Watch the raw audience reactions to David Lynch film 'Eraserhead', 1977
(Credit: Eraserhead)

Getting to know David Lynch film ‘Eraserhead’ in 60 seconds

“I don’t know why people expect art to make sense. They accept the fact that life doesn’t make sense.” ― David Lynch

Throughout the long and glorious history of cinema, few films have had as profound an impact on the ensuing film-art as much as David Lynch’s surrealistic masterpiece Eraserhead has enjoyed. The film was Lynch’s first feature-length effort following several short films and one that he wrote, directed, produced, and edited alongside creating the film’s score and the intricate sound design — which is often considered to be its technical highlight.

David Lynch created the disturbing, phantasmagoric narration in Blue Velvet. His exploration of subjectivity and primal, unconscious energies would become a hallmark of his career up through Mulholland Drive. But it was arguably in Eraserhead where we got to experience the “the Renaissance man of modern American filmmaking” being at the crescendo of his artistic indulgence.

In the 1995 essay, Bad Ideas: The Art and Politics of Twin Peaks, critic Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote that Eraserhead represented Lynch’s best work. He commented that the director’s artistic talent declined as his popularity grew, and contrasted the film with Wild at Heart—Lynch’s most recent feature film at that time—saying “even the most cursory comparison of Eraserhead with Wild at Heart reveals an artistic decline so precipitous that it is hard to imagine the same person making both films.”

Lynch argued back, saying that not a single reviewer of the film understood it in the way he intended. Filmed in black and white, Eraserhead tells the story of Henry (played by Jack Nance), a quiet young man living in a dystopian industrial wasteland, whose girlfriend gives birth to a deformed baby whom she leaves in his care.

The script is thought to have been inspired by Lynch’s fear of fatherhood; his daughter Jennifer had been born with “severely clubbed feet”, requiring extensive corrective surgery as a child. The film’s tone was also shaped by Lynch’s time living in a troubled neighbourhood in Philadelphia. The director and his family spent five years living in an atmosphere of “violence, hate and filth” in an area which was described as a “crime-ridden poverty zone”, which inspired the urban backdrop of Eraserhead. 

Unforgettably, the film has also been noted for its strong sexual themes. Opening with an image of conception, the film then portrays Henry as a character who is terrified of but fascinated by, sex. The recurring images of sperm-like creatures, including the child, are a constant presence during the film’s sex scenes; the apparent “girl next door” appeal of the Lady in the Radiator is abandoned during her musical number as she begins to violently smash Spencer’s sperm creatures and aggressively meets his gaze.

Nevertheless, the cosmic impact of the film can probably be made out from the fact that while working on The Elephant Man, a time when Lynch met American director Stanley Kubrick, who revealed to Lynch that Eraserhead was his favourite film. It also served as an influence on Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining; Kubrick reportedly screened the film for the cast and crew to “put them in the mood” that he wanted the film to achieve.

As further testament to the greatness and impression of Lynch and his masterpiece, check out the video below in which we have Martin Funke reenacting the movie’s key scenes in a one-minute compilation, which was submitted for the German Done In 60 Seconds Jameson Empire Award 2011. In its praise, it is equally absurd.

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