The Elephant Man
Greetings, ‘The Elephant Man’ is a 1980 drama film that was based on the life of Joseph Merrick and was directed by the surrealist movie maker David Lynch. It boasts a strong cast which includes John Hurt as the titular ‘Elephant Man’ John Merrick, Anthony Hopkins as surgeon Frederick Treves and the Graduate’s Anne Bancroft to name a few. For some reason, the script calls ‘the Elephant Man’ ‘John’ despite his name being Joseph. The music was composed by John Morris who had worked on numerous Mel Brooks films such as Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Silent Movie and Spaceballs. Mel Brooks was a producer of ‘the Elephant Man’ but had purposefully decided to be left uncredited in the off chance that his name would confuse the expectations of viewers as he is mostly renowned for his comedic movies.
The plot begins in the East End of London where Frederick Treves has successfully located the deformed Merrick performing in a freak show. Before Treves can get his eyes on the famed man hidden behind the curtain, the police close down the show to the annoyance of the ringmaster Mr Bytes. Treves eventually tracks down Bytes again who is living in a dirty hovel with John and sees first-hand the horrid conditions that Merrick is forced to live in. The surgeon pays Bytes a large sum to have John attend his office for a while in order to inspect him as a medical curiosity. The impoverished Bytes, motivated by financial gain, agrees and Merrick is inspected by Treves as part of a medical lecture. It was believed that this ‘Elephant Man’ was a man of limited intellectual capabilities and Treves hoped that this was the case, fearing the opposite to be a nightmarish scenario for Merrick. John is returned to Bytes after Treves had displayed Merrick’s unique physicality to his surgical peers.
Bytes, a sadistic drunkard, was intoxicated when the ‘Elephant Man’ came home and in an angry phase badly thrashed John. Fearing he had beaten his prized ‘possession’ too harshly and threatened his future income in the process, Bytes asks Treves to inspect John and falsely claimed he had suffered a fall. Treves advises that John needs to attend a hospital and manages to convince a cautious Bytes, concerned that his livelihood was being taken from him, to let Merrick comes under his care. John is brought to London Hospital and his unsettling appearance startles the nursing staff there until they gradually become accustomed to his presence. As time goes by, Treves eventually gets John to open up and socialise after a very difficult beginning in which Merrick was thought to be cognitively impaired. The two form a genuine friendship as John Merrick becomes a celebrity, after being visited by a famous actress, with the rich and powerful of British society hoping to meet the curious man.
I really enjoyed this movie and while it was much more grounded in reality than Lynch’s other works, there were definitely a few scenes that were reflective of his distinct style. The choice to shoot the film in black and white was a good idea in my opinion and it produced an impressive atmosphere. Another aspect I thought was interesting was that Treves, upon contributing to Merrick’s rising celebrity status, begins to fear he is similar to Bytes as he is letting people gawk at Merrick. The only difference Treves perceived is that John was being a ‘freak show attraction’ for high society this time around rather than the common man. I thought this was an interesting parallel for the script writers to emphasise. If you haven’t seen this one before it is one to watch.
Quote of the Day
I believe in that alpaca farm. The alpaca is the dog of the future.
Albert ‘Pops’ Solomon