Henry Spencer tries to survive his industrial environment, his angry girlfriend, and the unbearable screams of his newly born mutant child.
So after completing my reviews of the filmography of the Coen Brothers, I move on to my next project, which is going to be reviewing the films of the enigma that is David Lynch. Up to this point, I’ve only seen 3 of his films, and 2 of those would be classed as his most ‘normal’ (The Elephant Man, The Straight Story), and his most critically acclaimed (Mulholland Drive), and I enjoyed all 3 films immensely.
To kick things off, we go back to 1977 to his surrealist body horror ‘Eraserhead’, starring Jack Nance in the lead role. ‘Eraserhead’ is the story of Henry Spencer (Nance), a man who is left to bring up his grossly deformed child in a desolate industrial landscape, when he starts having strange visions and hallucinations featuring the child and the ‘Lady in the Radiator’. To be blunt, I didn’t enjoy the film, although there were aspects I admired, and I do think that I understood the themes Lynch was trying to get across. It begins with a weird sequence with a man pulling levers somewhere in space, whilst Spencer’s head floats aimlessly in the sky, before dialling back to something approaching normality as Spencer discovers he is to become a father. In the lead role, Nance himself is fine, maintaining the sufficient distance from the character to suggest a general alienation with the world and his circumstances which help to feed his constant nightmarish delusions.
The key themes throughout seemed to focus on Spencer’s fear of parenthood, and his delusions were primarily focused around his sexual longing for his neighbour along the hall, with the grossly deformed child looking almost sperm like in his visions. The film is undoubtedly deeply disturbing (which I think was the aim!), although I never felt quite as affected by the nightmarish visions Spencer was experiencing, as perhaps I might have been if I felt more invested in the film. To use a non-technical term, I spent most of the film thinking ‘what the hell?!’, which I realise is a phenomenon I’m likely to experience more and more as I go through Lynch’s back catalogue!
The one aspect of the film that did really grab me, and seriously impressed me, was the disorientating sound design that Lynch utilised. The sound was purposely overwhelming, with a constant drone thumping through my head from the offset and continuing throughout. This created a very unnerving feeling and I constantly felt a little off kilter as the surreal images flashed across the screen. Funnily enough, it reminded me of an experimental documentary I saw last year called ‘Leviathan’, which is set aboard a fishing trawler off the North American Atlantic coast, and uses sound superbly to really through the viewer off balance and dive you headfirst into their world.
Overall, I found ‘Eraserhead’ just a little bit too strange to enjoy, although there were aspects that intrigued me, and the excellent use of sound to punctuate a feeling of uneasiness throughout. It’ll be interesting once I’ve watched all of Lynch’s films if I’d appreciate (or understand) this film more looking back. Next up, I’ll be watching and reviewing ‘The Elephant Man’, which I’ve seen before and really enjoyed.
Directed By: David Lynch
Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith Roberts, Laurel Near and Jack Fisk