The Elephant Man

1980

The Elephant Man

Critics Consensus

David Lynch's relatively straight second feature finds an admirable synthesis of compassion and restraint in treating its subject, and features outstanding performances by John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins.

91%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 46

93%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 64,405
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Movie Info

John Hurt stars as John Merrick, the hideously deformed 19th century Londoner known as "The Elephant Man". Treated as a sideshow freak, Merrick is assumed to be retarded as well as misshapen because of his inability to speak coherently. In fact, he is highly intelligent and sensitive, a fact made public when one Dr. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) rescues Merrick from a carnival and brings him to a hospital for analysis. Alas, even after being recognized as a man of advanced intellect, Merrick is still treated like a freak; no matter his station in life, he will forever be a prisoner of his own malformed body. Unable to secure rights for the famous stage play The Elephant Man, producer Mel Brooks based his film on the memoirs of Frederick Treves and a much later account of Merrick's life by Ashley Montagu. The film is lensed in black and white by British master cinematographer Freddie Francis. Though nominated for eight Academy Awards, the film was ultimately shut out in every category.

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Cast

John Hurt
as John Merrick
Anthony Hopkins
as Dr. Frederick Treves
Anne Bancroft
as Mrs. Kendal
Wendy Hiller
as Mothershead
Michael Elphick
as Night Porter
Hannah Gordon
as Mrs. Treves
Helen Ryan
as Princess Alex
Dexter Fletcher
as Bytes' Boy
Phoebe Nicholls
as Merrick's Mother
Pat Gorman
as Fairground Bobby
Orla Pederson
as Skeleton Man
Patsy Smart
as Distraught Woman
Stromboli
as Fire Eater
Lisa & Teri Scobie
as Siamese Twins
Robert Bush
as Messenger
Roy Evans
as Cabbie
Alfie Curtis
as Milkman
Bernadette Milnes
as Fighting Woman
Brenda Kemper
as Fighting Woman
Hugh Manning
as Broadneck
Dennis Burgess
as 1st Committeeman
Fanny Carby
as Mrs. Kendal's Dresser
Kathleen Byron
as Lady Waddington
Gerald Case
as Lord Waddington
David Ryall
as Man with Whores
Kenny Baker
as Plumed Dwarf
Eiji Kusuhara
as Japanese Bleeder
Robert Day
as Little John
Patricia Hodge
as Screaming Woman
John Rapley
as King in Panto
Hugh Spight
as Puss in Panto
Teresa Codling
as Princess in Panto
Marion Betzold
as Principal Boy
Victor Kravchenko
as Lion/Coachman
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Critic Reviews for The Elephant Man

All Critics (46) | Top Critics (9)

  • Many Lynchian tropes are here, from a sense of foreboding to a fascination with the grotesque, in terms of Merrick and outsiders' reactions to him.

    Jun 14, 2019 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Ed Potton

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • This is a tale of redemption and transcendence, of the hunchback of London Hospital, of the noble phantom who wanted to go to the opera, of Beauty and the Beast.

    Apr 22, 2014 | Full Review…
  • Lynch's powerful depiction of Merrick (played by John Hurt) moves a viewer from revulsion and fear to empathy and tenderness. That's the very movement of the story itself.

    Apr 22, 2014 | Full Review…
  • The picture itself is a strange trade-off between Lynch's personal themes -- the night world of obscure, disturbing sexual obsessions -- and the requirements of a middlebrow message movie.

    Apr 30, 2008 | Full Review…
  • Director David Lynch has created an eerily compelling atmosphere in recounting a hideously deformed man's perilous life in Victorian England.

    Apr 30, 2008 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • A marvellous movie, shot in stunning black-and-white by Freddie Francis.

    Jan 26, 2006

    Tom Milne

    Time Out
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Elephant Man

  • May 14, 2015
    Having recently enjoyed a critically hailed revival starring Bradley Cooper on Broadway, the 1980 film adaptation of The Elephant Man definitely deserves a revisit. In many regards, The Elephant Man drives home the human factor of morality tales Beauty & the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame better than these adaptations themselves. Certainly, the fact that it's a true story makes your heart beat with more compassion. 'Truth' becomes the operative word, however. Freddie Franciss stark black and white cinematography acts as a truth serum, laying bare these amazing real-life characters creatively licensed by screenwriter Christopher De Vore. As realized by a pre-Silence of the Lambs Anthony Hopkins and an unrecognizable John Hurt (sporting phenomenally realistic make-up by Christopher Tucker), this heartfelt story hits you beat for tender beat. In this PG-rated bio-pic, a Victorian surgeon (Hopkins) rescues a heavily disfigured side-show freak (Hurt), only to discover that behind the deformity exists a man of great intelligence and sensitivity. For his follow-up to the offbeat oddity Eraserhead, David Lynch thankfully mostly takes a straightforward approach, taking you by the hand and effortlessly walking you right into the hospitals and freak shows of Victorian London. Some of his indulgent nightmare sequences ring closer to in tone the surrealist moments of later successes Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive, but these indiscretions dont entirely kill the drama. Bottom line: Trunk Show Jewel
    Jeff B Super Reviewer
  • Sep 06, 2014
    Lynch's involvement is probably what ensured that the film did not come off as mawkish (which would have been a danger with the screenplay), instead it's just plain heartbreaking. All in all it's a worthwhile and effective demand for simple human decency.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Sep 03, 2013
    [img]http://images.rottentomatoes.com/images/user/icons/icon14.gif[/img]
    Directors C Super Reviewer
  • Aug 12, 2013
    John Hurt is masterful as the title character in the Elephant Man embodying all the anxiety and prejudice faced by individuals due to physical disability. Not given its due by the Oscars, it doesn't get the play that it should on television. It seems like something from the distant past.
    John B Super Reviewer

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