The Elephant Man is a deeply somber film based on the life of the 19th-century British man Joseph Merrick, who was not born deformed as the film implies. It earned eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor, and was the main reason for the creation of an Oscar category for Best Make-Up and Hairstyling. John Hurt is unrecognizable as the title character, with loads of make-up and authentic prosthetics transforming him into what many in the film consider a freak and a monster. Yet his acting shines through it all and complements that of Anthony Hopkins as Sir Frederick Treves. In contrast to Hurt’s ugliness, my VC commented that Hopkins “never looked so good” with that beard and mustache. Other skilled thespians round out the cast, including John Gielgud as Carr Gomm, Wendy Hiller as the head nurse Mothershead, and Freddie Jones as the despicable Bytes.
It’s a very emotional film, meant to provoke emotions in its audience: anger at Bytes and the mocking crowds; sympathy for Treves, who questions his motives for helping John but ultimately embraces him as a friend; and especially pity, sorrow, and admiration for Merrick himself. Some have accused the film of being overtly sentimental; I don’t disagree, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Mel Brooks definitely went against type to executive produce such a serious film, but I recognized director David Lynch’s fingerprints. I don’t care for most of his films because of their frequent weirdness, and the beginning and end are certainly strange. The first scenes involving overlong shots of elephants and John’s mother screaming silently were unnecessary, and, while John’s death scene with Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” playing is certainly affecting, the following celestial imagery and the final line “Nothing will die” just left me scratching my head.
Still, The Elephant Man is a well-acted period drama, which is enhanced by its black-and-white cinematography and a haunting score that I can best describe as melancholy carnie music. To be honest, it’s a real downer, but with enough moments of kindness and light to make it worth watching, at least once.
Best line: (John to Treves, before his night at the theatre) “I am happy every hour of the day. My life is full because I know that I am loved. I have gained myself. I could not say that…were it not for you.”Artistry: 9 Characters/Actors: 10 Entertainment: 3 Visual Effects: 8 Originality: 8 Watchability: 2 TOTAL: 40 out of 60
Next: #211 – Annie
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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