Friday, 22 October 2010

Elephant Man (1980)

Film - The Elephant Man (1980)
Director - David Lynch
Writer(s) - Eric Bergren, Christopher DeVore, David Lynch

Anthony Hopkins - Dr. Frederick Treves
John Hurt - John Merrick
Anne Bancroft - Mrs. Madge Kendal
John Gielgud - Carr Gomm
Wendy Hiller - Mothershead
Freddie Jones - Bytes

It would take a heart of stone not be moved by "The Elephant Man". Based upon the true story of the horrendously deformed John Merrick (Hurt), this tale of a pure soul struggling to be heard over the prejudice of the many is quite heart-rending. -  Almar Haflidason

David Lynch's The Elephant Man is story about a doctor, Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), and a disfigured man John Merrick (John Hurt). Treves buys Merrick from the circus freak show he is a part of and studies his condition. After studying him both Treves and Merrick become well known through the newspapers and people become more and more interested in the elephant man. It is here that Treves realises that he has become no better than Merrick's previous owner and has turned him into a showpiece. The night guard at the hospital takes advantage of Merrick's popularity and starts charging people to see him at night. One night his previous owner shows up and takes Merrick back to the freak show. With the help of the other acts he is able to escape and make his way back to the doctor. In the end Merrick decides to try sleeping lying down which he knows will kill him from not being able to breathe.

"Posh London society replaces the sideshow punters, and Merrick is essentially still on display. This worsens when the hospital night porter (Elphick) starts showing Merrick off to his drunken pub mates by night." - Film 4 review

Although there is no actual metamorphosis in the film, it attempts to capture a more realistic example of what such a change in physical appearance is like. It shows the emotional effects it might have and the film is mostly about how people can be discriminated against based on appearance. Merrick wants to fit in and enjoys being talked to like a normal human being when posh people come to visit him as he gets to talk about literature and theatre. At one point during the film he is chased and cornered and says "I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!". As well as showing the effect of such a deformity on the individual it also shows how society is fascinated by these things at the same time as casting these people out.

"Appearances are all, and like the proverbial Victorian piano, he can make the social grade only if his ruder appendages are hidden from sensitive eyes; hence what is effectively, at his time of greatest happiness, his suicide." - Time out film guide

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