Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Elephant Man Review

Fig. 1 The Elephant Man poster
Based on the true story of Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man aka John Merrick (John Hurt) is the main attraction of an urban carnival until a Doctor named Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) takes John into his care. Having had this disease since the age of 14, in which tumours grew around his entire body, John's mobility and speech have suffered over the years but is well educated. Whilst the transformation is never shown, the pain of the aftermath is present throughout each moment. John Merrick's history is as described by Tom Milne,  'brutalised by a childhood in which he was hideously abused as an inhuman freak, was gradually coaxed into revealing a soul of such delicacy and refinement that he became a lion of Victorian society' (Milne, 2008).

Fig. 2 Dr. Treves and John Merrick
The Elephant Man explores human nature focusing on personalities and tendencies. David Lynch has brilliantly portrayed kindness, happiness, selfishness, aggression and cruelty in a wonderfully sad way. Whilst the focus is on John Merrick, the exposed essence of humanity brings the world to life, populated by the multiple elements of humanity. There is one dominant point and that is prejudice, resulting in both verbal and physical abuse. All of which isn't uncommon in the modern world today. The assumption that John is a monster, to the fictional population, makes it apparent that it's the mob mentality that makes the population a monster. Even with the intention of aiding John, the publicity surrounding John made him a target to the curiosity of humans, yet another, but indirect, monster. Rogert Ebert also noted, on the view of John Merrick, 'whole structure of The Elephant Man is based on a life that is said to be courageous, not because of the hero's achievements, but simply because of the bad trick played on him by fate' (Ebert, 1980).

Fig. 3 John attending the theatre
David Lynch has created a world in which John Merrick is first perceived to be a monster, shrouding his appearance to then be unveiled in horror later leading to his acceptance into society. The latter only lasting as long as the medias eye is on him, then experiencing the cruel, harshness of the world. His acceptance of both sides then later his suicide, 'John Hurt still manages to invest his portrayal of Merrick with dignity and courage' (Haflidason, 2001).

Figure 1. David Lynch (1980) The Elephant Man poster. At:
Figure 2. David Lynch (1980) Dr. Treves and John Merrick. At:
Figure 3. David Lynch (1980) John attending the theatre. At:

Tom Milne (2008) Time Out. At:
Rogert Ebert (1980) Sun Times. At:
Almar Haflidason (2001) BBC. At:

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