Sunday, January 12, 2014

Eraserhead: Kris Gilpin IMHO Dept.

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I saw this 7 times until I told myself I finally "understood" it, while it instantly established Davey Lynch as my fave rave director (which he may still be today, provided he makes another damn film!!)...
This was written from a perspective of someone who viewed the film in the theater when it first came out, pre-internet and pre-VHS!

Eraserhead: An Analysis
By Kris A. Gilpin

   Since mid-1980, when I was living (if you could call it that) in New York's Hell's Kitchen, I have wanted to see Eraserhead again (making it the ninth time I've viewed the film), but this time take notes as an avid fan or "experimental" films such as this one and Britain's Anti-Clock (1980).
   Now, after having recently seen it over cable TV in L.A., I'll try to relate what the images in the film mean to me (or at least pose the questions brings to my mind), and my interpretation of certain events in the film, since Eraserhead is totally unlike any other film I've experienced (a large reason why I like it so much; it is literally like viewing someone's nightmare).
   I may be way off; I suppose that's up to you to decide. The film is very well photographed in black and white; writer/director David Lynch (who is slated to begin production on Frank Herbert's Dune) waited three years before shooting, just to get the right film stock he wanted…
   A nebbish named Henry Spencer (effectively played by Jack Nance), who is a printer, is receiving telepathic calls for help from a dying planet of mutilated beings (we only see two of them in the film).
   There sits a "man" on this planet, looking out of a broken window; it is very dark in the room. He pulls a couple of levers (played by Jack Fisk, who's the film's art director, and also happens to be Sissy Spacek's husband, he is literally listed in the credits as The Man Who Pulls The Levers) standing up on the floor towards him; his body is all cut and scaled. This action releases a series of long, slimy embryonic worms which seem to fall onto Henry's planet (Earth? Probably; one aspect of Eraserhead is that it doesn't even look like it was filmed on this planet)!
   Cut to Henry, as he is looking up over his shoulder, apparently knowing that something has happened. His hair is piled up high on his head, possibly suggesting superior intelligence on his planet (which doesn't say much for everyone else here).
   We follow Henry as he walks home, and later to his girlfriend's house, the sounds of industrial work always on the soundtrack but never witnessed on film (we never see Henry at work, either).

   I believe the first scene involving Henry's girl (called Mary X in the credits) is the one in the film played mostly for strange laughs, as if to get all amusement over the film done with early on: Henry meets Mary's family over a dinner (which never gets eaten) of tiny, whole chickens (before they sit down to eat, Henry converses awkwardly with Mrs. X; Mary goes into a cataleptic fit as they speak, and is brought out of it when her mother brushes  her hair).

   Mr. X. asks Henry to carve the little chickens, and as he touches one with the carving fork, the chicken spreads its legs and excretes blood from its open sphincter; this causes Mrs. X. to go into a tongue-wagging, screaming fit, and makes Mr. X. stare at Henry for about five full minutes with a huge, moronic smile on his face, his expression never changing.
   Shortly after that, Mary's mom tells Henry that Mary is pregnant; "It's at the hospital, Henry! Mrs. X. raves. "They're not sure it even is a baby, but it's there! "Henry replies, "But that's impossible! It hasn't even been…," then gets a nosebleed. 

   We then cut to Mary feeding her "baby" (she's since moved in with Henry). The first close-up of the child brings gasps from the film's audience: it is a triangular-shaped thing, wrapped tightly in bandages, with an animal-like head (someone told me it might be a lamb's head used for the gruesome effect; others believe it is mechanical). The freakish baby is, I believe, a result of Mary's mysterious impregnation by the embryos from the beginning of the movie.
   Meanwhile, there's the Lady in the Radiator in Henry's apartment, another alien mutant who is waiting to contact Henry; she appears to Henry on a minuscule stage in the middle of his radiator (sure it's weirdness supreme, but so is the whole flick).
   But she doesn't even get him yet.
   Mary, due to the child's incessant crying one night, goes home to Mother. The kid shuts up shortly thereafter, but screams whenever Henry attempts to the leave the apartment (it's now obvious that the dying mutants have wanted to get Henry from the start, and are using the freak baby to do it).
   However, Mary returns later for one incredible scene in which she is tossing and turning late one night in bed; Henry wakes up and, while Mary's half-asleep, pulls several of the long, stringy embryos out of his now-wife and throws them against the wall in horror!
   After he's left alone, Henry has a night of sex with the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall; they actually sink down into a white pool of wet lust that appears on his bed; the girl may only be in his imagination, but I don't think so.

   What comes next introduced the infamous Eraserhead Scene, in which the Lady in the Radiator (who has large white puffs of skin sticking out from each cheek) sings a song about heaven (some have told me the dying planet is actually heaven; I'm not entirely sure of that). (If all of this is very disjointed, sorry; that's the way the film's structured).

Henry walks up on the Lady's stage and stands behind a railing after the alien mutant "woman" vanishes; Henry's head is then ripped off, and in its place appears the baby's tiny, screaming head and neck---a nightmarish vision if ever there were one.
Henry's head falls through the stage floor, wet with blood, and falls onto the street somewhere, where a kid runs up, snatches it and takes it to a shop where Henry's brains are used to make erasers. Henry awakens after this scene, and it all appears to have been a dream (or was it)?
   All of which brings us to the gruesome climax. It begins as Henry lays in bed; staring at the ceiling and picking holes in his bedsheet; the baby starts to laugh at him repeatedly from across the room (a very funny moment in the film) from the table is is propped up on. Finally, Henry gets P.O.ed enough to get up, grab a pail of scissors, and sit next to the alien child.

   Slowly he cuts open the bandages and stares in horror at the exposed vital organs; the baby cries in fright. Henry stabs the exposed viscera, creating a flow of pus; the bay opens its mouth and coughs up gobs of blood (this moment is so disgusting, I saw punkers in the audience turn their heads the first time I saw the film). 
   Then chaos breaks out in the apartment; the lights flare up and blow out in the room. As Henry watches in horror, the baby's head somehow grows to mammoth proportions, as it stares at Henry in the darkness; Henry's wide-eyed face is backlit against clouds of eraser dust (a great shot)!
   The child's huge head somehow transports Henry to the dying planet, which is bathed in white light, as The Man Who Pulls the Levers fries himself to death from the electric sparks emitting from the levers. The Lady in the Radiator walks up to Henry and embraces him, as if to welcome him Home, as Henry stands there taking in the moment as he has for all hi life: standing still, with his eyes closed. Angelic music swell as we---
   Cut to black; The End.
   Is Henry psychically alive or dead? He has come to play God to the planet, to possibly become the new Man Who Pulls the Levers (apparently so)? Is this place actually heaven, and is Henry now God?
   It would seem the answers are up to the viewer since, apparently, only writer/director/editor David Lynch knows for sure.

   And he's not talking.


  1. I was always under the impression that Jack Fisk is listed as The Man in the Planet and not the Man Who Pulls the Levers.

    1. you could be right, Gregor, I don't remember...


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