Director: David Lynch
Starring: Jack Nance and Charlotte Stewart
David Lynch is well known for his odd, strange, unsettling and often quite funny films. His work such as Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire and Lost Highway have divided audiences since they first hit the big screen. It all started with Eraserhead, which last year received a Criterion Collection release on Blu Ray. Your enjoyment of a Lynch film is based on if you need to understand the film to enjoy it or are simply happy to be sucked into a world of the absurd and just let yourself react to what you see.
Near enough nothing in Eraserhead makes sense in the typical way. It’s strange and unsettling and attacks your senses with a loud ambient noise of mechanical whirling and wind and very little dialogue, combined with a vivid black and white picture. Most of the film is up for interpretation and that’s the way Lynch likes it. He has long said that the film is whatever the viewer thinks it is. He calls it his most spiritual film, but that doesn’t give you the key to unlocking this enigma.
The narrative follows Henry Spencer, who after coming home with groceries is told by his neighbour that he has been invited by his girlfriend, Mary X played by Charlotte Stewart, to have dinner at her parent’s house. Things are not what they seem and Henry is confronted by Mary’s Mother about if he has had sexual relations with Mary, which is because Mary is pregnant. Mary and Henry are then destined to wed and live in his small apartment to raise the child. This may seem like a rather ordinary story up to this point, but this is presented in usual Lynch fashion. Mary’s parents are strange, the chicken writhes on the dinner plate, pulsating out blood. Mary’s grandmother is sitting in the kitchen, not moving. There’s a loud mechanical sound pulsating in the background. And that is just the start of the absurdity. The child does not resemble anything close to human, closer to a bird.
Like most of Lynch’s work there is a dream/nightmare style tone throughout. Even Henry with his child-like qualities, is confused by the world that is presented around him. In Henry’s room is a plant, which pretty much sums up the film. The plant isn’t in a pot, instead the soil is just a mound with the dying plant sticking out. The pot that would hold it together is gone¸ in the same way that the walls around Henry’s mind are decayed. He is a broken man, troubled by the world around him and what we are seeing is the way he is projecting the world around him. His mind is escaping, just like the plant next to his bed. Through this we see the absurd and abstract world. The creature-like child, the woman who lives in the radiator, the strange noise that is constantly assaulting you. Everything is seeping from Henry and being projected out for you to witness. He is troubled, worn down by the world around him, his small apartment, job and finally the anxiety of parenthood. At least that’s the way I see it. As Lynch himself says, everyone sees it differently and there is no right answer.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand every scene or can’t make heads or tails of every action. If you sit back and let the film take you then you will be unsettled by a creeping dread that builds throughout to the horrific finale that will make you feel sick to your stomach. It’s full of comedy, tension and horror. Jack Nance gives a fantastic performance of Henry and one that will stick with you.
If you’ve already seen Eraserhead, or even if you haven’t, then the Criterion Collection edition is worth your time. Not only has the film never looked better, it comes with an array of features, including early trailers of the film, a few featurettes on the making of the film and a 90-minute documentary. None of which will explain the absurdity of Eraserhead, but it will broaden your understanding and appreciation. Alongside these are a few short films of Lynch, from around the time the main film was released in the last 70s. There is also a 60ish page book that contains a reprint of an interview with Lynch from the 90s, it’s a must read for any Lynch fan. To top it all off there is even a tutorial on the disc on how to set up your TV set, with brightness and contrast to ensure that you see the film the way that Lynch intended.
If you haven’t already seen Eraserhead or any of Lynch’s films, then you need to give it a try. It’s not as accessible as some of Lynch’s later work, but why not start at the beginning. If you have already seen it, then buy the Criterion Collection edition and re-visit it, you won’t be disappointed.