous Syndrome John Merrick (John Hurt). The story is based on the true account of John Merrick's life as a side show freak in the nineteenth century. The viewer is taken on a journey of a man trying to regain some self-respect and the doctor who is helping him to do so.

If you are like me and in a bad space in your life, watch this movie. Although a depressing film there are brief moments of hope with the interaction of Merrick and Treves. But, mostly it is scene after scene of abuse, torture and the dark side of human nature. This is not a movie that a viewer is going to want to watch time and time again. Watching this movie is like being drug through a crime scene, most don't want to look but most can't help themselves. After viewing the film, I felt a lot better about my life, and right now I am unemployed, fat and alone.

That being said, the movie taken as a work of art was excellent. The black and white cinematography really added to the Victorian feel of the nineteenth century. The character development was superb and the acting of Hopkins and Hurt phenomenal. The makeup and costuming was dark as the film itself and the direction by Lynch, using his signature 'dream' scenes only added to the dimness of the entire film. I highly recommend this film once because it is beautifully directed and a great story. But, unless you are a masochist, once is enough.
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9/10
Almost Too Heart-Wrenching To Watch
ccthemovieman-11 November 2005
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.
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One of the greatest films, but so little appreciated
TG-1515 June 2000
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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10/10
A Masterpiece, Truly Remarkable
mhs_njrotc200410 May 2004
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.
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David Lynch's most accessible work. A truly remarkable film!
Infofreak3 February 2004
I first watched 'The Elephant Man' over twenty years ago, not long after it was released. It was the first David Lynch movie I ever saw, thought at the time I'd never even heard about 'Eraserhead' and knew nothing about the guy. I was incredibly impressed by the film, as I have been every time I watch it. Eventually I became a big Lynch fan, and could see the similarities between 'Eraserhead' and 'The Elephant Man', both visually and in their use of sound. Apart from that, they are very different movies. 'Eraserhead' still freaks most people out, but 'The Elephant Man' is arguably his most accessible film. It has heart and an emotional impact, something rare in Lynch's movies ('The Straight Story' is another exception). Anthony Hopkins is an actor I've frankly had it up to HERE with, especially after his increasingly hammy Dr. Hannibal Lecter, but boy, is he wonderful here! Probably his finest performance to date. Of course John Hurt is superb too, especially taking into consideration him having to work under pounds of make up. It's hard to fault anybody in the supporting cast, especially John Gielgud and Hannah Gordon, who plays Hopkins wife. Freddie Jones, who Lynch has worked with a few times since, is really evil as Bytes, and the late Michael Elphick ('The Element Of Crime', 'Withnail and I') plays another memorable baddie as the hospital's night porter. 'The Elephant Man' is a remarkable achievement. Lynch doesn't seem to have compromised his unique vision one bit and yet manages to make a genuinely moving drama about one of the screen's most unlikely heroes. I don't throw the term "masterpiece" around lightly but it's difficult not to use that word when describing this truly extraordinary film! Simply one of the best movies I've ever seen.
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10/10
amazing....but not for the weak at heart
gethistr826 January 2002
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
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10/10
In a word - excellent but also extremely sad...
ThePM5 December 1999
Hi all,

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.

ThePM
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10/10
There will always be Elephant Men
zennokangae10 July 2004
I'm not writing any more plaudits for this movie, for most everything has been said about it before. Even a quarter century later, I weep everytime I watch Mr. Hurt and Mr. Hopkins in their roles. The great humanity of David Lynch and the producers has left us with an equally frightening and endearing vision of Mr. Merick.

