The Elephant Man (1980)

elephant man poster 1980 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great acting, good visuals, strong story


Movie Info

Movie Name: The Elephant Man

Studio: Brooksfilm

Genre(s): Drama

Release Date(s):  October 2, 1980 (Premiere)/October 10, 1980 (US)

MPAA Rating: PG

elephant man sideshow john hurt freddie jones

Come one, come all and see the Elephant Man!

Joseph Merrick (John Hurt) has lived a sorrowful life.  As the Elephant Man his “owner” Mr. Bytes (Freddie Jones) has put him on display in a travelling freak show and beats him when he doesn’t perform.  When Dr. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) gets wind of Merrick and his condition, he finds Merrick fascinating…but Merrick isn’t simply an oddity.  He’s intelligent and never experienced life.  Merrick quickly becomes a London celebrity, but has he traded one jail for another and is Treves better than Bytes.

Directed by David Lynch, The Elephant Man is a biopic drama on the life of Joseph Merrick (August 5, 1862-April 11, 1890).  Following Lynch’s first film Eraserhead in 1977, the film was released to positive reviews and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Hurt), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score with the film helping lead to the creation of the Best Make-up category the following year.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #1051).

elephant man make-up john hurt anthony hopkins

I am not an animal!

I remember reading about the Elephant Man in elementary school in a biography about his life.  Something about him intrigued me, and years later when I finally saw The Elephant Man, the tragic nature of his character continues to shine.

The story leaves the judgment rather opened ended in many ways.  There is no question that Bytes was a horrible man and that Treves gave Merrick his humanity, but there is a question (as brought up in the picture) if Merrick was simply an oddity in another class.  The movie doesn’t do much to really question this and some people in the hospital setting don’t consider him an equal or anything other than an oddity (though they may not say it to Merrick’s face).

John Hurt brings the character to life.  Even through a heavy layer of makeup, he manages to emote and give dimension to Merrick that carries the character above his appearance.  Hurt reported how miserable he was in the make-up and that also adds to the pain of the character.  Hopkins is good as the doctor who is questioning his own actions.

elephant man john hurt make-up

Demonstrating the best of humanity

The stark black-and-white look of the film gives the movie a nice older look, but it also helps with the make-up.  The amazing prosthetics look just as real and textured in the black-and-white and like Eraserhead, the film has a noir feel almost more so than a Dickensian type movie.

The Elephant Man is a great sophomore movie for Lynch and stylistically shows a lot of range when compared to his other work.  In telling the story as it was told, Lynch showed that he could “play by the rules” and still create a great movie.  Hurt shows his skill as an actor as he cries “I am not an animal”…and you see Merrick’s pain.  Lynch followed The Elephant Man with the big budget movie adaptation Dune in 1984 (which he disowned upon release due to studio edits).

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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