Written and directed by David Lynch in 1977, “Eraserhead” is Lynch’s first feature length film. “Eraserhead” is a surrealist, black comedy with a tinge of horror. Although, this may be one of the most interpretive movies when it comes to understanding the meaning or intentions behind the film, and Lynch has said as much before. When asked about why the film still resonates years past it’s time in a 2014 interview with Vulture Lynch replied, “Well, you know, it’s difficult to say. I always say the same thing: Every viewer is different. People go into a world and they have an experience, and they bring so much of what makes them react, it’s already inside of them. Each viewer gets a different thing from every film. So there are some people where Eraserhead speaks to them, and others it doesn’t speak to them at all. It’s just the way it goes.” So, there are the obvious things that you can pluck from an initial viewing of the film, Henry (Jack Nance) is a man who is flung into fatherhood and marriage when he is clearly not ready or able. His fear and anxiety surrounding the subject permeate most of what we see, although we see a lot of strange imagery throughout the film. The basic plot of the film is that we follow Henry as he encounters women, family, fatherhood, fear, and despair.
Though diving into what the film really means might not be the best way to provide fruitful discussion of the film. With David Lynch’s movies I’ve come to find that his style relies more on the feeling of the art, not the details or specifics of the story at hand. This film in particular seems to be mostly concerned with a general sensation of anxiety. The score and sound design are the most constant factors of this, each scene has various noises gurgling in the background while steam and exhaust bellow from unseen sources. In fact the whole world of “Eraserhead” seems to be structured that way. It is a largely industrial and urbanized setting with families squeezed into small and cramped apartments that all look in need of some repairs. Henry’s one room apartment is oddly stranger as he has a pile of dirt with a small tree growing out of it on his nightstand and a window that only shows a stark brick wall looking back.
As far as the performances go, they are definitely in line with much of Lynch’s work. Actors are either solemn and blank save for a few expressions or they are completely the opposite and only exhibit high level emotion in bursts and spats at awkward intervals. While visiting his girlfriend Mary’s (Charlotte Stewart) family for dinner her parents exhibit a very vocal and intrusive display. While her father (Allen Joseph) goes on a deluge of his past work as a plumber putting in all the pipes in the area, Mary’s mother (Jeanne Bates) confronts Henry about his sexual encounters with Mary which resulted in a baby-well- even the characters aren’t sure that it is a baby, but nonetheless they know that he is the father. This all takes place while a dog laying in the living room is feeding a horde of constantly mewling puppies nearly overwhelming the motherly animal.
The rest of the film is left to Henry after Mary leaves in frustration at the loudly crying baby-like creature in his small and dark apartment. After that the film dives even further into the dream logic of the world in which Henry sees a strange woman in the radiator dancing on a stage singing and squashing little sperm-resembling creatures. Trust me, it only gets weirder from there. I found this film to be worth a watch, it’s definitely unique, but far from my favorite of Lynch’s library of films and “Twin Peaks”. The surreal nature of some scenes and the world building are what drew me into this film. It’s nice to know that there are creators out there willing to push the boundary and create whatever and however they can. “Eraserhead” is certainly not for everyone, but give it a shot-you never know when you may find a new favorite film.
Final Score: 1 Man and 1 Disgusting Baby Creature from the Black Lagoon
*Check out these videos posted below; re:View from Red Letter Media and Renegade Cut both host interesting discussions on the film. There’s also the interview that Vulture did with David Lynch in 2014 if you’re interested, enjoy!