The Elephant Man Screen 13 articles

The Elephant Man

1980

The Elephant Man Poster
  • To this day, it’s one of Lynch’s best movies; as such, it’s also evidence that Lynch himself is a victim of his times—his ideal calling would have been as a studio director, applying visionary artistry to such a varied range of classical stories that his sensibility would expand and deepen. . . . Lynch’s extraordinary work on “The Elephant Man” offers a fine illustration of the distinction between Best Picture and Best Director; his direction elevates a good script into a great movie.

  • It is _sublime_ Oscar bait, and I defy anyone to hear John Hurt’s “I’m not used to being treated so well by a beautiful woman...” without feeling something tear loose within.

  • Perhaps the film’s greatest accomplishment is how it translates the sensual experience of the human condition through its haptic vision (haptic vision is the idea of touching through sight). This is done most obviously in the heavily textured opening sequence, but throughout the film “normal” sensual experiences of touch, sight and sound are exaggerated in order to create sensory overloads that reflect the emotional and physical states of the characters, in particular those of Joseph Merrick.

  • Working in black and white with cinematographer Freddie Francis and editor Anne V. Coates, both British cinema veterans, Lynch creates a feeling of sensuous surfaces continuously roused by unsettled elements. Even the hospital, with its humane personnel and antiseptic corridors, hums with sinister hissing noises and clanking gears, and a scene of Treves operating on a worker’s charred torso hints at the monstrous facets of the industrial revolution.

  • It might be one of Lynch's most accessible films, but it's still a challenging work that's so artistically interesting that it manages to meld its aesthetic vision with the inner complexities of its protagonist's moving, almost unbearably sad story.

  • It's one of Lynch's most distracting films in that his experimentation feels suffocated, thanks in part its prestige, but mainly for its conventional narrative devices. The film is not without merit, however: John Hurt's turn as the title subject is genuinely affecting and the lighting by the recently deceased Freddie Francis sends you away with many picturesque images.

  • Mel Brooks introduced Lynch to Hollywood by having him direct The Elephant Man, the beautifully sad true story of grotesquely deformed John Merrick. The Elephant Man was the first film to combine Lynch’s unique industrial and organic visuals with a truly moving story about inner beauty and familial love.

  • It's been nearly two decades since Lynch directed The Elephant Man, the almost unbearably poignant story of 1880s freak-show attraction John Merrick, but this stylish, sharply focused film is still perched right on the cutting edge. Shooting in strapping, high-contrast black and white, Lynch elegantly balances the creepier aspects of this biography with a gentle and yielding humanism.

  • The spectator sees Merrick really for the first time, but what he also sees is that the monster who is supposed to scare him is himself afraid. It is at this moment that Lynch frees his spectator from the trap he had first set, as if Lynch was saying: you are not the one that matters, it's him; it's not your fear that interests me but his; it is not your fear to be afraid that I want to manipulate but his fear to scare, his fear to see himself in the look of the other. The vertigo changes sides.

  • Appearances are all, and like the proverbial Victorian piano, he can make the social grade only if his ruder appendages are hidden from sensitive eyes; hence what is effectively, at his time of greatest happiness, his suicide. A marvellous movie, shot in stunning black-and-white by Freddie Francis.

  • The representation of Merrick himself (played with a remarkably undemonstrative dignity by John Hurt) – with his head the size of a man`s waist, his crooked mouth, useless right arm and body covered with lavalike eruptions – provokes complex questions about the nature of voyeurism, ‘wonderment’ and ‘scientific’ observation.

  • The Globe and Mail: Jay Scott
    October 04, 1980 | Great Scott! (pp. 61-64)

    When Merrick recites the Twenty-third Psalm – the movie's most touching moment – we get a glimpse of the movie that might have been, if the make-up problem had been solved... The movie that might have been was a quiet ode to a child-man fighting for a tiny corner of control in a world revolted by his physical presence. Little of that movie exists here, but The Elephant Man could become a hit anyway: the basic story and Lynch's high-toned horror techniques make leering almost respectable.

  • David Lynch's first big-budget film (1980) confirmed the talent he showed in Eraserhead, though the picture itself is a strange trade-off between Lynch's personal themes and the requirements of a middlebrow message movie. Lynch revives ancient avant-garde mannerisms—"dream images and swirling, dissolving montage sequences"—and makes them work again, brilliantly; he's less successful in the light of day, where the film bogs down in stagy, high-minded dialogue sequences.

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