Human beings will always hate those different to themselves. Their is a famous saying that says that those that look alike get along really well. When no one looks like you, you have all the right in the world to feel desolate about your situation, for no one will ever accept you. You could always be accepted as the star of a freak show, that always a nice thing. A fake and illusory situation, since society will always look at you from the other side, but a situation nonetheless. Joseph Merrick might tell you something about it. Known as the Elephant Man, he can tell you how it feels to look different and to be reminded that he is. Victim of a rare disease, he is utterly deformed, at least by society's standard. In 1980, David Lynch, an American film director decided to record the life of this man.
David Lynch based his script on the book "The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences" written in 1923 by Sir Frederick Treves and "The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity" written by Ashley Montagu. Sir Frederick Treves being the doctor who helped Merrick later on in his life. The film took an interesting approach, being shot in black and white. The story taking place in 19th century London, this was more than fitting, really coming out as an old film. The film takes some time to actually show us the face of Merrick, building up a disgusting type of suspense where all are curious to see what the Elephant Man really looks like. For those of us who had seen a picture of the real Joseph Merrick, the resemblance between him and John Hurt is striking, though obviously one is wearing make up while the other isn't.
The story evokes a lot of social and psychological problems present in today's society. It shows how someone physically different is affected by such blatant disrespect and hate. John Hurt plays magnificently well to portray the emotions felt at the time by Merrick, yet it is mainly the surroundings that create the best contrast to how miserable his situation is. Almar Haflidason, from BBC, says "his moving performance contrasts with the Victorian world of industrial horror that director David Lynch tries to crush him with. The result is a glimpse into a nightmare from which a beacon of humanity clearly shines out, despite his hideous disfigurement."
A moving use of colour, done in an old fashioned way, serves the film well. Yet their are a few major flaws in this movie. First off is the John Merricks mental situation. A very interesting review by Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times talks about Merricks's supposed courage. "Wilfrid Sheed, an American novelist who is crippled by polio, once discussed this distinction in a Newsweek essay. He is sick and tired, he wrote, of being praised for his "courage," when he did not choose to contract polio and has little choice but to deal with his handicaps as well as he can. True courage, he suggests, requires a degree of choice." Dealing with disease does not mean that one is courageous, simply that he is dealing in what way he can with an uncontrollable factor in his life.