Sadly, there will always be elephant men, as long as ignorance and the impulse for destruction rule men and their domain.
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10/10
Great
nlsimo5 June 2005
This film is one of the greatest of all time. Hurt and Hopkins are excellent and the great Wendy Hillier and John Geilgud put in superb turns. The script is at once energetic,emotional and perfectly paced. Lynch's direction is also awesome. why did this film not win best picture? it is a trillion times better than ordinary people. Well done to Mel Brooks for producing such a beautiful film and having faith in the then relatively unheard of David Lynch. To me this is a crowning point in the careers of of Brooks,Lynch,Hurt, Hopkins,Hillier,Geilgud,Bancroft. A pure unadulterated masterpiece Brilliant
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8/10
An terrific film
tara_12_heck19 November 2004
I truly enjoyed this film. I've always been told that I'm fairly mature for my age - I'm not even old enough to drive yet & I'm already learning & respecting morals. In this case, 'Don't judge a book by its cover'.

Some parts made me very angry - when Merrick was mistreated & exploited like an animal that he certainly wasn't. He didn't deserve the treatment that people like Bytes & the person working at the hospital gave him.

I forgot that I was watching a movie for a while & became incredibly angered far more times than once.

I loved the movie a lot, but it made me incredibly inraged that people that treated John like that can actually exist.
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10/10
The most touching film I have ever seen
Lamprey18 April 1999
I see lots of films, and have a "Top Ten" list that only the most incredible of movies can enter. However, upon seeing Elephant Man for the first time, it immediately broke onto that list which is dominated by Sci-Fi "guy" movies.

The reason is that this movie is so heartbreaking, so sad, and yet so full of hope, there is little you can do to hold back your emotions while watching it. I recommend watching it alone, for two reasons: 1) it is very painful and sad to watch and 2) the value is lost if you are trying "not to cry" or have something else on your mind (like talking to your friend).

The performances are very well done, by Hurt, Hopkins, and everyone else in the cast. The only gripe I have isn't really a gripe - the film isn't 100% true. But it will make you forget all your problems for a while. Witnessing the life of "John Mellick" makes your own life seem like paradise.

Even after repeated viewings this movie loses NONE of it's impact. Paramount, please release it on DVD!
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10/10
Ones of the most heart rending films of all time.
coop-1614 April 1999
It is truly baffling to me that there are people who have seen this film who still think that David Lynch is a cold and cruel film-maker. David Lynch is ,in fact, a man of extraordinary gentleness and sensitivity, who cares deeply about the sort of people whom mainstream society stigmatizes as 'freaks'.Please, watch this film--watch it carefully-- and you will see that Lynch's deepest concern is with how a over-industrialized, rigid, and profoundly hypocritical society crushes its outsiders. It may sound odd, but I really believe that the non-Christian Lynch has, in the person of John Merrick portrayed one of the most profoundly moving "Christ figures' in all of film. Let me also note how well Lynch( In only his second effort at directing!) handled such legends as Hiller, Gielgud and Hopkins.
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Something I realized after I had watched the film.
g195725 April 2004
I believe that one of the greatest ideas in the movie, is that it starts by frightening you, it makes you fear John, in such way that you don't even want to see him. And then when the movie continues it is revealed that John is just a loving human being, who wants to be loved like everybody else, and you suddenly look at him and has a kind of sympathy for him.

This is a VERY VERY VERY strong idea in my opinion BECAUSE the movie shows us that we are not better than anyone else. Even though we think that the people who've seen John as a horrible deformed monster were horrible, we were thinking the same way in the beginning of the movie. Because the movie introduced John to us that way. This teaches us that unfortunately we are not objective, we don't really check things out before we judge them. We base our opinions on what others tell us, and not on what's right.
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10/10
Well acted and ....
MarieGabrielle8 August 2006
very disturbing. Anthony Hopkins, as Dr. Treaves, trying to help a disfigured patient in the Victorian Era. The really sad part is that this was based on a true story.

John Hurt is very effective, and the cinematography seems even more graphic in black and white. Sadly the carnival and freak-show atmosphere was prevalent in those days for entertainment. Today we have reality TV.

