Yesterday it was goodbye to Fritz Lang, today it’s the last of three David Lynch films on the 1001 list. I do question why Mulholland Drive was tossed off the list as part of the purges of 2000s films, but that’s a discussion for another time. In the three Lynch films that are actually part of the list, you see some very different styles. Blue Velvet as a sexual thriller is worlds away from this tragedy and whatever Eraserhead is.
However, despite The Elephant Man being one of Lynch’s straighter offerings – there were some things in here that were unmistakably him. The final narrative as we ascend into the stars, the fixation with the Victorian steam pipes and gas works and the fact that this was shot in black and white (as I learned when reading on Deep End, he doesn’t always see the point in colour photography) are all things you see in a number of his projects. Shows that if he wanted to make something commercially minded and with artistic merit, he is more than capable – but sometimes it is more fun for him to put his art and vision first.
The Elephant Man is not a wholly historically accurate portrayal of the life of Joseph Merrick. For one thing, they refer to him by the incorrect name of John Merrick as is apparently incredibly common. The ending is also a truncation to maximize the tragic, but it is also done so poignantly and beautifully that it is excusable. After all, this is a man who suffered great injustice in terms of his physical destiny and in the way people treat him – not a historical figure whose shadow looms large in politics to this day.
I had been forewarned (and spoiled heavily) about the emotional impact this film had, including the ending. Not entirely sure it did any good other than have me left a minor mess rather than a puddle on the floor like when I first watched Coco and The Curse of the Golden Flower.
The Elephant Man is a brilliant film that, despite getting some major nominations at the Oscars, still feels under-loved. Maybe it is the difficult subject matter and the horrific make-up that John Hurt went though 9 hours daily to have applied and removed? If not, I am not sure why such a different take on a historical biography, that has John Hurt proving him to be one of the most flexible actors of his generation, is not more loved. Hell, I question it losing so may awards to Raging Bull. But that’s just me and I am so glad that I have finally seen this.