THE ELEPHANT MAN
Review by Michael Jacobson
Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, John Gielgud, Anne Bancroft, Wendy Hiller,
Director: David Lynch
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 123 Minutes
Release Date: December 4, 2001
not an animal…I am a human being!”
Elephant Man is
a movie dealing with an unspeakably hideous monster…and that monster is us.
David Lynch takes us, the audience, closer than we might have ever dared to a
beautiful man trapped inside a deformed body.
That man is John Merrick (Hurt), nicknamed the Elephant Man because of
his terrible disfigurement, and also because of the story that his condition was
owing to his mother being trampled by an elephant while she was pregnant
(actually just a legend, possibly expressed in the film by the dreamlike quality
of the images depicting it).
first glimpse Merrick as the star attraction of a freak show, where his
appearance is deemed so hideous that local law enforcement want the entire show
run out of town. A young surgeon
named Frederick Treves (Hopkins) first meets him there. His frozen first reaction, with mouth agape and tears
falling, is only one of the picture’s memorable images.
brings Merrick into the care of the hospital he works for…there, away from
prying eyes (mostly), he begins to come out of his shell.
He can speak, and read, and is actually quite a sweet person with
eloquent manners and a childlike amazement at everything around him.
Soon, Treves is introducing Merrick to good society, even to the likes of
a beloved and famous stage actress (Bancroft), who sees the real human being
behind the disfigurement.
the question arises…has Treves taken the place of the ringmaster?
“Seems to me,” his head nurse (Hiller) points out, “that he’s
just being stared at all over again.” The
delighted Merrick makes the most of his chances with people, and Treves, who
finds his reputation being built on Merrick, begins to question his own
develops into two extraordinary scenes…one unimaginably horrible, and one
comfortingly beautiful. There are
those who would never see John Merrick as anything but a freak, and some of them
get their way with him in a nightmarish sequence worthy of the best David Lynch
has ever offered…it is equally repulsive and heartbreaking.
a redeeming scene follows, as Merrick, who hasn’t long to live, gets a dream
fulfilled…he attends his first theatrical performance, where the audience
gives him a standing ovation.
no question about the real beauty of John Merrick. Watching this film, he seems like the kind of man whose
company we would all enjoy. But the
movie warms us up to him…we don’t get good looks at him at first. He is shown from a distance, or masked, or in another
memorable scene, silhouetted behind a curtain.
Eventually, we start to get our close looks at him at the same time we
are learning about his character, and the effect is softened.
in the end, says a great deal more about us than it does John Merrick.
The film accuses us…are we any different from those who pay to see the
freak show? We like to think
so…but then again, how would we have reacted to Mr. Merrick if we had beheld
his physical form first before getting to know him?
all is said and done, the last remaining prejudice mankind will have to confront
is the one against ugliness. Twenty
years after The Elephant Man, it seems we still have a ways to go.
is one of my favorite films, partly because I’m a David Lynch fan, and partly
because it’s simply an astonishing work of form and function.
The black and white photography ranks amongst the best ever seen in
cinema, as pools of light and shadow don’t create extremes so much as they do
temperatures…certain scenes feel much cooler than others.
The images aren’t expressive, but rather reflective instead.
The performances are wonderful, especially the always good Anthony
Hopkins and the immeasurably fine work of John Hurt, who finds the human being
inside of John Merrick (as well as under a pile of makeup).
These elements, under the sure hand of David Lynch, help create a picture
with heart, soul and mind. Mr.
Lynch, who is sometimes called a cold filmmaker, proves how much emotion he can
inject into a movie.
Merrick is a wonderful character because he doesn’t change.
It is those who view him who must do the changing…that it his
challenge. “I am happy every hour
of the day,” he remarks near the end. “My
life is full, because I know I am loved.”
John. May we all be able to say the
seen this movie a number of times over the last twenty years, and this DVD marks
my first experience with it in widescreen…bravo!
Paramount’s anamorphic transfer is beautiful, and nicely preserves the
stunning black and white images. Though
not in color, the scenes are vibrant and alive, with a full range of grayscale,
cleans whites and deep blacks. I
noticed no grain or compression evident, even in the darker scenes.
If not for an occasional noticeable print flaw (not too many, mind you),
it would have earned highest marks. Still,
a highly commendable effort overall, and one fans will be very pleased with!
of the best aspects of David Lynch’s soundtracks is the presence of ominous
bottom end tones throughout. While The
Elephant Man offers little in the way of rear stage effects as it is a
mostly dialogue oriented picture, the subwoofer gets much more attention than
you might expect, with low orchestra notes, or the sounds of grinding
machinery…these add to the quality of the images, and make this a better than
half hour retrospective documentary is a good one, though it sorely misses David
Lynch. Instead, there are thoughts
offered from John Hurt, DP Freddie Francis, makeup man Christopher Tucker, and
even Mel Brooks, who was a silent executive producer of the film (he purposely
left his name off to avoid giving people the wrong idea about the movie).
There is a separate interview with Mr. Tucker, as well as a photo gallery
narrated by him, which shows him at work on the film.
Rounding out is the original trailer…a good one.
One really bad idea, however, is the failure to include chapter
selections…in fact, there are no chapters in the movie, making it a little
hard to find favorite scenes!