Cinema poses lots of different mysteries to be encapsulated within any amount of running time, Eraserhead is arguably one of the grandest of such enigmas. I first saw Eraserhead at a rather young age and what I remember rather fondly of it was that it left a specific taste in my mouth that couldn’t be described properly, and the next day I watched it once more. The idea became more clear to one like myself, yet it still fascinates me for there’s always more to pick out on every watch. When I watched Eraserhead for my first time, I was always thinking to myself about how to piece together what it was that I just watched. Parts of it all managed to make more sense when I got around to watching David Lynch’s own Mulholland Drive (which is my favourite from his body of work this far) and as Eraserhead remained in my head, I grew much more fondly of it – something that still runs within my own head today.
The very vibe of Eraserhead is without doubt, creepy in its atmosphere but even with just the overall nightmarish tone, it’s Lynch’s portrait of America in a working state. The world is indeed a scary place, as Lynch insists, for no statement could seem truer than what is conveyed in what we have here, a fascinating directorial debut, arguably one of the very greatest of the sort, given the ambition shown within the great range of ideas condensed within a short length, all explored to the potential they deserve. David Lynch does not play everything at face value, as opposed to present all these bizarre occurrences within a reality that is so enclosed much like our own, but the fact that it all feels like it could happen because of the environment Lynch creates is where Eraserhead leaves something more profound for thought.
In the beginning of the film, Lynch gives an idea that our protagonist, Henry Spencer, is a man who is isolated from the world which he lives in. We see that Henry is drifting through nothingness, up until the appearance of The Man in the Planet. On a different planet, human beings are not to be found. In a sense, Henry Spencer is not very much a man who fits into the world which he inhabits. The Man in the Planet, as we see, watches over things as they all take place in front of our very eyes. What is the intention of The Man in the Planet, for is he an entity watching over all of humanity? It’s interesting how one can read into Eraserhead, whether the outcome is a positive or a negative. On my end, this film has left quite an impact I found indescribable.
A surrealist piece, for it is what we recognize David Lynch for with his work, it’s interesting what sort of commentary he leaves behind on the youth, in the manner that they believe they understand sexuality. His method of condemning their suppositions regarding reproduction through sex is fascinating, especially in the sense it is terrifying what had been conceived of both Henry Spencer and Mary X. Lynch has clearly established that Henry is not a man fitting into the world around him, so it is clear his view may be all the more limited. This baby is obviously not something human to our eyes, but think, could it possibly be a result of rather harsh unprotected sex? Or is it a means of showing the result of bad fatherhood? What Lynch has already made clear is that Henry is a man who had a sexual interaction with Mary X, but he was clearly unprepared for what would happen afterwards. This baby is a manifestation of what he was fearing.
Yet perhaps Lynch’s exploration of Henry’s self-destruction is where it is at its utmost terrifying. A lady pops up, we know her as The Lady in the Radiator. She sings a peculiar song, and a repeated verse goes “In heaven, everything is fine.” What’s especially haunting is the fact that upon his meeting of her, death is clearly at hand. The life that we live on earth is not an easy one, but as The Lady in the Radiator insists, everything is fine up there, inciting that an escape from reality is perhaps what is necessary to feel safe. When everything comes clear the moment the haunting finale comes into play, we have something that is frightening for its understanding of the level of unpreparedness we have for entering a new stage of life – something that was clear from the mannerisms that Henry shows with how he interacts with his background.
On a visual level, Eraserhead draws back to German Expressionism. Whether it comes out of the distorted set pieces or the haunting visuals that are brought in thanks to the crisp black-and-white photography, there’s no denying that Lynch obviously may have taken some influence from films of the period. It is especially clear within the very claustrophobic feel that is offered all throughout Eraserhead, for it only grows to linger within the head of one and never leave. Like Lynch does for exploring the breakdown of Henry Spencer, what Eraserhead creates from its visuals is a manifestation of what people are afraid of, the consequences that come from messing up, no matter how slight it may be.
I would possibly imagine there’s a lot more to be discussed when talking about an enigma like Eraserhead, because it is a film that tackles so many ideas within such a short time and it only grows to astound me upon rewatch. At first glance, I just simply thought to myself that it was only a trick on the mind. Coming back to the film many times, I don’t believe there could be a perfect understanding of what is addressed all throughout Eraserhead, but what I know for sure is that it most certainly is something worth talking about in groups, whether the impact is positive or not. Which end do I fall under? Eraserhead is a most chilling experience, one that tackles so many ideas in such a short running time, I would imagine it’s scarier to think about how it addresses them rather than how it displays them. An absolute must-see.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Absurda.
Directed by David Lynch
Screenplay by David Lynch
Produced by David Lynch
Starring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates
Release Year: 1977
Running Time: 88 minutes