A review of this — 6 years ago
This is a wonderful film. It’s beautifully shot, fantastically acted and combines the alienated soundscapes of Eraserhead with the warped grotesques of the Wizard of Oz/Freaks.
On the surface, it’s the story of John Merrick, a heavily deformed man who is hawked around as a sideshow freak before becoming a medical case history and then the darling of Victorian society. However, the film is also about the gaze, whether it’s medicalised or cinematic; David Lynch asks us what it means to watch, view and consume images, and (as with Blue Velvet) how cinema implicates us in a relationship of uneasy voyeurism.
Running alongside this are the psychoanalytic themes of the dream state, the bubbling unconscious, sexuality and how the bedrock of identity rests on unresolved familial and parental conflicts.
Drenched in seedy, smokey atmospherics thanks to the black and white film stock, this is a film that repays viewing again and again. The set design and direction articulate the crushing oppression of Victorian London in a way that’s almost visceral. Machinery, steam, filth and decay seep out of the screen and threaten to engulf you. Meanwhile, a very sweet story of human compassion and tenderness unfolds like a tiny light in a darkened world.
This is one to get lost in.