David Lynch is the master of creating nightmarish sequences and his debut film Eraserhead is the film to prove that. Eraserhead stars Jack Nance who plays the protagonist, Henry Spencer, a young man whose entire world is shattered when he finds out that his girlfriend had a baby. Being a David Lynch film, all this isn’t portrayed in a realistic manner but in the most strange and frightening way. Everything from Henry’s apartment and the city he lives in to him meeting his girlfriend’s parents and, of course, his terrifying baby are otherworldly.
The theme this film is mostly associated with is fear of fatherhood, marriage and commitment. I agree wholeheartedly. I think Lynch created an interesting vision of how men think about being a father and having a family. I found this film so weird, creepy and occasionally funny, like most people must have, but I also think that through this portrayal, those main themes are beautifully presented and developed. And this is what makes this film, despite being seemingly incomprehensible, so unique and powerful.
Take for example the scene where Henry meets his girlfriend’s parents and future in-laws. I think every guy has his own fears of meeting his future wife’s parents. You don’t want to mess it up and make a bad impression. I think that dinner party where Henry meets his is an actual representation of those fears. The way the mother gets too close to him, the strange behavior of the father, the moving chicken. It has its moments of humor, a relatable type where you get amused by its familiarity. You laugh because you see these fears materialized in Henry’s story. And I am glad that Lynch created this vision. It’s something I’ve never seen before. The same thing can be said about the whole baby situation. What this one lacks is the humor. I found this to be very frightening and not enjoyable but still a great representation of the fear of being a father. I am not a father now and won’t be for some years but I can only think that future dads and parents in general ask themselves questions about their baby and how it will look like, if he/she will be healthy and if they can manage with raising this little human being who can’t do anything without them.
Related to marriage which isn’t as delved into as the other themes, we see Henry being attracted to his neighbor (which, fun fact, played the old lady in Justin Timberlake’s Mirrors video and is on Orange Is The New Black). he probably misses the single life and wants to be away from his wife and alien baby. One funny moment is when his wife, Mary X, gets upset and wants to go home in the middle of the night so she gets her enormous suitcase from under the bed. It’s a little surreal moment that made me smile.
This is what I mostly could decipher from a first viewing of this film. The third part of the film with the Lady in the Radiator and the whole stop-motion effects probably mirror Henry’s insecurities however I am not sure. What I did feel was that I liked what I saw and enjoyed the strangeness but couldn’t understand exactly what it meant.
On a technical level, the film is masterful. I am still amazed by how they managed to make that baby. I know it took Lynch six years to make this film. What I don’t know is if I would have that kind of patience. I loved the visuals and the production design. It’s not a particularly enjoyable film but it’s a real beauty to look at. If you’re into this kind of surreal, dark photography. Which I am.
Another aspect on which Eraserhead excels at is the acting. Jack Nance, who also worked on Lynch’s Twin Peaks series, plays Henry Spencer. It’s not a tour-de-force of a performance, but Nance brings in a peculiarity to the character that I thought fit. The supporting cast is also excellent.
A last thought is that Eraserhead is a family project. Lynch worked with his then-wife and his brother and sister-in law, Jack Fisk, who plays the Man in the Planet, and actress Sissy Spacek. Funny how such an anti-family film is actually created with the help of a…family.
While I haven’t seen all of Lynch’s films, I consider myself a fan of what I saw from his work. Mulholland Drive is among my favorite films. Lost Highway is stylish, but I didn’t get most of it. I enjoyed its creepy atmosphere and visuals. Blue Velvet continues to grow on me. It’s a film I should revisit as I think I’ll like it even more. I liked most of Twin Peaks, but didn’t connect with the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me which I thought, despite an extraordinary lead performance, was too different and vulgar from the atmosphere of the show. And, of course, The Elephant Man is heartbreaking. Something specific that i like about it is that it looks life a film from the 40’s even though it premiered in 1980. About Eraserhead, I think I would rate this film higher than most of his material. Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet are a whole different class of cinema which i think Eraserhead doesn’t touch, but overall, while not something I would revisit in the future but would love to see on a big screen at midnight, David Lynch’s debut film is still a marvelous piece of cinema and an interesting vision which every film fan should experience.