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.
‘The Elephant Man‘ is one of the few David Lynch films I’d seen before taking on his entire filmography, and to this day, it’s his only film to garner a ‘Best Film’ nomination at the Oscar awards. It’s easy to see why, as this is one of Lynch’s more accessible efforts, and the fact it is based on a true story makes it even more powerful.
The film is about Joseph Merrick (John in the film), the real life Elephant Man who lived in Victorian London, and focuses mainly on his relationship with a doctor (Anthony Hopkins), who wants to help him. Paraded as a freak at circus events and shows, Merrick leads a sad existence and is exploited because of his condition. His life improves somewhat under the doctor, although he still has to put up with a night porter who allows people in at night to laugh and ‘get a look’ at him. Hopkins is excellent as the conflicted doctor, a man doing his best to help but fears he is still exploiting Merrick, albeit in a different way from the cruel man who paraded him at the circus. Merrick’s journey throughout the course of the film is incredibly moving, as he finally finds a little bit of joy in his life through his skill in building a model of the church he can see from his window, and his intelligence and sensitive nature shine through
After a slow start, the film improves as it goes on, and three of the final scenes are immensely powerful- at a theatre, a train station, and the concluding scene where Merrick appears happy for once in his life. John Hurt plays Merrick, and under the heavy make up and effects (which are terrific), he delivers a fine, understated performance that he truly brings to life with the brilliant scene at the train station. Anchored by two excellent performances from two of Britain’s finest thespians, John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins, ‘The Elephant Man‘ is a powerful film about the human condition, and still stands up strongly 34 years after its release.
Next up, I’ll be delving into ‘Dune‘, a science fiction adaptation of Frank Herbert’s cult novel, which is regarded as Lynch’s weakest film according to Rotten Tomatoes (55%), so we’ll see what I think!
Directed By: David Lynch
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, John Gielgud, Anne Bancroft, Wendy Hiller, Dexter Fletcher, Michael Elphick and Freddie Jones