Review: Eraserhead (1977)

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The art house is not one I visit too frequently. I do appreciate artistic expression in cinema, but feel that ultimately you want a story to appeal and be understood by the widest possible audience. I would expect that film makers would want people to connect with their films. But there are always film makers who believe in the truly artistic possibilities of the film medium and for all intents and purposes, don’t really care too much about how niche they are. I bet some even wear it as a badge of honour.

David Lynch is one of those names that I’ve heard around, but never really checked out his work, with the exception of the 80’s Dune film, which I didn’t care for, but also knew that it didn’t really represent his work as a whole. But I had heard of Eraserhead, it being one of his best known works. One of the places I heard it was a comparison in a review for Christmas on Mars, the movie by The Flaming Lips that showed that even musical geniuses don’t necessarily know how to make a movie. But perhaps an acclaimed film maker does! Thus, it was time to delve into some classic experimental cinema.

So… yeah, Eraserhead follows Henry and he finds out that he is now the father of a child who is going to be born soon. So, he and the mother get married and she moves in with him. The son is born but is a terrifying looking mutant who howls all day and night. And that’s basically the story. It lacks linear narrative, but it’s traded for tone, symbolism and style. The substance stems from that rather than the conventional emotional rewards of story. One has to respect a film maker that thinks so out of the box and believes his audience will be patient and delve deep into his art. This truly is the unique vision of David Lynch.

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Unfortunately, these days this sort of cutting edge film making is now the stuff of parodies or it just comes across as pretentious. I can accept that this is the real deal, but I can’t appreciate this style fully. It feels like a joke now. And I can’t say that this is culture’s fault entirely, but rather that this style is so unusual that it could only be done so many times before it implodes in on itself. I can’t speak much about the movie climate in 1977… I know that it was a benchmark year for Science Fiction since Star Wars and Close Encounters were released, but beyond that, I don’t know what else was going on. But perhaps that isn’t necessary because, after all, great movies should transcend time and perhaps I shouldn’t let what has happened in cinema overall since affect my perception of this specific film. And to be fair, Eraserhead doesn’t feel like a 70’s movie. It actually could have been released any time between 1955 and 2000 and I’d believe it because it’s so stylistically unique. It is not a product of the time; it’s the product of a mind.

This is without a doubt a labour of love by David Lynch; it was his first feature film and he wanted to make it his and make it count. You can’t make a film like this and not believe in the art of it. And while I find that endearing, as a movie watching experience, I find it hard to recommend. I know that a lot is going on and it could be studied, but please don’t make me watch it again. It was tedious and exhausting all at once. The sound design was aggravating, the storytelling was confusing and long winded, and the end result leaves one asking what the point of it all is. And while I’m sure it’s all very intentional because there is no way Lynch did anything here by accident, I don’t have to like it. I can admire the process and not actually enjoy the outcome.

Is Eraserhead a good movie? I don’t know if I’m qualified to say. I don’t even know if that’s my job to say. I once read the point of a review is not to evaluate if a movie is good or bad, but to inform the reader on whether or not they will like it. So, now you know Eraserhead is messed up and may haunt you. For better or for worse, you’ll never forget that you saw it. If that only entices you further, go right ahead and have a ball.

2 Stars

-DF