The Elephant Man (1980)

The Elephant Man (1980)
  • Time: 124 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama
  • Director: David Lynch
  • Cast: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft


A Victorian surgeon rescues a heavily disfigured man being mistreated by his “owner” as a side-show freak. Behind his monstrous facade, there is revealed a person of great intelligence and sensitivity. Based on the true story of Joseph Merrick (called John Merrick in the film), a severely deformed man in 19th century London.


  • “The Elephant Man” was a truly great and touching movie! John Merrick may look like a monster but he is a caring, kind, intelligent, respectful, and above all great man. It’s the people that discriminate against him, ridicule him, and use him that are the monsters. Several scenes in the movie can be rather disturbing (one is hard not to turn away from) but that’s what makes this movie so powerful. The performances are very well done, by John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, and everyone else in the cast. David Lynch’s combination of great acting and music has helped him to create on the most touching films of all time! Everyone who counts himself to a “movie-specialist” should watch this movie…

  • This is based on a true story about a horribly disfigured man whose mere sight would make ‘nervous people and women scream in terror’. He is John Merrick (John Hurt), a nineteenth century Englishman afflicted with a disfiguring congenital disease.

    He is called the ‘Elephant Man’ whose life mirrors that of a slave. His owner is cruel, often beating him up and parading him in front of paying customers who do not mind paying a penny or two to have a glimpse at the ‘greatest freak of them all’. Merrick is rescued by Dr. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), a well-intentioned local surgeon who shelters him in his hospital and attempts to help Merrick regain the dignity he lost after years spent as a sideshow freak.

    The Elephant Man was nominated for eight Oscars in a strong cinematic year boasting Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, and Robert Redford’s Ordinary People. Directed by one of America’s most twisted filmmakers whose career highlights include Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Drive (2001), The Elephant Man is perfect material for David Lynch, who lands an Oscar nomination for Best Director here.

    Filmed beautifully in black-and-white, Lynch cleverly uses shadows and smoke to give the picture a peculiar atmosphere and a rich assortment of impressionistic images. There is a sequence when Merrick is thrown into a cage shared with aggressive monkeys and then escapes with the help of other freaks in captivity.

    This scene is one of Lynch’s best because it evokes a feeling of warmness in a cold, unsympathetic world. Visually, it has elements of fantasy and gives a dream-like effect that would be aptly described as Lynchian. Adding to the film’s overall strange quality, Lynch presents to us John Hurt in heavy makeup with a face so hideously deformed that it takes time for us to accept the way he looks. Hurt’s performance is subtle yet powerful, perhaps only matched and bettered in that year by Robert De Niro of Raging Bull.

    The most notable flaw is a technical one. Lynch uses the fade-out transition technique one too many in the film; he does not give some scenes, especially one that is dramatic, enough time to linger on for several more important seconds to give viewers that emotional swell.

    The most significant part of The Elephant Man is a key scene of Merrick attending his first theatre performance. It is then dedicated to him and he receives a standing ovation with applause from the audience. This is such a transcendent moment for Merrick (and a tearful one for viewers) who endured a lifetime of heartless jeers and disapproving stares. Lynch’s film is shocking yet compassionate. Although this is not his best work, it may very well be his most enduring.

    GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)
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