Director: David Lynch
Writers: Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren & David Lynch (screenplay), Frederick Treves (book “The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences”), Ashley Montagu (in part on the book “The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity”)
Running time: 124 mins (approx)
Certification (UK): AA
USA Release date: 10th October 1980
Watched on Sky+ Saturday 23rd March 2013.
PLEASE NOTE: THERE MAY BE UNINTENTIONAL SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW.
I first saw this film many years ago and since then it’s become quite iconic. There have been many comedy sketches based on the character of John Merrick (The Elephant Man in question); or rather John Hurt’s superb portrayal I should say. There have also been several documentaries about the life of John Merrick and those that shaped his life. Needless to say I thought it about time I gave it another look when it appeared in the TV listings this week. Here’s a very brief summary before I give you my thoughts.
John Merrick (John Hurt) is a man who has a disfiguring condition that leaves him at the whim of the unscrupulous. These include Bytes (Freddie Jones), who makes money by showing him off to the public as ‘The Elephant Man’. But when surgeon Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) comes across him in a travelling show, he takes pity on him and takes him in. He lives at the hospital where Treves works, where he learns to speak and is soon turns out that he is actually quite intelligent. The head of the hospital, Carr Gomm (John Gielgud) agrees to let him stay and even see’s off Bytes when he comes around looking for his ‘golden goose’. Merrick continues to improve and even has visits from the great and the good; including actress, Mrs. Kendall (Anne Bancroft). But we haven’t heard the last of Bytes quite yet, and with the unwitting assistance of the night porter (Michael Elphick), he gets back into the hospital… and it’s on that cliff-hanger I’ll leave it.
Filmed entirely in black and white I found this quite an interesting take on John Merrick’s story. Of course a lot of poetic license is used, but the essence of the man and his story are there. I have to admit I love John Hurt’s performance; I can’t imagine anyone else getting that much emotion through so many prosthetics! Of the other performers, I thought Freddie Jones as the side-show entrepreneur was excellent also. Over all, although it does have its faults, I did enjoy this one; it’s quite poignant in places and you find yourself really touched by John Merrick; a little over-long, but well worth a look.
SteelMonster’s verdict: RECOMMENDED
My score: 8.1/10.
IMDb Score: 8.3/10 (based on 98,714 votes when this review was written).
MetaScore: No Data: (Based on 0 critic reviews provided by Metacritic.com at the time of going to press).
Rotten Tomatoes ‘Audience’ Score: 90/100 (based on 61,440 user ratings counted at the time of going to press).
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Bytes: Life!... is full of surprises. Consider the fate of this creature's poor mother, struck down in the fourth month of her maternal condition by an elephant, a wild elephant. Struck down!... on an uncharted African isle. The result is plain to see... Ladies and gentlemen... The terrible... Elephant... Man...
Carr Gomm: Can you imagine the kind of life he must have had?
Dr. Frederick Treves: Yes, I think I can.
Carr Gomm: I don't think so. No one could possibly imagine it! I don't believe any of us can!
Mothershead: Sir! I don't quite... I don't quite understand why it is you allow that sort of people in there.
Dr. Frederick Treves: Why? Because he enjoys it, and I think it's very good for him.
Mothershead: Yes, but, sir, you saw the expression on their faces. They didn't hide their disgust. They don't care anything about John! They only want to impress their friends!
Dr. Frederick Treves: I think you're being rather harsh on them, don't you, Mrs. Mothershead?
Mothershead: I beg your pardon!
Dr. Frederick Treves: You yourself hardly showed him much loving kindness when he first arrived, did you?
Mothershead: I bathed him, I fed him, and I cleaned up after him, didn't I? And I see that my nurses do the same. And if loving kindness can be called care and practical concern, then I did show him loving kindness, and I am not ashamed to admit it!
John Merrick: There's something I've been meaning to ask you for some time now.
Dr. Frederick Treves: What's that?
John Merrick: Can you cure me?
Dr. Frederick Treves: No. We can care for you, but we can't cure you.
John Merrick: [matter-of-factly] No. I thought not.
John Merrick: I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!