The Elephant Man
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Set in industrial era London, this film is a heart-wrenching account of the last few months of John Merrick’s life. Merrick, aka "The Elephant Man", is a terribly disfigured man who is given a last chance at dignity by a compassionate doctor. Based upon a true story, this disturbing rendition of a man whose intelligence and sensitivity overcome his inhuman appearance can leave no one indifferent.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
I can’t remember ever being as touched by a scene in a movie as I was the first time I saw this. The scene in particular was a close-up of Anthony Hopkins’ face as Dr. Treves when he first lays eyes on the mass of flesh that is John Merrick. That single scene sets the tone for what is one of the most emotional film experiences one can have. Along with the giant performances by Hopkins and John Hurt in the title role, the stunning look, setting and overall atmosphere of this film are also some of the most poignant cinema has to offer.
Hurt is as good as he is unrecognizable in his role as The Elephant Man and succeeds in making him both attaching and endearing, despite his horrible defacement. Throughout the film, he becomes less and less unattractive and by the end of the movie, his appearance becomes secondary to his plight for the respect and dignity of a man wanting to experience, in the little time he has left, the everyday things taken for granted by those who have more than him in every way. As this happens, you feel the sensitivity and intelligence of this man, who is mistaken at first for an imbecile beyond help and unfit for care in the hospital. Hopkins’ subtle acting style is also perfectly appropriate for his part as the caring doctor who rescues Merrick from life as a circus sideshow freak and who eventually becomes the man who will give back to him the humanity his grotesque appearance has taken from him.
The daring choice, by director David Lynch to shoot in black & white is also a major contributor in making this film as engrossing as it is. His understated approach and his renowned penchant for the unusual shine through with some of the nicest shots you can expect. A true masterpiece, this film should get more recognition than it does.
A bit low on the extras front, this is one of the few DVD’s (actually, the only DVD) that I’ve seen that does not allow you to select any particular scene. You pretty much have to go through the VCR type fast forward function to access a particular scene. The main feature on this is a 30-minute long documentary called “The Elephant Man Revealed”. The discussion centers mostly around the beginnings of the production and quickly shifts to make-up and modeling. Pretty interesting, if only because you get to see John Hurt’s face. A 2-minute long featurette follows entitled “Christopher Tucker’s Workshop”. It’s disappointing not because of its content but because it’s simply too short to fully describe the unbelievable makeup job Tucker performed in order to turn Hurt into John Merrick.
Following that is a 4-minute long “Narrated Photo Gallery” which again, focuses on makeup. Quite interesting, but the highlight is the color shots of the Elephant Man, which according to the crew are quite a rarity. The Theatrical Trailer also accompanies the film and is quite touching as well. As far as trailers go, this one is pretty solid. One major disappointment was the lack of commentary. While David Lynch would have been fascinating to listen to, I would also have loved to hear from Hurt or Hopkins, who is completely absent from the extra features.
This fantastic film is definitely a requirement for anyone who wants to give any credibility to their collection. I’ve seen this movie several times and have never gotten tired or felt indifferent towards it. This re-watch value and relatively solid set of extras make it a definite ownership candidate. You may rent it first since some may find the topic a bit disturbing and the pace a bit slow, but those who do, will probably end up shelling out for a permanent copy. This is one of those films you’ll be glad you own.