The Elephant Man
David Lynch’s second feature captures the oppressive atmosphere of Victorian-era London, and both the tragedy and humanity of John Merrick’s life.
After the strangeness of his one-of-a-kind breakthrough Eraserhead, David Lynch was approach by Mel Brooks to direct the story of a man whose physical deformities found him maltreated as a circus freakshow attraction until help arrived in the form of a young doctor, who took it upon himself to give John Merrick the life he deserved. It’s through John Hurt’s moving performance as Merrick and Anthony Hopkin’s as Dr. Frederick Treaves – along with excellent support from Anne Bancroft, Hannah Gordon, John Gielgud and Wendy Hiller, as well as the villains of the peace played by Freddie Jones and Michael Elphick – that Lynch draws out the humanism of the drama. It’s a masterclass in empathetic acting from recent Academy Award-winner Hopkins, whose reaction at the first sight of Merrick’s painfully disfigured body highlights what a super actor he is.
If Freddie Francis’ beautiful black and white photography captures the gloom of Victorian London, Lynch’s fascination with soundscapes transforms those streets and alleyways into something altogether otherworldly. And the dream sequences – it’s a David Lynch film, after all – locate a place between the ethereal and the nightmarish. There isn’t another film quite like it.