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Eraserhead
1977 - unrated - 90 Mins.
Director: David Lynch
Producer: David Lynch
Written By: David Lynch
Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates and Judith Anna Roberts
Review by: Bill King
   
David Lynch's first film, "Eraserhead" (1977), is considered by many to be the weirdest and most nightmarish movie ever made. I won't argue with that. There are a number of odd images found throughout, and part of what makes this film so intriguing is trying to figure out what it all means. Whatever Lynch's reasons are, they're his alone. The rest of us can let the images sink in and solve the puzzle. The thing is, there might not be a puzzle to solve. Perhaps the film is a series of random episodes designed to upset us. The fact that we don't know if there really is a point here or not makes Eraserhead such an interesting film. In 1997, a controversial film called "Gummo" came out. I knew right away that it was an amateurish, pointless effort. Lynch's film, on the other hand, contains real mystery. Both films shock, but only one of them truly engages our thought processes.

Lynch made the film over a span of five years, using friends and family for help. The script was tiny, but the film is still 90 minutes long, due to Lynch's parade of haunting visions. Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) lives alone in his small apartment in an industrial part of town. He receives a message from an old girlfriend, Mary X (Charlotte Stewart). She's inviting him over for dinner with her parents. The X family lives in a state of insanity. They rarely talk, their behavior defies description and their dinner is repulsive. When Henry sits down, he is treated to a chicken dinner. The chicken starts to move and begins to ooze out some black slime.

Mary informs Henry that she had a baby, and it's his. Henry agrees to allow the baby and Mary to move in with him. The baby is unlike any film creation I've ever seen. It has a reptilian face, large black eyeballs and a body wrapped in bandages. There are no visible arms or legs. The baby cries a lot, and Mary, who stays home with the baby while Henry is at work, grows aggravated by the constant crying. One night, finally fed up with the baby, Mary goes back home, leaving Henry alone to care for their child. Slowly, Henry begins to fall apart. He does what he can to help his baby, but nothing will calm it down, and Henry's mind collapses.

To further complicate things, Henry suffers from visions in his sleep and in the real world. He believes that there is a lady living in his radiator. Sometimes, the lights inside the radiator turn on, and a lady (Laurel Near) appears to sing and dance. There is a long dream sequence in which Henry loses his head, a kid finds it, sells it and some men make erasers out of it. Another grotesque sequence comes when Henry wakes up to Mary next to him, and he pulls giant sperm cells out from underneath the sheets. The closing scenes are a complete mystery, as Henry appears to be swallowed up by his own problems.

I've read different interpretations of "Eraserhead." I will offer mine. The movie begins with a man behind a lever. He pulls the lever, and this in turn pulls a sperm cell out of Henry. The cell is deposited into a nasty pit of water (conception). The camera then exits a tunnel, with a bright light at the end (birth). Once Henry cares for the baby, he begins to feel the frustration felt by Mary. He pulls the cells out from underneath the sheets because he feels guilty for having a relationship with Mary, and he wishes he could take back the night they were together. By the end, Henry's weak mind can no longer handle the complexities of the real world. His problems (the baby) do away with him, and he can finally go where he can be happy (with the lady in the radiator). What the radiator represents is anyone's guess. Is it Heaven? The lady sings "In Heaven, Everything is Fine," perhaps to serve as a beacon for Henry to join her.

"Eraserhead" is a touching film, very bizarre, sometimes funny, but mostly mysterious. It's not an easy film to watch. It's comparable to "Phantasm," in that what we are viewing resembles a nightmare. That is where its strength resides. The film is full of ideas. The challenge is to interpret them. Otherwise, it's easy to just dismiss the film entirely, as some viewers have done. However, I feel that there is real artistic merit here. This is not just a series of repugnant images, like "Gummo" was. David Lynch's first film is a stellar debut.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

 
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