Eraserhead – Film Review
Eraserhead, directed by David Lynch is an interesting yet disturbing film that tells a story about Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) and his girlfriend Mary X (Charlotte Stewart). Mary has recently given birth to a premature, mutant baby and the frustrated mother storms out of Henry’s apartment leaving him to care for the child. Henry’s soon discovers the child is very ill and tries to care for him. Throughout the film, Henry experiences many emotions towards the child and becomes increasingly frustrated towards him. There are a number of dream sequences which give us an idea about what is going on in Henry’s mind which is helpful to the viewer since there is so little dialogue throughout the film.
There seems to be a very strong sense of authorship in this film and although it is difficult to dissect, David Lynch’s self-expression is evident. He relies heavily on symbolism to get his thoughts across to the audience. There seems to be a theme of nurturing life that becomes increasingly impossible to ignore. The viewers are presented with strange choices of props in certain scenes and are prompted to try and make sense of them. In Henry’s bedroom we see a pile of dirt upon his dresser, a large barren tree next to his bed, and a pot full of water in his top drawer. The conclusion I drew from all of these things was that they all contributed to this idea of nurturing life. The dirt and the water are essential to making a tree grow just as a comfort and care are crucial for a child’s growth. The tree next to Henry’s bed can be paralleled to the mutant child in the sense that they are both trying to grow but are not being given what they need to accomplish that. There are also many references to the birthing process. Perhaps the most interesting is seen when Henry’s head falls off and the baby is seen coming out of the collar of Henry’s shirt as if he was being birthed.
There is a dark, eerie feel to the entire film which leaves the viewer with an unsettling feeling once the credits start rolling. The scenes are all very dark with minimal lighting, the music is daunting in the background, the weather is stormy and windy, and the entire film seems to feel like a bad dream. The shots were creatively framed and there were some beautiful lighting effects. Lynch maintains a minimalist feel to the film and still achieves creating his own interesting style of filming. One shot in particular that was framed very well was seen when Mary’s mother is telling Henry about the newly born baby while Mary is standing behind her sobbing. Henry is up against a wall while the mother is standing directly in front of him. We see Mary behind her and her character is framed by a big black pipe which adds this feeling of distance between her and the situation which later plays out because she leaves the situation completely when she abandons Henry with the baby.
This was my second time watching this film and although I can’t really say I enjoy watching it, I do enjoy thinking about it and I was excited to pick at David Lynch’s symbolism further. I would certainly suggest watching this film if you are intrigued by piecing together ideas and being an active player in the so-called “game” of viewing independent films.