Now Streaming: ERASERHEAD, Weirdness Personified
Recently I scrolled through the HBO Max catalog and came across David Lynch's cult classic Eraserhead from 1977, starring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart and Judith Anna Roberts. [The film is also available to stream via The Criterion Channel, along with several eary shorts.]
The film is a bizarro look at Henry Spencer (Nance), a "man" who seems very awkward in his demeanor and timid in his countenance. He walks over to his wife's house to have dinner with her family; the dinner is creepy at best and frightening at worst, with what seems like a sexually-repressed mother and a very strange father.
The dinner is filled with awkward conversation and disgusting little hens that seem to literally orgasm blood in the wake of being cut open. The audience later comes to find out that Henry and his wife Mary X give birth to what looks like an alien baby with an incredible sickness.
Of course, as the film goes on, their alien child gets progressively sicker with an unknown
disease that looks like the foulest thing that has ever been put to screen, with a slew of maggots running around over the deformed child's body that only makes for incredibly uncomfortable viewing. To add to the bizarre and gross imagery, Mary X looks to be dancing with exaggerated and swollen cheeks, while crushing over-grown sperm with puss emitting from the specimen.
These are some of the scenes that intrigue and gross-out at the same time and it's very strange to have this lack of cohesion or random insertion of imagery inside of a narrative film. Moreover, the people in this film are cold and almost emotionless. One could even make the argument that they appear soulless in the absence of this somber setting. Almost every word of dialogue is spoken with lackluster enthusiasm.
I'm not sure if it was Lynch's intention, but it seems like something that leaves viewers
scratching their heads and tilting an eyebrow. It definitely stands out among the crowd of films that came out in 1977, but it only seems to stand out for being weird in its execution. I'm not sure what the moral is. I don't know what to take away from it and I have no idea what David Lynch was trying to tell audiences when he wrote this film.
All I know is that this film zig-zags through its story's trajectory and fails to make me look at it thinking that I have seen something that makes a modicum of sense. Cutting off heads and other body parts is okay if they make sense in the narrative. This just seemed gratuitous. I will forever cringe when I think of Eraserhead from now on.
[Editor's note: for another perspective on the film, we invite you to read Niels Matthijs' positive review from 2012, in which he concluded: "Eraserhead is definitely a film worth seeing, if only to experience a kind of film that doesn't rely on plot to deliver its message."]