Henry (Jack Nance) is beset by problems. In a harshly industrial environment he is troubled by disturbing visions that are not a lot milder than his “real” life. His girlfriend has given birth prematurely to a mutated creature that will not stop crying, her mother seems not to like him but then suddenly nuzzles into his neck, the beautiful woman across the hall in his apartment building is unsure how she feels about him and we, frankly, cannot be at all sure what is going on.
David Lynch has made some relatively straightforward films (The Elephant Man, The Straight Story) and some that are anything but (Inland Empire, Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway). This, his first feature film, lies squarely in the second category. Almost impossible to review by any conventional criteria (script, pacing, narrative cohesion, even acting in the traditional sense – all such elements are pretty redundant here), it is perhaps better to try to convey something of the experience of watching the film and then let everyone make of it what they will.
Lynch is undoubtedly a director of extraordinary visual creativity. Here we have the main narrative, such as it is (or such as we might guess or presume it to be), interspersed with shots of a woman on a stage smiling and stamping on writhing mutant creatures, miniature chickens that seep blood and quiver when you stick your knife into them, the protagonist’s head shooting off and being harvested for raw material for pencil erasers (hence the title, as far as anyone can surmise) and an erotic clinch on a bed becoming a woman sinking into a pool of milky liquid. It is unclear whether anything profound is being conveyed or if it is simply an exercise in wanton surrealism. If the former, then it is being conveyed pretty obtusely, if the latter then it is bang on the money.
Perhaps in the end that is the point, Lynch loosing his imagination and leaving us to pick up the pieces and distil them into whatever we might wish. It is a film that at times disturbs, at others confuses and confounds and always challenges the viewer. It is not an easy or comfortable viewing experience and if you are a serious film watcher then it is likely to sit with you for a while and give you a lot to mull over. It is not by any means one of his stronger or more accessible films, but there are a lot of signposts here towards what we would see in his later, more accomplished and coherent work. You can get Eraserhead on its own, or as part of a special collectors box set, the other components of which we will get to over the next few days.
Either (1/5) or (5/5) depending on what mood you’re in.
Extras: Both DVD and Blu-ray have a feature length documentary (“Lynch One”) which is fascinating and baffling in equal measure. Lynch discusses various projects as they are developing and speaks enthusiastically about Eastern Meditation. The Blu is said to have a handful of Lynch’s short films as well.