New York Times - 10/03/1980
"...Haunting....Hurt is truly remarkable..."
Sight and Sound - 03/01/2002
"...Lynch's immaculate portrait of the tortured John Merrick emerges as one of the director's most experimental cinematic projects..."
Total Film - 03/01/2001
"...THE ELEPHANT MAN remains one of Lynch's most outstanding dramas..."
Premiere - 04/01/2006
"Hurt brings an almost divine grace to Merrick....The film is among the more tender and restrained efforts from director David Lynch."
Empire - 09/01/2008 4 stars out of 5 -- "[Lynch] creates surreal dream images and swirling, dissolving montages....John Merrick is the beauty -- it is the modern world, suggests Lynch, that is the beast."
David Lynch brings his own dreamlike style to the heartbreaking yet somehow uplifting story of John Merrick (John Hurt), a hideously deformed individual dubbed the Elephant Man during his years in a circus freak show in Victorian England. After suffering for years at the hands of his circus "master," the eloquent, soft spoken Merrick is "rescued" by compassionate surgeon Dr. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), who allows him to live at the hospital where he works. Merrick becomes a social celebrity when he meets a popular stage performer (Anne Bancroft), but he must continue to fight for his dignity with those who still choose to view him as a freak. Meanwhile, Treves begins to question whether his supposed act of humanity has been just as exploitative as Merrick's former caretaker's.
Lynch's follow-up to his 1978 cult classic ERASERHEAD is a seamless blend of art and entertainment, which earned the film eight Academy Award nominations in 1980. Freddie Francis's breathtaking black-and-white cinematography combines with John Morris's score to re-create Victorian England with a deeply haunting beauty. It is the compassionate performances of Hurt and Hopkins that lift THE ELEPHANT MAN to a more emotional level, however, bringing an inspired sadness to Lynch's striking vision.
John Merrick was known as the elephant man because of a deadly disease that transformed his features and proportions into something monstrous. He survived as a circus freak show attraction until Frederick Treves decided to "rescue" him and to introduce him to society. Treves tries hard to protect his charge--and slowly the physically deformed Merrick emerges from his shell and reveals a keen mind and a sensitive soul. But Merrick, realizing that he can never truly be a part of the "normal" world, eventually makes a difficult, heartbreaking decision...
Essential Cinema |
Period Piece |
Physically Impaired |
Tear Jerker |
Theatrical Release |
True Story |
Theatrical Release: October 10, 1980
Made at Lee International Film Studios, Wembley, Middlesex, England.
The film's closing credits read: "Based on THE ELEPHANT MAN AND OTHER REMINISCENCES by Sir Frederick Treves and in part on THE ELEPHANT MAN: A STUDY IN HUMAN DIGNITY by Ashley Montagu.
Lynch had an extreme advocate in Mel Brooks, whose BrooksFilms company produced the picture. Brooks fought to hire Lynch as THE ELEPHANT MAN's director and helped to ensure that his artistic vision remained intact.