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I can see how the average filmgoer would be absolutely disgusted by Eraserhead, whether because of the movie’s surreal imagery, disturbing qualities, or that it’s in black-and-white. However, I don’t believe that David Lynch, a director identified by his bizarre and unique artistic palate, attempted to please everybody, for this seems to be his most personal work yet. Film history has shown us that a director’s most confessional and insightful movie is usually the one that will divide most of its audience. Take for example Vertigo, which critics didn’t like upon the movie’s original release but is now agreed to be Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Lynch has done some dynamite work, but few of his movies come close to what one experiences when watching Eraserhead.Like in pretty much every sci-fi dystopia, industry has taken over. In Eraserhead, though, it’s more problematic: industry, while mutating people into automatons, has also taken over people’s biological functions. In the opening shot, we see Henry, played with beautiful Keaton-esque deadpan by Jack Nance, floating horizontally. What seems to be a deformed sperm cell emerges from Henry’s mouth. A strange man at a window pulls a lever, launching the sperm, which lands in a puddle of what seems to be watery mud. Yes, this is only the beginning.

As bizarre and random as it sounds so far, Lynch brings up an interesting idea in this sequence: Why is this sperm deformed? Is it because Henry just has bad sperm? Or could it be that the consequences of industry on one’s offspring only gets worse and uglier? Since Lynch loves to work with symbols, he exhibits his talent through his mastery of context. He can take the most surreal images and convert them into ideas that seem more practical than reality itself.

Lynch also doesn’t waste his images. For example, when we see odd shots of puppies feeding off a mother dog and a mini-turkey bleeding in between its legs, we realize later these foreshadow Mary’s pregnancy. Also, while some directors, like Tim Burton and Jan Svankmajer, like to use stop-motion animation to weird-out the audience, Lynch likes to make things look as realistic as possible. The shots of the baby and tiny turkeys cannot possibly be computer-generated, the movement is too fluid to be stop-motion, and animatronics would surely be too expensive for his shoestring budget. The only other logical explanation is some creative form of animation or that it’s real. (While I doubt the latter, the possibility lurks in the back of my head.) Like Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali before him, the surreal is Lynch’s language.

What holds the film together is that, most of the time, Henry seems just as clueless as we are. So it doesn’t matter how weird it gets; since he lives by these rules and is still confused, we don’t feel so bad for not fully comprehending the movie by the end. The lyrics to the song the girl sings lead us to think about exactly where we are. If it’s true that “In Heaven, everything is fine,” are we in Hell? Or just on Earth? Another planet, maybe? That could be why the Mars-looking planet blows up in the end. Henry’s world is gone, but he has found his escape and can be fine.

Of course, all my speculation of the meaning of Eraserhead is one of a myriad of theories. Since there’s no set-in-stone interpretation of the film, everyone who leaves it walks away with something different, which is the beauty of Lynch’s work. No one looks at Eraserhead or Lost Highway or even Wild at Heart the same way (some people appreciate it for its parallel shots with Wizard of Oz and not necessarily just for the sleaze-and-cheese factor). However someone takes Lynch’s films, whether she loves them or hates them, ends up walking away with a one-of-a-kind experience that can’t be found anywhere except in the movies of David Lynch.

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2 Comments

  1. Hello ! I’m searching for new persons, potential listeners, thinkers who could have an interest for my exploration of philosophical themes explored through various perspectives and simultaneously. I’m also a fan of Jan Svankmajer movies and my music is based on sound collage.

    Don’t see this message like a publicity, but like a friendly invitation. I’m trying to invent my own promotion, sometimes outside of the field of musicians who are now technicians.

    See and mostly listen to a little bit of Philosophie Fantasmagorique.

    Thank you !

    Vincent Bergeron

    “In the course of a lifetime, one encounters very few major musical talents. Vincent Bergeron is one of those few, a unique composer who is at the forefront of musical thinking.”

    Noah Creshevsky
    Composer
    Professor Emeritus, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York
    Director Emeritus, Center for Computer Music at Brooklyn College

  2. I just got done watching this film last night… Although very heard to interpret his films, he is a genious (IMO)

    p.s. I wrote a very small post on my blog about it but not as detailed as yours by far…


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