A compelling first feature


(US, 1977)
Directed by David Lynch

Review by Angus Luff

Eraserhead is a 1977 American horror-fantasy film directed by David Lynch. It follows Henry (Jack Nance), a man with an indescribably warped vision of the world, as he accidentally gets in a relationship and has a child with Mary (Charlotte Stewart). When the child is born deformed and disfigured, Mary swiftly hands the responsibility solely to Henry. As Henry’s world falls apart while taking care of the child, the film goes off the rails and gets bizarre.

Lynch creates an entirely different kind of horror in Eraserhead. The film is slow paced but at no point is it boring or stale. The world that Lynch creates has a tangible, real atmosphere, yet it is fantastical and isolating at the same time. There’s nothing quite like the experience of watching Eraserhead. Lynch is known for bizarre and surreal quirks in his films, and those subtle, strange details alienate and confuse the viewer just as much as Henry does. The mysterious aura of Eraserhead works perfectly, as it keeps conversation and interpretation open as to what really is happening under the surface. It rewards rewatches and speculation, as at the end of the day, it’s a subjective film.

In the wrong hands, this film could be a disaster, but Henry is the perfect protagonist and just as alienated, confused and scared of this desolate wasteland as the viewer is. The relatively short runtime also helps justify the content of the film and keeps it on track. The film is never incomprehensible or nonsensical, it’s just not very clear-cut or normal. I want to make it clear that this movie is not nonsensical arthouse drivel; there’s method to the madness here.

On every conceivable level, Eraserhead is an unmatched tour de force in the field of indie filmmaking. An unusual premise, a slow descent into insanity, an oppressive and horrifyingly bleak world that comes alive through the film’s innovative visuals and sound design, all thanks to the creativity and limited resources of a young David Lynch. He would raise money for the film, shoot for a few weeks, run out of money, raise money again, going through that routine for five years until its completion.

The visual and auditory spectacle that is Eraserhead should be applauded for both its ingenious, palpable product and its cast and crew who stood by the project for years before their hard work and commitment finally paid off. When you read about what a nightmare the film was to put together, its endlessly maddening world makes more sense.

The film’s horrifying world isn’t so much a dive into some bleak apocalyptic future as it is a personification of the darkest patches of the psyche. It’s where your mind wanders when everything loses colour, when the world stops being inviting and begins to alienate, when there’s no one left in the world to help or understand you or your responsibilities, when hope and joy has rotted away and there’s nothing left but pain, fear and alienation. That is the world of Eraserhead – it’s a reflection of ourselves and our struggle to relate to or understand the pain and suffering that everyone experiences. While I’m not going to go into detail about what the film means, as it would spoil important details, I believe the spirit of the film reflects the bleak reality of someone who has lost all hope in the world. Lynch’s first low-budget feature is astonishing and unpretentious, meticulous and timeless. Eraserhead is so compelling that it makes you wish all first features were this great.

Angus Luff is a student at Glebe Collegiate. He grew up in the Glebe and is obsessed with movies.

Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Available on the Criterion Channel.

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