The Elephant Man
Release year: 1980
Director: David Lynch
Screenwriter: Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren, David Lynch, Frederick Treves (Novel)
Starring: John Hurt, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielguld, Wendy Hiller, Freddie Jones, Hannah Gordon
Ratings: 8 Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (John Hurt), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Costume, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score.
David Lynch is known and loved by many for his excellent work in television (Twin Peaks 1990-1991) and his many unfathomable and weirdly fascinating films (Blue Velvet, 1986, Mulholland Drive, 2001, etc.). He has three Academy Award nominations as Best Director under his belt, the first of which he received for his most accessible and perhaps most moving film, The Elephant Man. The film is based on the real life events of Joseph Merrick (John in the film), better known as the Elephant Man, whose deformity and gentle spirit made him famous in 1880’s Victorian London. The film begins by alluding to the myth at the time that his deformity was brought on by the fact that his mother was attacked by an elephant in her fourth month of pregnancy (hence the name). It quickly jumps the first meeting of Merrick (excellently portrayed by John Hurt) and Dr. Frederick Treves (Sir Anthony Hopkins), who takes him under his wings and brings him to live in the hospital where he soon discovers that Merrick’s deformity is only external. What follows is a moving tale of life, art, kindness and cruelty as seen through the eyes of an outcast who only wants to be recognised as a human being. The director’s name should not frighten you if have had bad experiences with Lynch’s films in the past. Although the movie is in black and white the narrative is quite straight forward and very easy to follow. Admirers of Lynch’s style will not go home empty-handed either. There are snippets of his ‘noisy silence’ as well as an excellent sequence in which the camera swerves through the peep hole of Merrick’s hood to emerge inside his dream. Brilliant!