'Eraserhead' Movie Review

Updated on July 16, 2018
Kyle Atwood profile image

Kyle Atwood is a published horror author who plays too many video games and watches too many horror movies to be of sound mind.


Plot Synopsis

Essentially, the film is centered around the idea of boy-meets-girl and they have a disturbing mutant child.

The film starts with a bizarre dream-like scene. The film then transitions to our main character, Henry Spencer, walking home with a collection of groceries. When he gets to his apartment, there is a beautiful girl that lives across the hall that stops Henry and informs him that, his girlfriend, Mary X, has invited him over for dinner. Henry accepts and, for lack of a better term, the dinner wound up being-- odd. As Mary's mother tries to kiss Henry, after cornering him, she informs him that Mary has had a child and that they must get married. Mary, however, is not sure if it really is a child. Sometime afterward, the couple moves into Henry's one bedroom apartment where they must care for their supposed child. The child is soon revealed to be a strange creature with a snake-like head and a tightly wound swaddle for a body. The baby cries incessantly, becoming too much for Mary to bare and she leaves Henry to care for the baby alone. What follows this event is a number of extremely bizarre and symbolic happenings.


First Impression

I am completely in love with obscure, bizarre horror films. I was recommended this movie by a friend of mine two years ago, I watched a clip on YouTube and immediately bought a DVD copy. When it arrived in the mail, I started it up and began watching and I was instantly blown away by the overall mood and visual aspect of the movie, it drew me in with its mystique and almost taboo nature, then the credits began to roll.

I did not understand it at all, this often happens to me with art-house horror films. I always have to watch them a second time, sometimes a third, and in the case of Eraserhead, it wasn't until the third viewing that it made a small portion of sense. The fourth time, however, I clearly understood that I was to take away my own meaning from the film and even now, I'm still trying to figure out what that exactly is and I absolutely love it.


Defying Explanation

Needless to say, the film exceeded all of my expectations. Trying to properly review this movie is an enduring exercise, to say the least. It's like trying to describe a teenage boy's impending adulthood. It needs to be experienced. Now that I think about it, that is what I constantly find myself doing with this movie, trying to find the right words to put to it. I guess the best and most simple word would be "it's good" but it doesn't do this brilliant movie any justice and that serene, yet thick confusion is what makes it such an original film. There just isn't the right words that I could use to evoke the skin crawling feeling that this film will most certainly give you. I suppose I can try.

My Review

In terms of story, as I mentioned before, there is just nothing like it. It is such an imaginative, symbolic journey looking at, what I believe, is the anxiety of time. It is, according to David Lynch himself, "your own interpretation", however, and I strongly suggest you give it a watch yourself.

There are also three major themes that I would like to discuss that are apparent in Eraserhead. The first: sex. Lynch is so good at showing how sex can be a double-edged sword for humanity; on one side sex is a pleasure and filled with comfort and warmth, where on the other side, sex can corrupt, we see this in one particular scene involving Henry and the girl across the hall as a pleasant, enjoyable experience. We see the dark side of sex in the form of the mutant child who looks like a sperm that didn't fully develop and shape before it was born.

The second theme is death and that is resembled by the world, the lighting, and the lack of color in Eraserhead: barren and decaying, sucked of life and left plagued by factories. However, like sex, David Lynch made death equally beautiful as it is dark, in the form of the Lady in the Radiator singing a song that states that "everything is fine here", making her the symbol of the Grim Reaper that promises salvation for Henry should he choose to follow her.

Finally, the third and most important theme we see is that of dreams (or nightmares in most cases) and the significance they have on our lives and emotions. There is one dream sequence, which I would consider the climax of the film, in which all of Henry's fears and emotions take on some physical form whether it be a tree bleeding profusely. The most important, however, is when his head leaps off of his body to expose the sperm-like face of his infant child, symbolizing Henry's fear of the duty associated to being a parent and an adult and that same fear tearing him apart.

In my research on the history and symbolism of this movie, the most common things I've come across regarding Eraserhead are the three themes I mentioned above and that brings me back to my statement at the start of this review stating that "trying to describe this movie is like trying to describe being a teenager on the verge of adulthood" and "the anxiety of time", because that's exactly what I feel this movie means. The fear of impending, grim change.

All of the depth and morbidity of the story aside, the more technical aspects of Eraserhead are also genius and refined. Specifically the cinematography work and the shadowplay that David Lynch employs in this film. Every single second is so meticulous and provoking, raw and vast. There are so many beautiful angles that really make each of the character's, and the emotions they are feeling, burst.

The acting is flawless, given the scenario these individuals have been placed in. Jack Nance (Henry Spencer) did not forget to include his entire body's reaction to the discomforting atmosphere and he manages to convey so much by saying very little. Jack truly brought this character to life by paying attention to the smallest possible details of human nature. Charlotte Stewart (Mary X) gave a phenomenally uneasy performance, as did the rest of the members of the X family.

The sound score is also very well executed by Lynch himself. It's soft and quiet when it needs to be, loud and chaotic when things get bizarre and, when paired with the entire movie being shot in black and white, it makes for a very grimy, gothic world.

The staggering seven years it took to make this film, mainly due to funding issues, certainly paid off and Eraserhead just oozes with love, gritty charm, and, most importantly, self-reflective material.


The Verdict

Eraserhead is one of the most important films of the century, involving the viewer beyond just simply watching it. The film invites our morbid curiosity to try and piece together what it is David Lynch was trying to say with his revolutionary, surreal horror film. Understandably so, this movie is not everyone but for those of you interested in this film, it is certainly a trip, to say the least

Eraserhead is stunning and pure and continues to be a journey in of itself forty years later; especially for the viewer willing to go above and beyond to immerse themselves in the experience and tone of the movie.


5 stars for Eraserhead


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