During the Victorian era, John Merrick (John Hurt) is rescued from his life as a sideshow freak by a doctor named Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins). After years of being treated poorly because of his severe deformities, Merrick begins to regain his dignity as his intelligence and sensitivity are revealed to London society.
People are frightened by what they don’t understand.
Prior to watching The Elephant Man, I’d only seen a small handful of David Lynch’s work (Mulholland Dr., Blue Velvet, and the Twin Peaks television series and). So far I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve seen from him, and this film was no exception. Many have said this is the most accessible of Lynch’s films, and I’m inclined to agree as this story is very straightforward compared to everything else I’ve seen from him. Anyway, the film is a great look at man’s capacity for kindness and cruelty without being overly sentimental with the subject matter. Still, there are a number of poignant scenes that really touched me and didn’t leave me with dry eyes.
What really evokes emotion from the audience is the film’s performances from leads Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt, especially in how their characters react to what they’re experiencing. Even as Merrick’s savior, Hopkins finely displays Dr. Treves as a real human character who sometimes does the right thing for his personal gain. And though Hurt is hidden under convincing make-up, he still conveys so much through his voice and body language. Anne Bancroft also provides a good, small performance as a stage actress who shows genuine compassion for Merrick despite his physical appearance.
The Elephant Man (1980)
Directed by: David Lynch
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture; Best Actor (John Hurt); Best Director; Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing; Best Original Score