Anyone who has traveled and visited the "surgical theaters" of Victorian England will be interested in this story. The Anthony Hopkins character has redeeming values, and the story is a case everyone should be made aware of.

The atmosphere is foreboding and scary. Man's inhumanity to man. 10/10.
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10/10
A Beautiful Mind
george.schmidt12 March 2003
THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980) **** John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, Wendy Hiller, Freddie Jones, John Gielgud. David Lynch's masterpiece of the human spirit about the true-life account of John Merrick, a hideously deformed man in England's Victorian Age, who was taken in by a physician after a hellish stint in a freak show. Hurt rises to the occasion and delivers a heart wrenching Oscar nominated performance emoting under tons of make-up to full effect. Equally good is Hopkins in low-key form as the humanitarian doctor. Beautiful black and white photography resonates the production; nominated for 8 Academy Awards including Lynch and Best Picture. Best scenes: Hurt's recital of the 23rd Psalm and his immortal line: "I am not an animal, I am a human being!" Incredibly powerful ending perfectly accentuated by the classical "Adagio For Strings". Dare not to be moved. One of the best. – Trivia note, look for little person Kenny Baker during the carnival sequences; he's the guy inside R2-D2 in `Star Wars' and the head bandit in `Time Bandits'.
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8/10
A heartbreaking expose of society
The_Void22 December 2004
Nobody but Lynch could have directed this movie and made it the masterpiece that it is. Where other people would have gone for fake sentimentality and/or gruesome imagery; Lynch just presents the story how it is. The film is never gratuitous, and that is much to it's credit. It is, however, utterly repulsive. The black and white cinematography enforces this. There is nothing pleasant about The Elephant Man; it is as ugly as it's title character, and that is the way that this story needs to be. On the surface, it is ugly and repulsive; but just like it's title character; the movie has a hidden depth that is ultimately touching and heartbreaking. The movie sets itself up for this early on; the scene in which the Elephant Man is introduced is most of the most gut wrenching ever committed to film. As the doctor (Anthony Hopkins) sees the freak rise up and realises the extent of his deformity...a tear slowly form and rolls down his cheek. From this, you can see the pity that he feels for this man who has drawn the lot of a lowly circus freak; just from that one shot of a tear, David Lynch shows us the sorrow and the pity, and that's all he needs. Where some directors would have piled the sentimentality on, David Lynch is economic; that's all it needs, so that's all it gets. And that is the mark of a great director. Something that David Lynch most certainly is.

The film is also ironic. Aside from it's visuals that link to the title character, it also observes how society is not unlike a circus. The good doctor has taken the Elephant Man away from the glares and the scowls of the circus audience, the exploitation that he's had to face, and put him a kinder and more loving environment; only now the scowls and stares come not from the circus audience, but from society's upper crust, who want to exploit the Elephant Man themselves for their own selfish reasons - to impress their friends. The Elephant Man is not merely a horror story of the life of a very unfortunate man; it's a story of love, a story of acceptance. Despite being taken from one circus to another, the Elephant Man is happier and more fulfilled than he ever was; he doesn't care about the looks and the exploitation, he merely wants to be loved. By 'normal' people, this is taken for granted; but The Elephant Man shows us that love and acceptance isn't something that can be taken for granted. As one doctor notes in the film, "we can't imagine the life he's had". We can't.

David Lynch also succeeds in making voyeurs out of his audience. Just like the various audiences in the film; we too want to see the Elephant Man, and yet are utterly repulsed and disgusted by him. With this, David Lynch makes a mockery out of today's society, without ever making a mockery out of the character upon which this film is based. The Elephant Man himself is a perfectly balanced example of how pathos can be achieved. Not only is this man seen as a monster, but his character is pathetic also. With The Elephant Man, Lynch is saying to the world that it is society that is the monster, not the freaks that live within it.

