Eraserhead (1977)

Author: Josh G.
Submitted by: Josh G.   Date : 2008-10-04 09:08

Written and Directed by: David Lynch
Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates and Laurel Near

Reviewed by: Josh G.

"In Heaven, everything is fine"

The weird. The unexplainable. The nightmares. The horror. The fantastical. The man with the eraser head. David Lynch’s Eraserhead is a topic in itself. Some will hate it for its mindfucking. Some will hate it for its depression. Others will embrace the mystical beauty that has been captured on film. What feels more like a film adaptation of recorded dreams is this experimental dramatic horror piece about the disturbing story of a man named Henry, and his newborn child. Gloomy is the first word that comes to mind. It’s not the best film to attempt deciphering, and at the same time, it’s the ultimate movie for thinkers and translators.

Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) doesn’t talk very much, yet he tells a large story. In this black and white feature, Henry goes over to his girlfriend (Charlotte Stewart) Mary’s place for dinner, but is confronted by her mother (Jeanne Bates) about the two having “sexual intercourse”. Henry learns that Mary was pregnant, and the baby now resides in the hospital. Mary goes off to live with Henry and their child — a mutant baby. With all of the child’s screams, night after night, Mary returns to her parents’ place to get some sleep, leaving Henry all alone with junior. He meets with his neighbor (Judith Roberts) and they end up sleeping together. Nonetheless, she’s creeped out by the critter. All along, Henry is surrounded by things that just don’t make sense to the common person, but may have meaning. Nobody knows for sure, and most likely, nobody ever will, but there’ll always be interpretations, and it all leads up to a very unique finale.

The atmosphere that Lynch has created is astounding. Eraserhead is one of those dreams you have that don’t make any sense, nor do they give off a happy feeling, but you still appreciate what you’re going through. You want to know more; see more; experience. Have you ever thought of a time, either before or around when you were born, that truly opened your senses? Do you have memories that may be linked to dreams from your infant days, or something real in the back of your mind? There are often times where I find myself having an almost absurd feeling in a specific setting or place. Eraserhead tries its hardest to rekindle this place. Whether or not it succeeds is up to the viewer. I wasn’t taken in with every shot, but overall, it’s personal triggering art. The music is one of the most powerful parts of this feeling. You hear carnival tunes in the distance, like the ones you may have heard when you were a kid, though you won’t remember them. And the pipe organ is put to eerie use in some of the most effective scenes of this project.

I wonder if Eraserhead is a horror movie. It’s more of a dramatic fantasy world in an experimental school project, although so much better than anything a student production could accomplish. There is gore, there is some use of gothic elements, and it’s entirely bizarre. One would have to figure out a definition for what they believe horror’s line to be drawn at. Some say there must be a monster, others want just a killer with bloody special effects. This film has used my favorite of the horror standards: loss of reality. When you have let go of what makes sense, nothing is for sure, and no place is safe. The beginning is definitely different, with Henry’s hair being used as an eraser on a planet, where inside the rock, we see a rusty man by a window. What’s his purpose? That’s yours to figure out.

The make-up effects are brilliant, and even stop motion makes an appearance. The weird mutant baby thing has a soul, and you feel its sorrow. Henry’s child becomes sick with a disease, ultimately crying out in pain. It can’t get to sleep either, which passes on to its parents. It even laughs at Henry, for no reason whatsoever. So many questions and no way for me to answer. Some of the best dream-like scenes for me came from the dinner scenes at Mary’s parents’ place. For starters, Mary’s mother helps Grandma (Jean Lange) out by giving her a cigarette, but in the next scene, Grandma doesn’t seem to be alive. She’s not moving at all. When Henry first meets up with his girlfriend and her mother, Mary starts having weird episodes in front of everyone, but nobody pays attention. Henry meets Mary’s father, who starts talking to him, and as his dialogue continues, he becomes louder and louder, accompanied by a large shaking and rumbling of the house. The father then walks out to Henry and yells at him to “Look at my knee! Look at my knee!” You may be laughing now, but it’s pretty upsetting. At the dinner table, Mary’s father asks Henry to cut the chicken, and when Henry does, it begins to bleed profusely. At the same time, Mary’s mother is having an attack, eating out the air and flickering her eyes, until the climax, when she runs out of the room and the chicken stops bleeding. For the next few moments, the father just smiles at Henry nonstop. I dare you to define that scene with confidence. Imagery. I just love it.

Eraserhead does not like roles. Whose the bad guy and whose the good? No one really. Everybody plays a victim and a disrupting thinker. Not even the lady in the radiator’s purpose is known. If you’re wondering, I’m referring to Henry’s moments where he stares blankly at an object, and this particular one is his radiator. It lights up and inside is a stage, where on the spotlight, a white lady (Laurel Near) with huge bloated cheeks appears, smiling into space. When we first see her, she’s stepping on these unknown artifacts that look like umbilical cords, creating a squishing sound. We later cut back to Henry, who is sleeping next to Mary, only to find out that Mary has been sleeping with a few more of these weird cords. The next scene with the lady has her singing for us way too innocently. It’s funny, it’s out there, but there’s something not right about her.

“In Heaven, everything is fine,
In Heaven, everything is fine,
In Heaven, everything is fine,
You’ve got your good things, and I’ve got mine.”

After she finishes singing, Henry walks up to her, touches her, and all goes white. She disappears, a tree is wheeled out onto the stage, and Henry nervously moves over to the side. The tree bleeds and Henry’s head is popped off, landing in the pool of blood left behind by the tree. Henry’s body regrows a head, but it’s the head of Henry’s mutant child with Mary. Yes! Now I have your attention. Henry’s head falls through the pool of blood and lands outside...somewhere. A boy picks up the head, brings it over to the pencil factory where the pencil machine operator is, and gives it to him. The man drills a hole in Henry’s head and our comes eraser substance. He then makes a new pencil eraser. Now we know: this is why the film is called Eraserhead. Does everything make sense to you at the moment? No? That’s okay. Because what might make sense to one person, may be total chaos to another, and vice versa. Plus it doesn’t really matter anyways. Henry wakes up from a dream. Yep. None of that really happened. Or did it? The following events are just as absurd, so perhaps all of it is a dream. Or everything is real.

The movie is not paced correctly, though not poorly. It feels a bit slow, but that enhances the film’s atmosphere. Also, a did you know fact, Eraserhead was shot over a period of about five years. Can you believe it? David Lynch obviously had a vision, and he wanted it to be perfect, so much so, that he drew it out for half a decade. Viewers I’ve sat through Eraserhead with are usually shocked when they hear about this time frame, because with their personal tastes, they believe it was a waste of five years. But that is not the case. To make a film about dreams and also have it be effective is no easy task. I think David conquered all. The feature is pretty depressing and doesn’t like to give out free lollipops. However, it’s one of cinema’s true experiences. Where else will you see a bed turn into a foggy love tub, where after, its residents disappear underwater? Creativity receives an A+, no matter what your preferences.

The creepiest part in the movie is when Henry takes out a pair of scissors. You see, his child was brought back from the hospital wrapped in bandages, and he decides to snip these away. What he finds underneath may disturb some people. What is it? You’ll see. You’ll see all of its grisly details. A well produced and directed trippy nightmare. Eraserhead can be found on DVD by Absurda cleaned up and remastered in widescreen. It has a trailer, which makes less sense than the general film, and an interview with David Lynch, who still won’t talk about the true meaning of his creation. It drains your soul, but at a great price. Buy it!

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