Do They All Die?: “The Elephant Man”

dtat.jpgTC is cracking the whip now that he’s decided to blog again. This is all well and good except back at the ranch, my mother is also cracking the whip. From when my eyes open at 8:00 AM, there are a thousand things to do and none of them feature me at a computer writing about a movie (it goes without saying that none of these thousand things are me sitting at a television watching said movie). So I’ve been conforming to my mother’s demands all day and now I yield to TC’s. I was born free and am everywhere in chains.  [Edit. Note: For all his whining, young Master Andrew has, in fact, skipped the last three of his “weekly” columns with barely a peep from me.]

As is so often the case, Rousseau has provided us with a handy transition to this week’s film: David Lynch’s The Elephant Man (1980). After the break, we’ll talk about David Lynch and the Industrial Revolution.

So The Elephant Manis the story of John Merrick, this really civilized dude in Victorian England who just so happens to have horrible elephant-like growths all over his head. At the beginning of the film, he’s in a circus freakshow and rescued by Dr. Frederick Treves, a sympathetic doctor at a London hospital. Treves effectively cleans him up and introduces him into society where he is put on show in a different way.

This film, released in 1980, comes before the world was truly introduced to David Lynch and his unique dreamlike/nightmarish storytelling style.  A common Lynchian motif that we can recognize now is a dissatisfaction with modern industrialized existence.  And while The Elephant Manisn’t told in the Lynchian style, we can see in the film that same rejection of the way we have chosen to live as Lynch rejects that historical moment that made us what we are.  Lynch harshly criticizes the industrialization of Victorian times and the ethics that came with it.

John Merrick, the Elephant Man, is portrayed as a product of this industrialization.  In interviews, Lynch refers to Merrick’s growths as “explosions” and Lynch often lingers on cityscapes and skylines to liken Merrick’s explosions with the ones seen coming out of the smokestacks onscreen.  So what can we say about The Elephant Man?  It’s the first installment of a career long criticism of our industrialized world though you wouldn’t know it from the style.  Thematically, though not formally, Lynchian.

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