Billy's Film Reviews.

A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!

The Elephant Man (1980) – Classic Review

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Arguably David Lynch’s best picture, 1980’s “The Elephant Man” is one of the most moving, touching and heartbreaking/warming films in recent memory. Based on actual events, this tale of one man’s exploitation and another man’s compassion really hits the audience hard, emoting poignancy, guilt and torment. 
The Elephant Man”
was released in a year that, to some, is the most definitive year of cinema over the past 40 years. Titles such as “Raging Bull”, “The Shining”, “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, “The Blues Brothers”, “Airplane”, “Caddyshack” and “Blue Lagoon” were all released in the same year, however “The Elephant Man” would easily sit amongst the best of the bunch.

Set in the 1800’s, “The Elephant Man” tells the story of John Merrick (John Hurt) – a young man suffering from a severe body deformity.
Exploited and put on show as ‘The Elephant Man’ in a carnival, Merrick has grown accustomed to a life of being put on show and observed as a ‘freak’. When Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), a successful Victorian surgeon sees Merrick for the first time and the conditions he lives in, he brings him to his clinic, where he examines, observes and cares for him.
As the two begin to grow fonder of one another, Treves’ connection to Merrick becomes increasingly powerful and emotional. Merrick’s tale is utterly tragic; his deformities deny him from sleeping lying down, so as a result, he must sleep upright, as to protect his neck from dislocating. His personal, physical problems are only the beginning; society casts judgement, disgust and horror his way on a regular basis, but it’s as a result of their own selfish fascination and ignorance.
Frederick Treves is proof that good men exist, and the journey of discovery and change that both himself and Merrick embark on together is magical, moving and empowering to say the least.

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Sir Anthony Hopkins gives arguably his best ever performance. For one the greatest acting talents in history, it isn’t saying much when mentioning the masterclass on display, but the expression, the flawlessness and the overall magnificence of Hopkins’ portrayal is something to marvel at; it is truly spectacular. John Hurt as Merrick is out of this world.
The make-up for starters is mind-blowingly realistic and true to the real life subject of Joseph Merrick, but the embodiment of Merrick through Hurt’s performance is guaranteed to bring multiple tears to your eyes. Evoking sympathy like few other characters in cinema, Merrick is portrayed perfectly by Hurt and demonstrates the acting powerhouse that he is and his endless capabilities.

Interestingly, the film is shot in black and white, similar to “Raging Bull” of the same year. The use of b&w cinematography adds so much more to the story an could be seen as a message in itself.
It may be overanalysing it, but the black and white filter over everything and everyone creates a level of equality amongst everyone; making the discrimination and torment shown towards Merrick that much worse.
The film with it’s colourless features feels like a 50’s film in general; from the extended fading transitions to the long tracking shots, it has an ‘old’ feel about it, adding to the believability of the story.
“The Elephant Man” is a cleverly constructed film from every aspect, and it is a credit to Lynch and everyone involved.

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Reading up about the real life Joseph Merrick made the experience of the film that much sadder. Lynch captures the essence of the story in such a superb fashion, whilst the messages and symbolic nature of the piece shine through strikingly.
The film says so much about image, prejudice and discrimination and really makes you think twice about how lucky you are comparatively. Painting society in general in a negative light, “The Elephant Man” could be seen as a source of inspiration for a film such as “Edward Scissorhands”, that came a decade after it’s release. Learning about Merrick’s talents, optimism and intelligence makes the story increasingly upsetting, he was and is depicted to be an extremely beautiful human being.

David Lynch knows a thing or two about moving an audience. “The Elephant Man” possesses some unmatchable performances from two of Hollywood’s elite whilst exploring numerous symbols, messages and statements that too many of us can relate to.
Tears are inevitable, sorrow, regret and guilt are also imminent –  “The Elephant Man” is a sad, sad story, but it’s one that is not to be missed.

4.5/5

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