Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Elephant Man (1980)

Today's film is The Elephant Man. Prior to watching this, I read almost anything I could find about John (Joseph) Merrick. His life was interesting yet tragic. All he wanted was to be respected as a human being.

Merrick was found by a surgeon, who let him stay as a permanent resident of his hospital. The surgeon, Dr. Treves, was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins. It was different to see him as a generous and kind doctor when 20 years later he would portray the evil Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

John Hurt did a great job of playing Merrick. He brought such a depth to a character that I have only read about. He was too shy and scared to speak such everyone thought he was simple. But once he gained the courage to speak, he gained more respect. After he was away from his abusive manager and into his own room, he entertained visitors and didn't wear his mask. He had difficulty speaking because of the way his mouth and face were growing. He also enjoyed reading.

The filmmakers actually used molds cast from the real-life Merrick to create the makeup for the character. It took so long to get the makeup on and off that Hurt had to work every other day because he would be exhausted.

There are several references to lying down like a normal person. Merrick mentions it often, and there is a painting of a child sleeping in a bed in his room. This is important because this is how Merrick died in real life. He wanted so badly to be normal that one night he laid down on the bed instead of sitting up. His head was so massive that his neck couldn't support it laying down and it killed him.

There are a few things added to the story to make it a bit more dramatic. There was never a night watchman who brought his friends to tease and torment him. Also, Merrick was never kidnapped and taken to Europe. But it does make the movie more interesting. Merrick actually spent a quiet and uneventful life in his room at the hospital.

I have been looking forward to seeing this film for a while now. It lived up to my expectations and I am glad I read so much about this man. It's not necessary to read anything prior to watching this, because his life is portrayed semi-accurately. It's just slightly more dramatic. I will give this film a 8/10.

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