Film Review: ERASERHEAD [David Lynch Retrospective] (1977)

Film Review: ERASERHEAD [David Lynch Retrospective] (1977)

May 1, 2016


In 1977, David Lynch hit the scene with a horrifying and surreal trip through the life of Henry Spencer. In a black and white industrial setting, Henry deals with life, love, and childbirth. He does this all while dealing with help from some pretty disturbing imagery. This is not a film that is disturbing in the sense that our modern extreme horror films will disturb. This is a claustrophobic trip through a world full of strange characters and events. It is a quiet film that will ring out loud in your mind long after viewing it.


This is a film that Lynch has refused to explain since it came out. As with all of his surrealist films, he leaves the plots open for interpretation. Eraserhead is very likely about the subconscious. It deals, on a metaphoric level, with the stresses involved with having a child and surviving in a sick dark world. It deals sexual and familial relationships through numerous awkward interactions. This is a film that speaks to the outcast in society. It puts the introvert at the center, and walks you through a dying world from their perspective. It is a film with a protagonist who is helplessly thrust from between doomed situations. It is a bleak film that will leave you hopeful about your own life.


As far as the film goes, it is from a time period where independent films pretty much had to be done in black and white. Whether this was a budgetary decision or an artistic one, it was the right one. This films is absolutely beautifully shot. The settings in this film are shot with an eye that the best photographers still try to capture today. The lighting is strategic in a way that really captures the claustrophobic nature of the film. His placement of characters and lighting in this early film are excellent examples of the stylistic decisions that he has perfected over the years.


This film even has some special effects work. It is reminiscent of the common stop motion and clay-mation work from the time period. The mutated baby is one of the strangest things put on film. It, however, is not quite as strange as the movement that occurred on that dinner plate. Furthermore, neither of these events can hold a candle to the singing lady in the radiator. All three of these are examples of old school low-budget effects work. While they are nothing special, they are effective and efficient in the context of this film.


This is a Lynch film that I revisit often. It is not my favorite, but it is up there. As my retrospective progresses, it is probably necessary to start putting these films in order. While I am re-watching his library for this series, I am beginning to finally make up my mind when it comes to ranking the films. At this point, I can confidently rank my top three David Lynch films: Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Eraserhead. My next review will cover Mulholland Drive.