The Elephant Man
Directed by David Lynch
Written by Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren and David Lynch based on books by Frederick Treves and Ashley Montagu
This is probably David Lynch at his least Lynchian, his most generally accessible. Sure, it’s all filmed in black and white and there’s weird stills and juxtapositions and elephants over a panicking woman at the start of the film but generally the storyline is straightforward and easy to follow.
As someone who hates to witness bullying, this wasn’t an easy film for me to watch. The inevitability of bad things happening was painful. In particular the home invasion sequence with drunk people abusing him was the most difficult sequence but generally it was uncomfortable and bleak.
It’s a story which is based on true events, and generally the themes seem to be that nasty people are really awful to each other and to those who are different. There was a sort of general: rich people are nice and poor people are awful, but then there’s contradictions to that – the other freaks bust him out of the second round of carnival captivity for example. I really don’t know how close to the truth it is, having done no research at all on the elephant man. It feels real enough, it’s all very plausible and like it’d happen again if such a person were to come into the public eye. One of those ‘we’re better than that, now’ things which totally isn’t true. Is this where I make a pertinent comment about how reality tv is just the same freak show spectacle all over again? Let’s pretend I did.
Lynch’s photography, editing and direction are pretty perfect to be honest.
Does it make me love the people? Yeah, how can you not love poor John Merrick with his unfortunate life and his gentleness once his voice is unlocked. I also love Treves, he’s trying so damn hard to do the right thing and he’s so unsure that he’s on the right path.
Bechdel test: No. There are a number of named women characters, primarily hospital staff like Mothershead, the nurses and Mrs Treves, Mrs Kendal, but they all talk to either John or Treves, or to each other about John.
John Merrick: My life is full because I know I am loved.
State of Mind: Is the ending a good ending? I don’t even know. I was mostly happy the film ended, to be honest. Anthony Hopkins did a brilliant job as Treves and John Hurt did a fantastic job acting under all that make up as John. It’s just generally so hard to watch and so sad, I don’t imagine I’ll watch it again in any kind of hurry. Maybe someday, in 20 years or something but. No. On the up side, I did get a lot of postcards written while I watched it.