Eraserhead (1977)















What the hell? Seriously: what. the. hell!
There is a Thornton Wilder play called The Skin of Our Teeth and I beg you to go look it up because it is inexplicably weird. There are set pieces that randomly fly off stage, dialogue that makes absolutely no sense, and talking dinosaurs. So yeah, it's pretty freakin' weird. It doesn't have anything on this movie.
"Eraserhead" is a cult classic from bizarre director David Lynch and it serves as his debut feature film. But the amount of time eaten up by the viewer sitting and just wondering, wondering what it all means, is overwhelming even considering the film's meager hour and a half running time. This film makes no sense.
So let's line up the oddities for you: worms, infestation, theaters inside radiators, a bed that turns into a milk bath, disfiguration, deformed babies, aliens (for all intents and purposes), cooked chickens that hemorrhage, random laughing spells, itchy knees, and the need for the absurd. If that sounds like your kind of movie, then pop "Eraserhead" in and be blown away. If not, steer far, far away from this film. It's so interesting to think that the next film Lynch would make would be "The Elephant Man" which seems downright comical next to this movie. Make no mistake, this movie is deadly serious and it deserves to be taken as just that.
In many ways I found myself comparing "Eraserhead" to the works of David Cronenberg, just on principle of physical transformation alone. But the two hardly have anything in common besides the unexplained, though the likening helped me wrap my mind around the movie a little better.
There will be no in-depth plot synopsis because for all its complexities, the movie does not have a plot. Instead, it seems like a collection of ideas and random vignettes of what might be creepy, because the film's end result turns it into a horror flick, and I'm not sure if that was the point or not.
"Eraserhead" begins in the stars and we are led to believe (or at least I was) that our main character is some alteration of alien life, though he appears human enough.
Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) is a man with a beehive for a head, not just in the hairdo sense. He constantly hears sounds that overpower all others and he seems intent to simply lay on his bed and stare into his radiator. The amount of time that he appears on screen versus the amount of dialogue that he has is striking. He rarely ever speaks and when he does it always seem curious to hear his voice: it sounds perfectly normal.
Then there's Mary (Charlotte Stewart) who is Henry's love interest. One of the movie's first scenes involves her inviting Henry over for dinner with her family which turns into a stereotypically bizarre experience. It is so beyond itself that it does not even register as cinema, it sort of feels like a collection of hyperbolic cliches, and maybe that's the point of it all; but I doubt it.
The dinner scene is iconically crazy and it serves as the first scene that really sets the stage for what's to come. Mary's mother, after making a pass at Henry, tells him that there is a child and once the love birds are married they can pick it up from the hospital. Mary tells Henry that they aren't even sure if the baby is human.
So they get married, off screen, and then we see them reduced to another odd take on a "given system". Their married life is really bizarre, given that their baby is completely alien like.
When you are in Lynch's movie, you are in Lynch's world, as are his characters. They never once ask questions for the absurd things they see or the grotesque imagery that jumps up. They never doubt its validity; but for as many times as the movie rewinds, throws random crap into scenes, and remains unexplained, we can't help but feel that there is something missing from this movie.
That being said, it is outrageously original—you will never see a movie like this one. I doubt if there is anything that comes close to the experience of watching 'Eraserhead" and for that, the movie is almost hypnotic.
"Eraserhead" is engrossing and gross. It's boring and unusual and for all its peculiarities, it dives right back down to the pit from which it was trying to escape: forgettable.
Yes, there are moments that you will never be able to wipe from your mind, but all its details will never stay with you, not after one watch. "Eraserhead" seems to be smart and it seems to not care that it doesn't make sense...but I do.
Still, wow.












Score: ★★½

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