Review: The Elephant Man

The Elephant Man | David Lynch, 1980

It would seem that as the human race becomes more civilized, prejudices and fear of things that are different would have ceased to exist. However, while it is not as visible, we still are like this. For this reason David Lynch’s 1980 film, The Elephant Man, still resonates so well.

The Elephant Man is based on a true story about man named John Merrick (John Hurt), who was born with horrible deformities and therefore forced to live his life as a circus attraction. One day, a surgeon named Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) finds him and decides to help him live a better life. He knows he will face some strong opposition but he is willing to do anything to provide this man with a good life for his last years.

First I’ll talk about the direction. This is the first Lynch I’ve seen. I had heard of his crazy ways, but I had to witness it for myself. This is supposed to be his most accessible film, but it still quite weird. The way he uses sound with what would usually be creepy images makes them completely scary. There is also the decision to make this movie look like something Lon Cheney would do. It makes everything so much more effective.

It would not, however, be the masterpiece it is were it not for a couple of performances. Hopkins’ work here is subtle, there is only one moment where he lets go. This is what makes the performance so effective. His character is not looking for fame, all he want to do is help John. There was no reason for his work to be showy. Hurt’s performance is now showy either. He has to play a man who has never felt love, and wonders what his mother would think of him. The scenes where he meets Treves’ wife, when he reads Romeo & Juliet with Mrs. Kendal, the train station, and the final scene made me cry because of how amazing Hurt is. This is definitely one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.

The Elephant Man is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. It is sometimes scary, but ultimately heart breaking. It sports some of the best direction I’ve seen, as well as one of my top 10 performances of all time. If only movies today were as brave Hollywood would be a better place.

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