Eraserhead (1977)

Eraserhead (1977) movie poster

director David Lynch
viewed: 04/28/2014

He may be all about transcendental meditation now and have forsaken cinema, but David Lynch, from the very get-go, has been an outsider master film-maker.  And I’ve come back around to him myself.  Well, actually, for about the last 10 years or more he’s actually solidified into one of my all time favorite film-makers.  I had gone through a period of liking him as a teenager to being really annoyed with him circa Twin Peaks, and quite frankly, I hadn’t seen some of his earliest films in decades.

Case in point, Eraserhead, one of the consummate “midnight movies” of the 1970’s-1980’s, a kind of heightened level of intentional weirdness that tended to blow minds sober or inebriated.

And I think it would blow minds just as much today, particularly to the uninitiated.

It’s the far out black and white nightmare, where everything is weird, nothing makes sense, nothing really gets too explained.  There are the miniature man-made chickens that ooze black goo, the “baby”, the lady in the radiator, the whole manufacture of pencil erasers.  It’s a bleak industrial retro future hell and there is no explanation to discern why when or where anything is.

In reality, it’s a surrealist terror of sex and parenting, of soul-destroying loneliness, and individuality.  Surrealist, perhaps with the capitalization.

And you know what?  It’s freaking brilliant.  An amazing, amazing film.  When I first saw it, I was 16 or so and it was probably the weirdest film that I’d ever seen.  I’m sure that I didn’t “get” it really.  Maybe I “got” that you weren’t supposed to “get” it necessarily.  It’s an idiosyncratic vision, yet universal in its disconnect and weirdness.  This time through it, I was amazed.

The baby is insanely amazing.  I guess the secrets have long been kept about how they achieved the effect of the strange thing.  I was struck how this film would be part of a baby parenting terror show with  Jan Švankmajer’s Little Otik (2000).  With a little one in a crib nearby, you might run out and stab yourself with scissors rather than face the nightmare of parenting.

The film also called to mind the universe of Andrei Tarkovsky’s fantastic Stalker (1979), which takes place in a similarly deformed future world.  Another film that has some complete sense of the unreal within the real world, a decrepit future from our decrepit present.

Many, many thoughts, really.  A final one would be that I watched this film streaming from Hulu Plus on my new Roku device, one of the “tipping point” films of finally crossing over into the contemporary technology.  Though the disc is on Criterion, or was, it was no longer available on Netflix.  I’d been wanting to see if for some time, and now, I have.

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