Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Elephant Man (1980)

“I am not an animal, I am a man!!”
John Merrick

Directed by David Lynch
This movie is essentially a biopic that tells the story of the life of Joseph Merrick (known as John Merrick in this film) portrayed by John Hurt. John Merrick is a severely deformed man who has been given the nickname The Elephant Man.  He is treated very harshly by his master as an attraction in a travelling curiosity show. Eventually he is taken in by a doctor named Frederick Treves (Antony Hopkins) who wants to study his deformities and help him live a more comfortable life.
I was looking forward to seeing this movie because of its obvious association to my project idea. The first thing I noticed about this movie was the grim atmosphere. The fantastic use of black and white really adds to this, it is similar visual style to Cat People (1942). I also really like the subtle music score, which to me seems to resemble Victorian industrial machinery. In fact it seemed to me that there is a lot of industrial sounds and imagery in this film. I don’t know if it’s significant, maybe some kind of subtext about the industrial revolution, just a random thought. It’s a very emotional film with few upbeat moments so “women & nervous persons” may find it hard to watch. Some people have said the movie tries too hard to manipulate you and make you cry. I disagree I think the whole point of movies are to manipulate you emotionally. 
John Hurts performance as John Merrick is fantastic, the way he manages to portray such a sympathetic character through such a heavy makeup job is amazing. Antony Hopkins is also great as Frederick Treves, who is a very conflicted character. He’s not sure if he is genuinely trying to help Merrick or just using him to gain a reputation.  I also think all of the supporting cast are really good, I like the way the nurses gradually warm up to Merrick when he is living in the hospital. I also particularly liked the dastardly caretaker who harasses poor John Merrick by allowing members of the public to come see him for a price. 
The movie doses take a few liberties in terms of historical accuracy, for example I found this article “Contrary to film accounts, Merrick was well treated as an exhibit and well paid for his time. While on exhibit on Mile End Road in London, now the London Sari Centre, his path first crossed with Dr. Fredrick Treves. Treves, who would later chronicle and befriend Merrick, gave him one of his business cards after Merrick politely declined an examination. When human curiosity exhibits were outlawed in the United Kingdome in 1886, Merrick travelled to Belgium for work. There he was indeed mistreated and ultimatly robbed and abandoned by his promoter. He also contracted a severe bronchial infection further complicated by his deformities”, you can see the rest of the article at The historical inaccuracies mostly didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the film. The only part I found myself thinking “I’m sure that never happened” was when the other deformed people rescued Merrick, I found it very Hollywoodish.
Overall I really enjoyed this movie. 

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