The Elephant Man (1980)

The Elephant Man – 1980

Director – David Lynch

Starring – John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft

Slow, cruel, and beautifully filmed.  These are the main adjectives I would use to describe David Lynch’s, The Elephant Man.  Set during the Victorian era in London, The Elephant Man tells the real life story of John Merrick, a seriously deformed man led from one freak show to another.  Anthony Hopkins stars as Frederick Treves, a doctor who takes it upon himself to rescue Mr. Merrick from the actual freakshow that he is performing in, puts him up in his hospital, and attempts to teach him civilized behavior.  Treves parades Merrick around, using his notoriety to advance his own reputation, all the while claiming to help him.

When word gets around that the “Elephant Man” (called this partially due to his appearance, and partially because his mother was mauled to death by an elephant) has gained a certain popularity with the upper crust, the owner of the freakshow (Bytes) comes back to collect his “treasure”.  Treves and Bytes play a game of tug-of-war with Merrick, neither considering him or his feelings in the least.  In terms of characters, Merrick himself played with a certain amount of humanity and grace by John Hurt, is the only character who really has any redeeming characteristics.  Despite his huge prosthetic make-up appliances, Hurt manages to imbue Merrick with a certain subtlety.

On the brightside, the film looked beautiful.  Shot in silky black and white, each characters shadowy nature plays itself out visually on the backdrop of dreary, foggy London.  Each of the set pieces is crawls with life, some of it unsettling and horrible, and some of it approaching dignity.  As the movie goes on, the mood, as well as the visual tone of the film grows subtly and slowly brighter.

Of the Lynch films that I’ve seen so far, I would have to say that this is smack in the middle.  It doesn’t reach the fantastic weird heights of films like Mulholland Drive, or Blue Velvet, but it doesn’t quite fall to the un-intelligable depths of Lost Highway, or Inland Empire.  If you’ve seen any of David Lynch’s other films, you will see some similarities but he clearly grew and matured since finishing this film.  Despite, or perhaps because of this, The Elephant Man was one of his more critically successful films and has since allowed him to go on and become a unique independant voice, if only for that reason, this film deserves it’s place on the list of 1001 Movies You Should See Before You Die.

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The Graduate (1967)

TheGraduate

The Graduate – 1967

Director – Mike Nichols

Starring – Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft

A classic film.  One that, I’ve been told, encapsulates an entire generation.  It sums up what it’s like being in that in-between stage in life, where you’re not quite a responsible adult, and you’re no longer a care-free kid.  I have to say that this summary of The Graduate is entirely true, although, to fully appreciate these selling points one has to be part of that demographic.  At the very least you have to be near to that demographic, otherwise the just out of college (or recent graduate, get it, get it…?) Benjamin Braddock starts to seem more and more like a shiftless young man who just doesn’t know what he wants.

The story starts out after Ben has graduated from college with a number of honors, and the pride of his parents overflowing.  The guests at his party are gushing about him, dying to know more about his time in college, but all he can think about is getting away from them and being alone.  It is during this wallowing, that he encounters Mrs. Robinson, a sexually hungry neighbor who wastes no time in seducing him.  At first Ben is frightened, but eventually days later, his curiosity gets the better of him and he voluntarily accepts her lustful advances.

Mrs. Robinson, a woman unhappy in her marriage, and unfulfilled by her choices in life, is attempting to dampen the pain through their purely physical encounters.  Conversation, and social niceties are thrown out the window, as she apathetically, almost coldly manipulates Benjamin in order to get what she wants.  Benjamin, fascinated by the attention he is getting from her, doesn’t quite know how to handle the clinical approach that Mrs. Robinson takes, and continually attempts to engage her.  Ultimately he persists long enough, and delves deep enough to find out something of why she is engaged in this deception of her family with him.

During their affair, Ben lets everything else in his life slide.  The drive and ambition that defined him in his college career, now gives way to malaise and ennui, causing his parents to finally confront him.  In an attempt to get him back on track, it is suggested that Ben take Elaine Robinson out on a date (his parents are un-aware of Ben’s affair with Elaines mother).  Ben’s submission on this issue, and his and Elaine’s subsequent date sets into motion the main conflict of the movie.

While this movie almost certainly defines what it is like to be young, and to break free of the mold that has been set for you, it also chronicles the consequences of such impulsivity.  For every life altering decision that Benjamin Braddock makes to forge his own way, there is a life long regret that Mrs. Robinson is continually trying to make up for.  For every plot element that looks forward into a promising future, there is an equally strong storyline looking back on decisions that can’t be un-made.

That being said, what you get out of this film depends entirely on where you are in your own life as you watch it.  I for example, just turned thirty, am engaged, and have a steady job that I work hard at everyday.  I see the folly in Benjamin’s decisions more than I do the glamour.  Dustin Hoffman does a great job of playing the impulsive, wandering, naivety that most college kids our just out of school.  He is young capable of getting what he wants, and most of all he is only really concerned with himself, and what seems to be best for him in the present.  Anne Bancroft on the other hand, does a fantastic job of playing the person who used to be just like Benjamin Braddock.  Someone who, only now, can see the error of her choices.

Visually, the film is put together beautifully.  It flows together much like the characteristic songs from the soundtrack.  Each shot goes with the next, and is bourne from the last.  The patterns layered in the montage scenes repeat themselves to illustrate the scheduled and repetitive nature of Ben’s life, and start to fall away when he becomes more impulsive and free-wheeling.  The color is rich and vibrant, which aides  the slightly unreal quality that one feels after completing  something as life-changing and influential as graduating college.

While the Graduate maybe didn’t have the same effect on me that it did on others, it did have an effect none the less.  While I don’t think it is the film that completely defines who I am, or who I was, neither are the films that at one time did define me.  As much as Lost in Translation once meant to me, i’m coming to it from a different perspective now, and it doesn’t quite mean the same thing.  That being said, just because it doesn’t define me, doesn’t mean it isn’t saying something important anyhow.  The same is true for The Graduate.

“Hoffman at his tannest.” – Ashley