To put it simply: David Lynch has taken a story that could have easily been told simply and expanded it to take in themes that are outside of the central premise. This small story of one unfortunate man has been moulded into a striking comment on society. And all in all; it's a masterpiece.
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10/10
Essential.
rainking_es30 December 2005
There is no feeling, no virtue, no human baseness "The Elephant Man" doesn't scrutinize: hypocrisy, cruelty, mercy, sadism, love...). David Lynch reached the status of genius with his second movie, he created an instant classic for the history of cinema, a masterpiece. He probed his huge talent beyond the oniric or surrealistic fits of "Eraserhead" (and of most of his filmography). He probed he's capable of doing anything he wanted to with a camera on his hands. For those who think Lynch is just a pretentious guy which only films nonsenses, please take a look at this movie.

As for John Hurt, he didn't need to become the elephant man to demonstrate he's one of the best actors of his generation; nevertheless, he accepted the challenge... and he won. He made an outrageous display of physical and mental effort, and of body talk. I can't imagine how hard it was for him to carry that disguise all along the whole filming. Please let's take our hats off to Mr. John Hurt.

The Elephant Man, just an essential film.

*My rate: 10/10
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10/10
A master work.
shneur26 March 2005
There's always the inclination to say, "My God, how could anyone go wrong with a cast like that?" but of course the list of such disasters is long. This is one of those (few) movies about which, in my opinion, there's just nothing bad to say. The story is true, and John Hurt's incredible make-up corresponds very well to photographs of the real-life "elephant man." Hurt's interplay with Anthony Hopkins carries the film along on the evolution of their relationship from detached scientific fascination to enduring friendship. Ann Bancroft's performance is as masterful as one would hope and expect. The interviews included on the DVD were worth watching too, and will add to appreciation of the next viewing.
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10/10
"The stream flows, the wind blows, the cloud fleets, the heart beats... Nothing will die"
AdFin20 April 2002
Never could one hope to find a film as ugly and beautiful as David Lynch's film biography of John Merrick (The Elephant Man). Merrick's story is perhaps one of the most heartbreaking and appalling cases of human injustice to those different, with a strong message, which still holds importance to this day. In the hands of a lesser talented director this film may have been just another pointless Hollywood story, but in the hands of Lynch the film becomes a haunting, beautiful, but at the same time, highly disturbing work of art. Always surrealistic in its storytelling approach, the film sets up Merrick's complicated birth with an abstract dream/flash back sequence, dimly lit and photographed in gloriously grainy black and white the audience can't help but be immediately drawn in to the story.

The film then jumps forwards, and introduces us to the character of Fredrick Treves (Hopkins) at a London carnival, where Merrick is being shown as part of the sideshow. Treves is unable to see Merrick due to the police, who close the show before he gets there, but hungry for a glimpse he arranges to for a private showing with Merrick's owner Bytes. Lynch is reluctant to show us Merrick in full daylight for the first quarter of the film, which in my opinion was a clever move, because it allows we the audience to share Treve's intrigue as to weather or not the tag Elephant Man is suited, or whether we are being duped into seeing something not too much out of the ordinary. It is only later that, after we see Merrick, we realise that he is truly deformed beyond human recognition.

The next part of the film is where the real argument of The Elephant Man rests, the age-old argument of beauty only being skin deep and how those who have beauty on the outside often have none on the inside. As Merrick goes to show the staff of the hospital of which he's taken residency that he is an articulate, erudite human being, he is slowly integrated into polite society, not from respect though, the crowds are only gathering because viewing Merrick has become something of a status symbol, and this is where Treve's must decide whether or not he has forced John to exchange one freak-show for another.

