Director: David Lynch
Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Laurel Near, Judith Anne Roberts
Release Date: March 19th 1977
Running Time: 1 hour & 28 minutes
When discussing his 1979 film The Brood director David Cronenberg has often joked that the film is his version of Kramer vs Kramer. A tongue-in-cheek reference, sure, but one which reveals the dark history behind that work. Cronenberg was trapped in an unpleasant divorce which involved a custody battle over his daughter, and the cinematic result of this anxiety remains one of Cronenberg’s darkest and most powerful films. If Cronenberg’s The Brood is his answer to Kramer vs Kramer then the closest comparison which can be drawn to todays chosen film, David Lynch’s Eraserhead, would be John Hughes’ She’s having a baby or Chris Columbus’ Nine Months.
The first thing to say is that Eraserhead remains the bleakest work Lynch has produced. After Eraserhead the director chose to focus more on peeling back the facade of blue skies and rainbows to reveal the seedy, putrid and dangerous world which exists under the one we believe we inhabit. The most iconic example of this would be the opening shots of Blue Velvet, but even a quick glance at Twin Peaks, Lost Highway or even Wild at Heart will reveal that the anxiety over a hidden world is something which has never left Lynch. Eraserhead however contains none of this central duality, but instead offers a glimpse of a world entirely without the illusion of colour or joy.
In the opening to the film Lynch reveals the anxiety which has resulted in the creation of this disturbing film: it is the anxiety of the flesh, the fear over the biological ability to create life, and the control that this ability holds over a person. The opening shot shows the confused head of lead character Henry floating over an unnamed planet, or possibly an unfertilized egg, before releasing a strange creature resembling sperm. The action then cuts to a controller figure, whether this is a god or a more personal manifestation of Henrys freudian ID is upto the audience, who pulls a lever to complete the fertilization. The destruction, or rather the replacing of the natural process by a soulless, empty, mechanical figure reveals Lynchs’ anxiety over the part he played in the creation of life.
The baby soon arrives, but is a far cry from the bundle of joy presented in the traditional tales of parenthood released by Hollywood almost every year. Instead the baby is a reptilian creature whose constant wailing, refusal to eat and disfigured appearance causes the breakdown of the relationship between Henry and Mary. The appearance of the child as well as the scene in which Mary abandons Henry and the child reveals the central flaw in Eraserhead: it is an immensely misogynistic work, and the immaturity of the central character makes it a difficult movie to sit through.
The accusation of misogny is one which has plagued Lynch throughout his career, but none of his subsequent works has come close to the reprehensible way in which women are represented in Eraserhead. The females in this film are overbearing mothers, an emotionally unstable girlfriend who abandons her child due to an inability to cope with the pressures of motherhood, and a promiscious women across the hall who seduces Henry only to abandon him later in the film to fulfill her sexual desires with another man.
Erashead remains an important work in the history of surrealist cimema, and has remained popular due to its position as the debut feature of David Lynch. However the film is best left until you have sampled some of the other works in the filmography of Lynch as it is much closer to the classic surrealist works of the 1920s, such as Un Chien Andalou, and the shocking imagery along with the depressing storyline may seem excessive to those who are not familar with the work of Lynch. Up next in my journey through the Filmography of David Lynch is The Elephant Man. This will probably be followed by Blue Velvet, there will be a review of Dune, but i would like to read the book first in order to give my fair assessment of the film.