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United Kingdom 1980
Directed by
David Lynch
125 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Elephant Man

Although retreating from the fantastical outpost staked by his outstanding debut feature, Eraserhead (1976) to a more conventional realist narrative style that is even rather sentimental in places, The Elephant Man, the fact-based story of John Merrick, the most famous human deformity of the Victorian era, is nevertheless true Lynch material - a story in the particular about the “bizarre” and in the general about the scorned and abused who are relegated to the periphery of "normal" society because of their inability to conform to its inflexible expectations.

Here Lynch makes the setting of Industrial Revolution England the equivalent of the post-industrial wasteland of Eraserhead. In a way these distinctive stylistic carry-overs, particularly the sound FX, are more distracting than contributive, being rather gratuitous overlays on what is a truly extraordinary story that Lynch brings home to great effect. John Hurt’s performance, arguably the best of his career, is a key element of the film’s success as he brings home Merrick’s humanity while encased in an extraordinary prosthetic get-up. Solid support comes Anthony Hopkins and veterans John Gielgud and Wendy Hiller whilst Robert Cartwright’s art direction is spot-on.

 

 

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