It’s David Lynch’s 71st birthday today. So I think it’s time to celebrate. How do you celebrate one of the greatest surrealists of all time? By watching his movies. So I decided to rewatch Eraserhead.
About the Movie
After accidentally impregnating a girl, Henry (Jack Nance) has to take care of the Baby. Sounds like the plot of a silly comedy, but in this case the Baby is horribly deformed and seems to enjoy torturing Henry.
It’s the feature length debut of David Lynch, shot over the course of many years (it started casting in 1971 and was released in 1977). Nance kept that hairstyle for the whole time. It’s in black and white, with a running time of only 88 minutes.
While the description above is true to the story’s plot, it doesn’t come close to describing what is actually happening on screen. First of all, Lynch doesn’t explain anything. You have to learn everything from the events on screen. That can be hard, especially if you’re not used to surreal cinema. Also, nothing normal happens in this movie at all. There is a whole dinner scene, with chicken the size of a fist. And oozing black liquids.
And that’s where the scariness comes in.
The plot alone sounds scary to young parents, maybe, but not to the average movie goer. But nothing in this movie feels real. It is all so far removed that it just makes you feel weird. This is not a movie that will make you jump. It’s a movie that ends, and you wonder what you just watched. And you feel kind of horrified by what has happened on screen. You’ll reflect; you have to think about it. But not in a dark room. That’s too scary.
Audio and Visuals
On the one hand, that’s because of the visuals. Everything not only feels off, it also looks weird. Or just plain scary. I’m pretty sure Lynch didn’t build a puppet for the horrible Baby, but instead just captured a real alien baby. Then there is the Lady in the Radiator with giant balls on her face. That sounds funny, but watching it without expecting it is horrible.
Adding to the already scary vibe and imagery of the movie is great sound editing. Most of the time we get a white noise, changing in volume as events unfold. In some scenes the only other thing you hear is the deformed Baby crying, which in itself is a horrible sound. One scene just has all the bodily sounds of a person turned up to 11, which is crazy.
This is a movie that works on so many levels, so many levels we are all not used to from cinema. I actually watched Eraserhead, went to bed, and then immediately watched it again in the morning. And even today, re-watching it, I could not keep my eyes off the screen. I still had to turn on the lights while writing this review. Oh and of course I still did not fully understand what is happening on screen.
But that just adds to it. Similar to Donnie Darko, you have to find out what you just watched, read up on it, learn more about it. And watch it again. It’s really a masterpiece, but maybe not for everyone. I could watch this all the time and always feel scared and weirded out. But you might just think it’s boring. Best just try it out right now.
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