The Elephant Man

A delicate balance between Bytes, the cruel owner of a freak show; Merrick, the elephant man; and Treves, the redeeming doctor. Throbbing in the background is the ever-present, polluting and alienating Victorian industrial machine (the same noises that permeate 'Eraserhead') together with the resulting polarisation of civilisation and squalor. The social justice of the film is intensely moving, though at the same time the viewer is made aware of the contingency of this justice. How many more Merricks didn't make it?

'I wish I could sleep... like normal people' Merrick says to Treves, after finding out that he will never be cured of his disfigurement. But what is normal? Who is normal? And why are there always dwarfs in David Lynch films?

The final sequences are set to Barber's Adaggio for Strings (long before Oliver Stone's Platoon). Merrick realises, as he finishes and signs his model cathedral, that it is time to die. Having known suffering and ridicule as well as beauty and adoration it is, at the end, a fittingly dignified death. Merrick finds his sleep but leaves the world a poorer place.

'Evil', according to David Foster Wallace, 'is what David Lynch's movies are essentially about, and Lynch's explorations of human beings' various relationships to evil are, if idiosyncatic and expressionistic, nevertheless sensitive and insightful and true. Lynch is not interested in the devolution of responsibility, and he's not interested in moral judgments of characters. Rather he's interested in the psychic spaces in which people are capable of evil.' (A Supposedly Fun Thing That I'll Never Do Again)