The Elephant Man Reviews

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Super Reviewer
September 8, 2007
Take away all the famous names in this work and you'd still be left with the story of a very human soul tormentingly imprisoned in a lump of his own hideous flesh. The big names then do the story well: Lynch controls his usual antics to deliver understatement (a shock in itself), Hopkins as the well meaning doctor who actually uses the animal just like everyone until he realizes his mistake, Bancroft is no embarassment, Gielgud and Hiller are the rocks the story rests on ... but Hurt, as the man himself, is exemplary. Well, Hurt and the makeup guy. Look for the tea scene.
Super Reviewer
January 2, 2013
David Lynch's The Elephant Man is a surreal masterwork about the life of John Merrick who was a several deformed man. Beautifully shot in glorious Black & White, David Lynch captures a certain atmosphere with this picture, one that acts as part of the story to elevate the dramatic tone of the experience. Anthony Hopkins is phenomenal as Frederick Treves a sympathetic doctor who tries to help Merrick. This is a superb film that showcases the kindness of the human nature. This is a terrific drama that will certainly please cinema buffs. The acting of John Hurt is spectacular as John Merrick and considering how difficult his performances must have been, he definitely did deserve an Oscar of some kind. Unfortunately this stunning picture would only be nominated and come out empty handed. Everything about this film is beautiful, the cinematography immaculate, and the choice to shoot this in Black & White brings out the subtle qualities of this true story. David Lynch, who previously directed the surrealistic psychological horror film Eraserhead, crafts something unique with The Elephant Man, and he goes deep into the cruelty of humanity and also brings out the best in human nature as well. This is not a film for everyone, but if you're looking for a compelling real life drama, then give this one a shot. With Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt's performances alone, The Elephant Man stands as one of the best films of 1980's. This is filmmaking at its best and David Lynch has made his masterpiece with this one. With a strong cast and terrific storytelling, this is a marvelous film that is moving, poignant and simply unforgettable.
Super Reviewer
March 3, 2012
One of the most tame and straight forward of Lynch's films, atleast on the surface. Look closer and you'll see all the things Lynch is now famous for (dream sequences, white noise, etc.).
Matthew Roe
Super Reviewer
September 27, 2011
David Lynch has had a career with ups and downs, troubles finding funding for films, being a veritable box office leper for a couple decades now, nostalgia is invaded for this wonderful and horrific film that emerged from 1980, signaling the ending bang of the Golden Age of filmmaking tha had blossomed throughout the mid 1960s till the later years of the 1970s, The Elephant Man is dramatic, personal, sincere, cruel, unfair, tragic, wonderful, and many other adjectives I could pile on and on just to basically say that this, in a way, captures the feel of life as a whole with its many complexities and ever altering states of being. John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins give the audience absolutely amazing performances nursed by Lynch's direction and screenplay (shared with Bergen and DeVore). The choice to film it in black and white was a complete option by Lynch, and I will say with a degree of certainty that if this film was shot in color, it wouldn't be nearly half as effective as it was. An overall conventional way of telling a story, with Lynch's trademark surrealism and love of confounding the audience, this film has worked its way into the finer calibers of filmmaking.
Super Reviewer
November 5, 2006
Outside of the few obvious David Lynch moments, you'd barely recognize The Elephant Man as a David Lynch movie. Its a fairly simple if not incredibly sad but beautiful story. The makeup and photography are magnificent as is the acting (especially from John Hurt) was superb. The Elephant Man is also the kind of movie that speaks for itself (especially more so in the final two shots) than any amount of babbling ever could.
Super Reviewer
February 2, 2008
Anthony Hopkins looks so young in this movie. I have know the story, but now I also have seen the film. The way the movie is filmed to look like a much older movie does not add to the story, but the performances are strong.
Super Reviewer
February 11, 2011
It's easy to see why this is the most respected of David Lynch's library because it doesn't really have the outrageousness that his other films posses. The story is straight forward and really goes all out in honoring the name and legacy of John Merrick. That is not to say that it doesn't have all of David Lynch's trademarks; everything from overbearing non-diagetic sounds to layering images are there. This also seems to be the most performance heavy movie from David Lynch. Both Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt give beautiful performances worthy of praise, even if John Hurt was put through more pain to get his through. Some of the sequences in here are truly disturbing in a way that you could only get from telling a largely true account of events.
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
½ August 1, 2010
One of the most common (and flippant) charges laid against acclaimed filmmakers is that they are too interested in ideas and concepts to leave room for human emotions. Directors from Stanley Kubrick to Christopher Nolan have had their films criticised for being heartless or clinical, or have been backhandedly complimented for producing works of distance and icy cool. Surrealist filmmakers are deemed to be especially guilty, with their obsession with dreams and psychosexual imagery forcing characters and empathy to play second fiddle.

