Great Movies: Eraserhead

Henry is by far the most normal character
in the film. That's how strange it is
Eraserhead is the feature length début of auteur David Lynch, a director renowned known for his surreal, often nightmarish films. I should point out now, Lynch's films are not for everyone.They're not easily digested or even understood. However, if you have more than just a casual interest in cinema, almost each and every one of his films is worth a look. 

Strange things happen in Lynchian worlds. Cooked chickens squirm as they are carved, women give birth to creatures that aren't quite human, actors suddenly start portraying different characters  halfway through films. Trying to unravel  a Lynch movie is often more akin to Freudian dream interpretation than film criticism.

The term 'auteur' unequivocally applies to Lynch. He is almost the definition of the word. His films all bear a fundamental consistency of tone and style that can only be described as Lynchian. All that can be traced back to Eraserhead.

The film introduces us to Henry, a shy and awkward man. Everything Henry does marks him as an outsider. His walk, his mannerisms, his facial expressions, all convey an inherent nervousness, a social awkwardness that makes him both a sympathetic character and a compelling one to watch.

Henry lives alone in a heavily industrialised part of town that's simultaneously hideous and beautiful. Each and every one of Lynch's sets is a marvel to look at. The black and white camera and harsh lighting makes the landscape around Henry look alien and threatening, yet somehow familiar. As Henry walks home his surroundings look desolate and inhospitable, it seems that nowhere in the world of Eraserhead seems free from urban decay.
Imagine soviet Europe meets Gothic castle via film noir and you're sort of there.
As Henry reaches the door of his apartment, his beautiful neighbour tells him he's had a call from his former girlfriend Mary X asking him to come for dinner at her parent's house.  Henry struggles to talk to the beautiful woman, eventually mumbles a few words of acknowledgement and then hurriedly retreats inside his apartment.  

The apartment is more like a cage than a place you'd call home. Outside his window is just the brick wall of the building next door. The hiss of the radiator can be heard constantly in the background, and beyond that the electrical hum of lights and all the noise of a city that get muted in most movies. Lynch's sound design is outstanding. Nowhere is ever truly silent in the film, as a result the already imposing city feels more like an sentient obstacle, looming over Henry's life.

Henry decides to take Mary up on her offer and goes to meet her parents for the first time. This is when things get really weird. Mary's mother is a stern and frighting figure. When Mary begins to have some sort of seizure, her mother begins to violently brush the girl's hair. Mary's father at least tries to make Henry feel more welcome. He asks Henry to carve the 'man-made' chickens he's bought  which look like miniature versions of regular chickens, but writhe and screech when cut. 

If you thought Meet the Parents was awkward...

All of this visibly unsettles Henry, but worse is to come. Mary's mother pulls him aside and tells her that at the hospital there's an extremely premature baby that he is the father of. She bluntly tells him he must marry Mary and raise the baby with her. 

Of course the ever nervous Henry presumably accepts and the next we see he and Mary are living in his apartment with...something. To describe it as a baby would be just a little misleading.  It would seem that the baby has been born so premature it's been left horrifically deformed. And when I say horrifically I really mean horrifically. To describe it in words wouldn't do it justice. Even a picture doesn't suffice. The baby really is the star of Eraserhead and you really have to see it in motion and hear the noises it makes to understand just how perfect a creation it is. Screw werewolves and zombies, screw vampires and mummies, in my mind this is the ultimate movie monster, it's far creepier than any of the others. 

Just like the baby, Eraserhead is really one of those films that escapes description. It has to be seen to be understood. However, as I said in my introduction, this is not casual viewing. Most people will be put off by the film's bleakness, it's surreality, it's creepiness. It's a cult classic not meant for the millions of people that love a good blockbuster, but meant to be adored by a large minority. I would definitely put myself in the latter category, and if you're in any way intrigued by this film definitely give it a watch. It's like nothing you've ever seen.