Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Elephant Man. A-


The Elephant Man wants to be as sad a film as possible, and in trying to achieve this it becomes very sentimental. It's a movie based on feeling and emotions, feelings in the characters that are transferred to our own sentiments. This is the story of John Merrick, a famously deformed man who lived in 19th century London. It's strange because people called him the Elephant Man because his deformities resembled an elephant. Also, some say the cause of his monstrous features are because of an accident his mother had with an elephant while she was pregnant. It seems like an almost supernatural connection that the accident somehow manifested itself on the boy in the image of the elephant. The Elephant Man is beautifully directed by David Lynch, not as weird or haunting as some of his other work, but still deeply effective from a visual standpoint. The movie is shot in black and white, and Lynch paints one bleak picture after another, effectively using shadows, steam, and smoke to create a dark mood and depict the grime of 19th century London. I think the most interesting decision Lynch makes is his decision as to how to show us Merrick. At the beginning he keeps him mostly hidden. We get an idea of his disfigurements, but we don't get any detail. We know we will come face to face with him at some point, but we don't know when or how. And this is where Lynch makes a great decision. Instead of building up to our first sighting, he shows him to us from the point of view of a nurse. She opens a door and unexpectedly sees him and screams. There's a quick, clear shot of Merrick, and the first viewing is over. Lynch avoids drama perhaps because he wants to lessen the horror of seeing Merrick for the first time. It is difficult to look at him at first, but eventually we accept him and see him as a true human being. And that's sort of the whole point of the movie, to take a circus animal and humanize him. The Elephant Man is very sad, a little too sad for me. I knew what was coming at the end, which made it even harder to see. But it's still a beautiful movie from an emotional standpoint. It's clearly not trying to be perfect in analyzing Merrick's life and how he developed what skills he had. Lynch isn't going for that at all, and the choice he makes is fitting in the end.

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