The Elephant Man is proof positive that such criticisms are total nonsense. And it is also proof that it is possible to make a film about ?the triumph of the human spirit? without descending to the very depths of saccharine schmaltz. While not a flawless work, The Elephant Man is a compelling exercise in biographical filmmaking, both as a character study and in its examination of social attitudes.

As I mentioned in my review of Ed Wood (1994), in any biopic there is a natural tension between the supposedly objective, historical record of events and the subjective sensibility of the filmmaker. A good biopic is not simply one which gets all the facts right, especially at the expense of the drama. In order for any biopic to work, there have to be clear signals from the director right from the start about their attitude to the material and the extent to which their creativity is going to intervene.

The comparison between Ed Wood and The Elephant Man is very apt, since both films depart from the accepted version of events to make deeper points about themes and social attitudes. In real life, Ed Wood never met Orson Welles in a bar, and Bela Lugosi did not curse like a sailor. It doesn?t matter. Tim Burton makes it clear that he is being affectionate towards Wood, using such creative decisions to turn an ordinary story about a struggling filmmaker into an extraordinary film about a battle between deluded creativity and an equally deluded studio system.

Likewise, it doesn?t matter that Joseph/ John Merrick wasn?t ritually flogged, or that he went to Belgium before meeting Dr. Treves rather than after. The film is not so much about the life and death of Merrick as it is about the society which shuns him. The Elephant Man is one of the most moving and honest examinations of the truism that a society mocks, denies or hides from that which it cannot understand. Merrick?s deformity may be biologically unique, but it is also an exaggerated means of expressing his difference, and by extension the small-minded, fickle nature of the people who come into contact with him.

This small-mindedness runs throughout the social structure of Victorian society. Regardless of their proximity to him, most of the characters mistreat or spurn Merrick, despite (or perhaps even because of) claiming to understand him. Bytes calls him an ?imbecile? and treats him like a possession, though he is strangely moved when he comes to Treves demanding to take him back. Treves starts by seeing Merrick is little more than a career opportunity, and Mr. Carr Gohm is equally aloof. It is only when Merrick demonstrates his intelligence (by reciting the whole of Psalm 23) that their attitudes and perceptions begin to change.

In a lesser director?s hands, this kind of character arc could have been completely overplayed, and the remainder of the film would have been one long exercise in trying to make us cry. But what is impressive about The Elephant Man, and about Lynch?s direction, is that it manages to feel raw and emotional without ever looking like it is trying to be either.

The visuals betray both the success and failure of The Elephant Man, containing many images and motifs which we now associate with Lynch. He has always been fond of the grotesque side of human existence; the freak shows and dark streets are played slower, forcing us to linger on their twisted and strange quality. But in general, the visual style is very restrained, respectful and fastidious, recalling the work of David Lean. The film is like a surrealist Great Expectations, and is beautifully lit by Freddie Francis.

The film is incredibly respectful towards its subject from a visual point of view. The cloak and hood was only intended to be used for a couple of scenes; its presence was increased because Christopher Tucker struggled to complete the make-up in time. When Merrick is first revealed, it is not played for shock value, neither is it designed to make the audience deeply uneasy in the manner of Eraserhead. Moments in the film, like the opening scene of Merrick?s mother and the dream sequence involving machinery, resemble Eraserhead very closely, and it can feel like the edgier side of Lynch is trying to escape. This experience is nowhere near as jarring as it is in Dune, but it remains somewhat frustrating.

Because of this fastidious quality of the visuals, and the conventions of the period, there is really very little room for mawkishness. But there is plenty of room for emotional involvement with the characters, even in scenes which seem overtly sentimental. Covering actors in lots of make-up is a risky business: the audience can spend so long glued to the prosthetics that the performance becomes little more than pantomime, as in Legend or Return of the Jedi. But John Hurt?s performance as Merrick is terrific: it feels utterly genuine from the first to last frame, and it is hard not to cry at his every triumph and tragedy.

