Apocalypse Now by Adrian Charles Smith
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Eraserhead is a black and white body horror film that uses surrealism to convey its message. That message is that the human mind is fractured and that humans are overtly sexual beings. David Lynch’s debut has had a cult following built by those who enjoy extreme cinema. The film stars Jack Nance as Henry Spencer who has to care for his deformed child with an almost-near-apocalyptic industrial backdrop. Spencer then becomes mad and stabs the baby but his nightmare then escalates. Throughout the film Henry experiences dreams and visions which would be a device used in Lynch’s future works: Blue Velvet, Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire.
While watching the film one of the first things you notice is the impeccable sound design. Lynch spent almost a year working on the sound itself with its haunting industrial beats heard in the distance. This sound design sucks the viewer in to a world unlike their own while mirroring Spencer’s state of mind. The sound is not unlike the avant-garde score used in Kubrick’s The Shining where it also shows a man with a fractured mind. Actually Kubrick screened Eraserhead to his cast and crew because he wanted them to be in the same mood as the tone of Eraserhead.
In one of Spencer’s visions his head falls off and a boy takes his head to a factory that makes erasers. His head is then turned into erasers (thus the origin of Eraserhead). This particular dream expands on the notion of the fractured mind, that our mind is as fragile and as flaky as an eraser. The industrial landscape of the film furthers this idea as the clinking and banging of machinery eats away, almost erases, your mind.
The film plays on the idea of “the girl next door” through the actual girl next door and the lady in the radiator. Spencer experiences a sexual encounter with a girl across the hall, cheating on the mother of his child. He also has visions of the lady in the radiator who sings to him as she squishes versions of his child. The sequence of these events is important, Spencer has his dream first then the actual encounter. This shows that he lusts for sex and then acts on it. And as Spencer is an everyman it suggests that we are all overtly sexual.
David Lynch’s Eraserhead is a film of many meanings and interpretations thanks to its use of surrealist elements. However I think that it is mainly about the fractured mind and that human beings are sexual beings.
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Great Spirit, Maker of All Life. A warrior goes to you swift and straight as an arrow shot into the sun. Welcome him and let him take his place at the council fire of my people. He is Uncas, my son. Tell them to be patient and ask death for speed; for they are all there but one: I, Chingachgook, Last of the Mohicans.
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