Eraserhead (1977)

Starring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith Roberts, Laurel Near, V. Phipps-Wilson, Jack Fisk, Jean Lange, Thomas Coulson

Directed by David Lynch

Expectations: Low. Fuck David Lynch.

On the General scale:

If you like surrealism in film:


[Editor’s note: This review was my entry into the LAMB’s So You Think You Can Review tournament, in which I lost in the first round. Oh well!]

In one sentence: “Use a condom.”

A good 10 years have passed since I saw and hated my first David Lynch film (Blue Velvet) and now I find myself given Eraserhead as my first assignment in this tournament. Great! It’s been languishing in my queue for years, and now I’m forced to watch it. I’ve never understood the fascination with Lynch, but I went in with an open mind and a desire not to fall asleep too quickly. I guessed that the thick, WTF symbolism of his later films would be even worse here in his first feature. I was somewhat right on that front, but in spite of that Eraserhead easily ranks as one of the most engaging films of Lynch’s that I’ve seen. Perhaps that means some re-watches are in order for his other work, but I don’t know if I’m ready for that level of commitment just yet.

Eraserhead opens with a scene that recalls shades of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, with our main character, Henry, superimposed over the dark of space. A crusty God-figure pulls a lever while looking out his window on the infinite and an intestine-like giant sperm flies out of Henry’s mouth. This is crosscut with establishing shots of an asteroid/planet/barren, symbolic womb. Following along so far? No? Well, good luck getting through the rest of this fucking movie then. Anyway, this soon gives way to Henry on Earth carrying his groceries home (or at least a big paper sack that presumably holds some sort of products). He walks through the back alleys of a 1984-esque, dystopian science fiction world populated by derelict factories and men with deep-lined faces. I know that’s not much of a plot description, but a full paragraph that runs down the actual plot would easily contain the entire film, and that’s not my goal. But I do wish to break down what Lynch is going for here, so if you wish to see the film untainted (and really, you should), skip ahead to the last paragraph.

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