The film?s supporting cast are also very solid. Anthony Hopkins complained in later life that he found Treves a dull character to play, but there is nothing dull about his performance. Treves begins as an opportunistic doctor looking to impress his London Hospital friends, but the experience of treating and caring for Merrick brings about a profound if gradual change in his worldview. In a key scene, he wrestles with himself as to whether keeping Merrick at the hospital has made him a circus act all over again. Much like Tom Hanks? character in The Green Mile, Hopkins is wrestling with the idea of doing good which is simultaneously harming someone he cares about.

The role of women in The Elephant Man is peripheral, with neither Treves? wife nor Anne Bancroft?s actress being given much screen time. But this is compensated for by the recurring images of Merrick?s mother, who appears in flashbacks and in the photograph which Merrick carries. The photograph is not just a symbol of Merrick?s devotion to his mother, but an expression of his desire to be loved and accepted. This makes the final scene, in which he finishes his model and lays down to die, all the more cathartic and beautiful.

The Elephant Man may not be Lynch?s finest work, being neither as artistically pure as Eraserhead nor as shockingly beautiful as Blue Velvet. But it sits close to the company of Ed Wood as a yardstick of inspirational biopics, and as a milestone of black-and-white cinema. Being one of Lynch?s most accessible films, it is also a good starting point for anyone interested in his career, and taken purely as a drama it delivers a genuine emotional punch. An all-round excellent effort from one of cinema?s greatest directors.
Super Reviewer
½ December 9, 2008
The true story of John Merrick, played by John Hurt, is inspiring, heart wrenching, and good no matter how you slice it.
Super Reviewer
October 21, 2007
One of the saddest, heart-wrenching, and moving films I've ever sat through. Kudos to director David Lynch for electing for a black and white scope, and for humanizing a physical monster into a sweet, simple, ordinary man whose emotions and passions were as normal as anybody else's. I will admit I teared up at numerous times throughout the film, it's power is irrefutable, and Lynch's simultaneous exalting and damning of humanity is truly something to behold. John Hurt gives one of the most compelling and tear-jerking turns ever captured in cinema, and Hopkins is a fine fit for the role of a caring doctor. It's a bleak picture, but one that teaches a valuable lesson in terms of differences in all of us and how no one is above anyone - we all deserve to be treated fairly and with respect, no matter what physical or emotional shortcomings we as individuals possess.
Super Reviewer
½ March 18, 2009
By what I'd read about this movie, I was expecting an out & out heart-wrenching emotional drama. Now that I've finally watched it, I must say I'm reasonably disappointed by it (not highly disappointed, hence 7/10).

While the performances were good enough, the execution was a bit too flawed IMO. The only part that I felt was incredibly done was John's visit to Treves' house where he visits his wife. Apart from that, the movie lacked the emotional punch by & large. Sorry, but crying out loud dialogues (like "I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am.a man!") don't strike any emotional impact on me that it's supposedly ought to. Nor do repetitious stuff like "Oh my friends! Oh my friends! Thank you! Thank you!" work, not for me at least. Frankly speaking, I don't think that David Lynch (Lynchian fans, please pardon me if you can) was the right choice for this kind of flick. Someone with a better experience & expertise on how to present such a story with the right dose of emotions in the right way (for crying out loud, not making the characters cry out loud) would've yielded a relatively greater outcome.

Finally, while the movie's fairly worth watching, it's by no means a masterpiece, IMHO.
Super Reviewer
December 24, 2007
David Lynch couldn't do any better.
Super Reviewer
December 17, 2009
I tried to watch this Movie but I couldnt watch it to end. It made me tiny bit sad. The Scene where he represents the Elephant Man as some kind of relict. I was exhausted and disgusted, because I felt sorry for the Elephant Man.
Super Reviewer
September 18, 2009
David Lynch is one of the only directors working today who really understands black and white photography. It's not been this good since Eraserhead, again directed by Lynch. John Hurt is fantastic as Merrick, in this sad and true story of a disfigured man! It is a brilliant film.
Super Reviewer
½ December 4, 2006
Directed by: David Lynch.
Starring: John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Freddie Jones.

<<"Never. Oh, never. Nothing will die. The stream flows, the wind blows, the cloud fleets, the heart beats. Nothing will die.">>

The story, based on the true story of Joseph Merrick, follows an Englishman born with a horrible disfigurement and risen as a freak in the circus. A Victorian surgeon by the name of Fredrick Treves takes him away from the life he has endured and treats him with care and soon realize that he is a very pure soul.

