The Elephant Man (1980) Review

Director: David Lynch

Genre(s): Biography, Drama

Runtime: 124 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

The Elephant Man was only director David Lynch’s second feature film (the first being the surrealist horror movie Eraserhead [1977]), and this is his second classic motion picture in a row. This feature is a biopic of Joseph Merrick (played by John Hurt, and referred to as “John Merrick” here), a man from Victorian Era Great Britain who was born with extreme body abnormalities. With the help of Dr. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), he escapes from his life as a sideshow “freak.”

This black-and-white film contains some astonishing performances. John Hurt gives a moving (and Oscar-nominated) acting job as the titular character. It took eight hours each day to apply the make-up required for the role (and another two to remove it). Anthony Hopkins matches this incredible thespian talent with a performance that’s just about as far removed from Dr. Hannibal Lecter as can be imagined. They’re both intelligent and compassionate, just like the entire film itself.

It’s not a horror picture, but it’s sometimes as ominous as one. David Lynch carries over the “industrial dystopia” vibe from Eraserhead to his work here. However, this is actually a film about humans, showing how evil and wicked they can be, as well as how noble and high-minded they occasionally are. If there’s any fault with this work of art, it’s that the who’s-the-true-freak? message is a little on-the-nose at times.

The Elephant Man is easily one of the more emotionally-engaging pictures out there. It’s certainly not as surreal as some of Lynch’s other work, which makes it more accessible to the “common” filmgoer. It’s a movie that must be watched. The tagline (“A true story of courage and human dignity.”) doesn’t lie. This is an important and watchable movie.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

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