David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977) is a disturbing surrealist horror that takes us on a nightmarish journey into a dystopian industrial nightmare that is Lynch at his bizarre best that is exemplified by the opening scene where a disfigured man controls what appears to be a giant sperm floating around the screen by pulling leavers.
Henry (Jack Nance) lives alone in a rundown one-bedroom apartment in a gloomy industrial suburb seemingly devoid of anyone else, other than his attractive neighbour. While visiting his girlfriend, Mary X (Charlotte Stewart) and her parents Henry discovers that she has given birth to his child, the product of a brief fling between the two. Mary’s mother insists they marry.
The child, a monstrous birdlike creature comes to live with the now married couple in Henry’s apartment, unable to settle the child wails constantly, causing Mary X to become increasingly frustrated and sleep deprived resulting in her moving back to live with her parents. A woman with abnormally large cheeks, who happens to live in Henry’s radiator occasionally sings or shuffle around a stage.
Throughout this film we see recurring sexual imagery (on top of the opening scene discussed earlier in this article), such as the lady in the radiator stepping on sperm-like creatures raining on her stage (that may be interpreted as the emasculation of Henry, or men in general for an unknown reason) and the portrayal of woman next door.
Eraserhead initially opened to small audiences as a midnight movie (a B grade or cult film typically shown, as the name suggests at midnight), over time its popularity grew becoming a classic of modern cinema. In 2004 Eraserhead was preserved in the national film registry by the library of congress due to “its cultural, historical or aesthetically significance”.
Throughout Eraserhead, there are strong visual images of desolation and environment, industrial degradation and decay, paired with the visual is a soundscape that features low-level background noise in every scene that creates and fosters a sense of intimidation, and an unnerving atmosphere.
Eraserhead began a trend in Lynches later work of diegetic music (where details, experiences and narrative are related to the audience through music) that will be used again in both Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet (1986).
Eraserhead is a movie that is difficult to interpret as there has been little consensus about its meaning, something that has been made harder by Lynch failing to comment on its meaning other than to say that no one to date has matched his views on what he feels Eraserhead means.
For me, Eraserhead is about the isolation experienced by modern, urban society and the fear experienced by parents on the birth of their child and possibly encompassing how fear, isolation and loneliness can affect us and our behaviour at a conscious or sub conscious level.
It would be stating the obvious to say that Eraserhead is a very strange movie that challenges and is at times hard going but is compulsory viewing for all true movie lovers.