Film analysis 1 // 7.7.2016 // David Lynch's "The Elephant Man"
I must admit. I have become a David Lynch fan only recently, as in a few days ago. It began when my friend Douglas Arvidson (author) posted this here link to my facebook wall.
David Lynch: Consciousness, Creativity, and the Brain
During the 12th annual Festival of the Pacific Arts on Guam in May/June 2016, Douglas and I met as Guam delegates for literary arts under publications. We became friends and I let him read the 1st chapter of my upcoming book MARiANA SKY. He found it interesting and noticed that it talks a bit about transcendental meditation (TM). After the festival, that's when he sent the above link, thinking I may have already known about it, but actually, I had no idea David Lynch was an advocate for TM. Before this, the only movie I saw from him was "Mulholland Drive", and I didn't get it. I'm not alone, as is expressed by some of the people asking questions in the video above. Lynch even suggested to one of the inquisitors to meditate in order to understand the plots in his movie, which was met with a round of laughs from the audience. But before that part of the Q&A, Lynch spoke beautifully about reading the script to The Elephant Man, how he envisioned the entire story cinematically, and how it gave him a strong will to direct the project. This was inspiration enough to make this the next movie of Lynch's that I watch. And that, my friends, was a good choice to make.
Based on a true story, Joseph Carey Merrick (1862-1890, played by John Hurt), whom is sometimes named incorrectly as John Merrick (even in this movie), was a Londoner that began to form severe deformities shortly after he was born. His mother died when he was a child and his father remarried and denied him as his own. In Merrick's early 20s, he contacted a showman and proposed that he should exhibit him. The showman agreed and named him the Elephant Man. Merrick would eventually be exhibited at a penny gaff shop, which was across the street from the London Hospital.
This is when the surgeon Frederick Treves (1853-1923, played by Anthony Hopkins) learned about Merrick, and where the movie begins. Immediately you see a heartfelt performance by Hopkins when he first sees The Elephant Man (also in the trailer above, during the slow zoom), shedding a tear of compassion for this unfortunate soul.
And then you see John Hurt as Elephant Man. How he remains closed in and slowly begins to express his true intelligent nature as he gains trust in others, and later in the movie when enough was enough, he snaps to the crowd (from the famous quote of the photo at the top of this page) that he is not an animal, but a man.
I enjoyed top-grade performances of radiant character development from Hopkins and Hurt, both of which performed superbly with the help of the wonderful ensemble cast and beautiful black-and-white imagery employed throughout the film. In the consciousness video above, David Lynch also talks about filmmaking/directing and there's something he said that I will take away when I direct future projects: while working with actors, you rehearse, then you talk about it, then you rehearse again and get closer and closer to what you truly want to achieve, and THEN the actor will feel confident and say they got it, and they really do, then they own it. It is communication not 100% with words. This is a gem which I plan to integrate into my creative process.
The entire film was masterfully executed on all ends of the production sprectrum. The way this story moved me, from feeling a sense of horrified pity for Merrick...watching him find compassion from others, and that compassion transitioning to me. This is the purpose of cinema, feeling what the director intended us to feel.
Art is subjective, but if the general audience feels a certain way for a particular scene and the entire movie in general, then that's when the cast and crew have done their job. What beautiful nature in Dr.Treves, feeling a sense of guilt through questioning his actual purpose and evaluating his true intentions from aiding Merrick. And being loathsome and disgusted at the people that wanted to take advantage of The Elephant Man.
Ultimately, (WARNING: SPOILERS COMING) I felt happy that Merrick ended his life on a good note. Towards the end, he received a true feeling of compassion by the warm applause from the people of London at a big theatre show. He was finally offered the collective spirit of human nature, no longer shunned by society.
David Lynch was 30 when he got the call from his sister about transcendental meditation. He tried it for himself, and immediately it became his lifelong practice. And with that brewing passion, The Elephant Man released when he was 34, it's no doubt that transcedence was a strong theme in this movie. It could not be any clearer at the end, when Joseph Carey Merrick, wanting to live like a regular human being, chose to sleep lying down (he had to sleep sitting up for the fatal consequences of his deformed body structure), and died at 27. The final scene shows him retiring for his last sleep, pans on his dear valuables in the room, moves to the night sky, and begins to zoom towards the cellestial stars, as his dear mother speaks to him, offering to her son beautiful words on life, as a flash of her face blesses the screen as she concludes with, "...nothing will die."
I give this movie a 9 out of 10. The movie itself is close to perfect, but for the sake of story arch, I feel some of the actual facts were fabricated. For one thing, they don't use his real name that has commonly been mistaken, and no one can tell a real life story fact for fact. Things may have been glamorized to fit in a well-played movie, and for that, I had to dock off a point. Besides that, this movie and the Berkeley lecture above have made Lynch easily transcend into my top5, and I now have a handful of his movies to watch in order from oldest to most recent// Eraserhead (1977), Blue Velvet (1986), Lumiere and Company (1996), The Straight Story (1999), and Inland Empire (2006)/// Thanks for reading, please comment.
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