I'm still in a state of shock after seeing this film for the first time merely hours ago and I still wonder how I passed this film for so many years.

Every level of this masterpiece is spectacular in every way. David Lynch's direction is a work of art. Such beautiful detail and a incredible understanding of the drama that inflicts this character, its a beautiful transition from paper to film.

The screenplay builds itself around this character strongly and never exploits his condition in the slightest. The brilliant thing about it is that its so genuine in everything it aims for and it is such a intricate human study so full of pure emotion...I am glad to say that the film bought me to tears many times during the film, its such a pure character.

Pasted on top of some exquisite cinematography and brilliant set design is the a collection of powerful performances. Anthony Hopkins really is an astonishing actor and he handles his character brilliantly and alongside some very good smaller performances is John Hurts spectacular portrayal of John Merrick. Even underneath the groundbreaking make-up, he radiates and pushes through a pure soul of a man, such a masterful performance and it would have taken the Oscar had it not been for one other brilliant performance that year.

Never a sentimental film, The Elephant Man is a genuinely rich and emotional study of a beautiful soul plagued with a horrible disfigurement. Vividly stylish and powerfully rich, The Elephant Man is a dramatic masterpiece.


<< "I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being...I am a man!" >>
Super Reviewer
September 20, 2007
One day I will write a review for The Elephant Man that will come close to expressing my true feelings (my love for this masterpiece of cinema leaves me speechless at the best of times).
Through astonishing cinematography (by Freddie Francis) and quite subtle sound effects (Lynch's usually surreal use of sound makes perfect sense here), the vile gothic atmosphere permeates every scene to the point that we can almost taste the metalic filth and grease of the Industrial Revolution. This is possibly the greatest cinematic evocation of the Victorian age.
The story of Joseph Merrick (incorrectly called John for the film!) is a great one in itself and it would have been easy to render things mawkish and cloying. The Elephant Man is neither. Lynch does veer closely to over sentimentalising Merrick's story and plays free with the facts as well as being rather pick&mix about who were the heroes and villains that Merrick came into contact with (for example Frederick Treves was less of a hero than he is portrayed here and Merrick was less of a victim). But this is still meant to be a piece of cinema and dramatic license is expected. So that through a mixture of fact and fancy we do get some measure of the kind, clever, sophisticated and yes, even beautiful man who had to live his (very short) life trapped inside a prison of deformed flesh and bone. A man of great dignity, compassion and generosity of spirit (many of those privileged to have met him were incredibly moved and felt more than a little humbled). Lynch has also been criticised for treating Merrick as much a freak as he was when he was alive. For example, the pre-publicity of making a big secret of the make-up lasted right into the film, as the audience is teased with holding back 'the big reveal' (similar to how Spielberg gave us E.T!). But that is just another part of the film's greatness - Lynch baits us into anticipation and horror. Then daring us to squirm and feel revulsion, to snigger and poke sticks through the cage. So that when we are given Joseph Merrick - the man, we feel shame. And so we should! Lynch makes it perfectly clear that we are still very much the baying audience of the Victorian freak show!

"Tis true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God;
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you.

"If I could reach from pole to pole
Or grasp the ocean with a span,
I would be measured by the soul;
The mind's the standard of the man."
Super Reviewer
½ September 28, 2007
Painfull to watch, but for the right reasons.
Super Reviewer
½ July 2, 2006
This is an extremely tough one to sit through, but it's so well done and excellent despite the fact that it's one of the most gut-wrenching, emotionally troubling, and depressing films ever created. The performances (especially Hurt's) are superb, as is Lynch's direction.
Super Reviewer
November 3, 2006
The Elephant Man tells the true life story of John Merrick, a man dreadfully deformed from birth who was saved from a freak show by a kindly doctor to become the toast of Victorian society. The kind of visual gimmickry you'd expect from David Lynch is glaringly absent from this beautiful biopic, he instead tells the story through atmosphere and sensitive character study. It truly is an acting masterclass, with remarkable performances from some of the best British actors ever to tread the boards but it is John Hurt's deeply moving portrayal of the man himself that rightfully takes centre stage. It shows both the heights of kindness and depths of cruelty the human animal is capable of, and instills real emotion and empathy from the viewer without the kind of cynical manipulation and button pushing that most directors resort to. To my mnd, this is still Lynch's best film and anyone who does not shed a tear during its duration is surely made of stone.
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