The Elephant Man [MOVIE REVIEW]

To be honest I am really not sure why I decided to watch this movie all of a sudden but I did and now here I am to review it even though I doubt anybody would want to read it. I do however have some things to say about so without further ado, here is my review of 'The Elephant Man'.

David Lynch is a director I always admire more than I actually like - and I know how that sounds and I can only say that it is not what you think. I may actually really like him, I just cannot say that because I have barely seen any of his movies. The only one I have actually seen apart from 'The Elephant Man' is 'Wild At Heart' which I was not the biggest fan of (still enjoyed it enough). I have heard a lot of positive things about his films though so I will definitely check them out later on. 'The Elephant Man' though is based on a true story which I did not know when I started watching but after the first act I could almost tell that it was so I quickly looked it up on my phone and lo and behold I was right. In the 19th century there was an actual person named Joseph Merrick who was just as deformed as the character in the film and I am probably an idiot for not knowing that beforehand. What I saw though was an incredibly moving and masterfully acted and directed film that will stick with me for a very long time.

'The Elephant Man' is a film that is worth watching almost entirely for the incredible performances by John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins. John Hurt's performance as the deformed John Merrick is truly remarkable. Despite the insane amount of prosthetics he was wearing, his performance came through and made it come across as just sad when it could have easily been comical. He played the role with just the right balance and nuance and his vocal delivery is just spot on. It is one of the best performances I may have ever seen in my life and it is a shame John Hurt does not have an Oscar on his desk right now (no disrespect to De Niro who definitely deserved the Oscar he got). John Hurt is the real reason why this film is so tragic to watch but he is not the only star of the film as Anthony Hopkins completely nails his performance as well.

Surprisingly the weakest aspect of the film I have to say is the screenplay. Despite the masterful performances by the two leads, they both never really surpass being two dimensional characters. Merrick is a tragic person but we never really get to know anything about his backstory which I feel is a major missed opportunity and Frederick Treves (Hopkins character) has absolutely zero growth or development. There is a hint at something deeper with his character when he asks his wife whether or not he is a bad man - but it never goes anywhere beyond that one scene as it is just forgotten about for the rest of the film. It would have been a really interesting conflict for the character and is yet another missed opportunity with the film. I also looked up the real story and it said that Merrick died at age 27 - in the beginning of the film he said he was 21 and in my humble opinion it definitely did not feel like such a long time had passed from beginning to end. Despite all of that I cannot call the screenplay flat out bad as the I like the structure of it all but in the hands of a lesser director I do not think it would have been remembered as fondly or end up being nominated for 8 Academy Awards.

Speaking of the direction though, from what I have heard this is one of David Lynch's more direct films in that it does not have a lot of symbolic images or focus a lot on the visual storytelling (of course that does not stop the film from having them as it is a movie after all). He really gets you involved with the story and makes sure not to leave anyone watching it with dry eyes - however, the neat thing about the film is that it is not overly sentimental. It does not have those scenes were the main character finds out something terrible and incredibly manipulative music starts playing as everybody bursts into tears. Instead when the character finds out some rather depressing piece of information he just says "oh..." and then it fades to black and cuts to the next scene. I was not the biggest fan of this type of editing as it kept taking me out of the movie whenever they awkwardly cut to the next scene (which happened a bit too many times) but for a movie like this it worked far better than if they had really manipulated the audience which is what they would have done if the film was made today.

Being a film based on a true story though it absolutely succeeded in what it intended to do - make you interested in the real story so much that you want to look it up yourself. Not a minute passed before I went online and looked up the real John Merrick (whose name is actually Joseph Merrick) and find out what really happened. At its core that is what a movie based on a real story should do and for that reason alone, 'The Elephant Man' is worth watching and definitely deserves recognition as one of the best movies of the 1980's. If you are at all turned off by this being black and white - do not skip the film for that reason, the choice of having it be black and white works wonders for the film as it adds a mysterious feeling throughout the whole thing and of course it makes the prosthetics look and feel more real. Despite the flaws with the character development and how there is barely any sense of time passing, this is a wonderful movie that will stick with you long after you have seen it.


- Lucas


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