For me The Elephant Man is one of the most staggering and moving films of recent cinema, the herald of a maverick talent in the then young David Lynch, and brimming with evocative production design, beautiful photography and a wealth of fine performances from Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud and Michael Elphick, not to mention Hurt's remarkable performance hidden under layers of prosthetic make-up. It is true what others have said, that The Elephant Man is a very bleak, very downbeat film, a film not afraid to hold a mirror to society's injustices, but the ending is uplifting in a different way than most conventional happy endings. In the respect that John has just has the happiest day of his life, and no day will ever be that good, so the perfect way to end that perfect day, is to sleep like he has always wanted to, even if it will result in his own death. With the final line (used as my summary), we are told that nothing dies, that the spirit will always live on. What a touching sentiment to the endurance of the human spirit. A masterpiece 10/10
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10/10
An elephant never forgets, and "The Elephant Man" is unforgettable.
lee_eisenberg19 December 2005
Anthony Hopkins is so associated with Hannibal Lecter, that we almost forget that he did star in movies before that. "The Elephant Man", for example. It's sort of hard to determine whether the main character is disfigured John Merrick (John Hurt) or Dr. Frederick Treves (Hopkins). Either way, it's the movie's plot that's important. The plot of course shows how Merrick has been treated as a monster all his life and Treves tries to cure him. As for the possibility that the movie may have revered its subject too much...well, would you feel comfortable mocking him? A particularly interesting combo is the people behind the movie: director David Lynch and executive producer Mel Brooks (Brooks' wife Anne Bancroft appears as an actress). The former is synonymous with deliberately weird cinema, while the latter is synonymous with silliness. Both men show a different side here. All in all, this is definitely a movie that everyone should see.
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10/10
Superb haunting story about human nature.
Ben_Cheshire1 April 2004
With a crowd bearing down on him, the tortured cry of The Elephant Man (John Hurt) rings out: "I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being!"

Set in Victorian England, it looks into the Freak Show trade that was popular then, through one particular gentleman, grossly and uniquely deformed, by the name of John Merrick (The Elephant Man), and is based on the memoirs of the doctor played by Anthony Hopkins, Dr Frederick Treves. It shows the humanity of poor Mr Merrick and condemns the society that exploited him for its own monetary gain and sick pleasure.

The story itself is a difficult one, and i'm surprised that any producer, even someone as offbeat as Mel Brooks, would have agreed to pour money into this idea. It has none of the classic elements of the commercial formula for making a movie that will make money: it has no love story, it has no sex, and, without spoiling too much, it is quite a tragic, unhappy story.

The pervasive tragedy of the story is that John Merrick is an intelligent man, trapped inside this hideously misshapen body. Hanging over the head of the story is also the fact that nothing can be done for Mr Merrick. And the metaphor running throughout is that Merrick is no elephant man at all, he's just as human as the rest of us, but this exhibitionist, heartless society whipped him and made him dance around for them like an elephant in a circus tent.

"Luck, my friend," A circus dwarf says to the elephant man at one point in the story, "and who needs it but we."

It is a story of immense sensitivity and humanity, and one the likes of which you won't see anywhere else. Its definitely not for the weak-hearted or depressed. Its often devastatingly difficult to watch (mainly in one or two scenes), most of this story is wildly compelling and human drama due to the immense talents of Lynch and Hopkins in particular. There are certainly moments of reprieve - all is not black.

Its certainly a beautiful movie - every frame is perfection. Gorgeous black and white cinematography give this subject the class it deserves. A wonderful score by John Morris helps give it a haunting beauty. It is directed with superb classical storytelling, illustrated by Lynchian brushstrokes: expressionistic dream sequences and trademark Lynchian soundtrack. David Lynch should be very proud of this early effort. It is a marvellous film. The sensitivity of the construction, and its classic perfection, are the work of a master.

But it is hard to say what this movie would be without Anthony Hopkins. It is a topic that easily could have fallen into the trap of the society it depicts, of exploiting freaks for the petty thrill of exhibitionism. But whatever credit for this that does not go to Lynch, must go to Hopkins. His sincere delivery, in one of the most genuine performances i've ever seen, are a major factor in our believing this story really happened (which it did), and taking it seriously (which we do).

5 stars.
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