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United Kingdom 1980
Directed by
David Lynch
125 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

The Elephant Man

Although retreating from the fantastical outpost staked by his unforgettable 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 film which like Eraserhead is about the “grotesque” and in particular about how Victorian society scorned those who were relegated to its periphery because of their inability to conform to its inflexible expectations.

Lynch makes the setting of late Industrial Revolution London the equivalent of the post-industrial wasteland of Eraserhead, a distinctive stylistic carry-over, particularly in its the sound FX, that brings home its truly extraordinary story to great effect.

John Hurt despite being encased and concealed in a prosthetic get-up makes evident Merrick’s humanity and his transformation over the course of the film is the best of his career.

Solid support comes from Anthony Hopkins as the pioneering surgeon who saves Merrick from the clutches of his cruel keeper (Freddie Jone) and British screen veterans John Gielgud and Wendy Hiller whilst Robert Cartwright’s art direction, amply complemented by black and white cinematography by Lynch's regular cinematographer, Freddie Francis, is richly evocative. 

The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and, shamefully, won none, Robert Redford's directorial debut Ordinary People taking home most of the Oscars. 




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