Sorry, no more Dead Space this week, for a great many reasons. Instead, let us look at one of the greatest surrealist films ever created, the perfect way to end this Halloween week!
Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977) follows the story of Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), an everyman who lives in a tiny, claustrophobic apartment forever filled with the noise of industry and the hiss of his radiator. One day, his beautiful neighbour (Judith Roberts) informs him that there was a message left for him – Mary X (Charlotte Stewart) has returned to town, and is staying with her parents (played by Allen Joseph and Jeanne Bates), and Henry is invited to dinner.
Warily, Henry goes to dinner, only to find the beginning of a nightmare. Nothing seems right in the house, from the people to the food, and Henry is told that Mary has had a baby – his child – but it was born premature and, well, they aren’t even sure if it’s human.
So Henry finds himself married to Mary, trapped in his apartment with a screaming baby that may not even be human. And so his nightmare begins…
Eraserhead is weird. Legendarily weird. But it is not senselessly strange – rather, there is a rhyme and reason to its oddity, a method to its madness. There are some things that are clearly defined, despite the insane imagery that may accompany it, and the very nature of the film is to create something that makes the mundane horrifying by elevating it from normality.
For example, the film opens with a scene about sex, but not a sex scene. Rather, the imagery and its presentation makes it clear that this is, indeed, about sex and the act of conception. You see Henry, overlaid over a planet, slowly growing larger, before he opens his mouth to let loose what can only be described as a twisted sperm, which lands in a crater of water. It is, perhaps not clearly, but in essence, the act of conception, with nary a piece of nudity insight.
And that best describes much of the film – images that replace a reality for something horrifying, that take the simple and distort it into something unreal. Take the baby, for instance. It acts like a child, but does not look like one – it is simply a repellent variation of something that we know and accept, even if the creature horrifies us in its actions and appearance.
And it is strange, as I write this, that I find myself unwilling to talk about much more of the film, despite its many oddities and realities, even if there is more to talk about. I have yet to mention the Lady in the Radiator (Laurel Near), or the incident with the pencils, or of the girl next door. In truth, I don’t want to talk about them, as I would hope that whoever it is that reads this may watch it for themselves, and see first-hand the glorious oddities that lie within, and take from it what they will.
As such, let us talk about the technical side of things. Lynch as a director has always had a visual flair, a knack for finding the most striking or flattering imagery, and one that can beautifully capture both horror and intimacy. Lynch knows well when to cut away from something unpleasant, and when to linger for the best effect, and this is present here in its perfection, despite it being Lynch’s first feature. I particularly love the lightning, which so brilliantly leaves much to the imagination, and hides the restrictions of budget. Lynch’s fingerprints are also present throughout the editing, with his love of editing trickery ever apparent.
The sound is also something of outstanding horrific beauty. An ever present hum is in the air, gnawing away at your ears and mind, mixed with a soundtrack that is more industrial than anything else. Constantly throughout the film are drones, whether musical or not, which rise in intensity until the abruptly stop. The actual musical side of the score, which is the smallest part of it, is comprised mostly of pipe organ music, which lends both a disturbingly calm and sinister edge to every note played, resulting in something of a perpetual uneasiness.
I will say that a few moments are particularly off note here and there, and more often than not, these are moment s of relative sanity, although whether these were planned or simply the result of relative inexperience is hard to say. However, any moments or seeming weakness in the writing or direction is made up for by some excellent performances (wherein the only note of weakness come from Near’s brief singing).
However, when all is said and done, a surrealist film is best watched rather than explained, and Erasehead is no different. If ever there were a film I’ve talked about here, it is Eraserhead that I would implore you to watch. If only it be seen through your eyes and mind, and not mine.