Luck. Who needs it more than we?

Luck. Who needs it more than we?

 

There’s always something affecting about a character in a film looking straight to camera. When pupils fix themselves on ours, it’s as if they know we are watching and decide that we should be watched right back.

When film stares through the screen at us, it’s as if it knows we have come in seek of entertainment, amazement, and moral reassurance. In that moment, film says “You know why you’re here, look me in the eye and ask”

Problem is, when forced to look at something we consider lesser and ask something of it…few of us truly have the fortitude.

THE ELEPHANT MAN is a David Lynch film from 1980 about a deformed 19th century man who began as a sideshow freak, and was brought under the care of a curious doctor. The man himself is John Merrick (William Hurt) – a fascinating sight, while a sad and gentle soul after spending so much of his life as the subject of ridicule and spectacle. When discovered at a carnival by Dr Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), Merrick is soon brought to a hospital to be studied, and eventually treated.

Merrick, it turns out, is far more aware and educated than anyone has given him credit for, and soon he is articulating his thoughts – every sweet, fearful, and sad thought in his head.

As days pass at the hospital Treves has brought him to, Merrick’s life toggles back and forth between beauty and terror…able to speak his mind, but often unable to affect the thoughts of those around him who still only want to gawk and laugh.

 

The Elephant Man

 

Watching THE ELEPHANT MAN, it’s hard not to get caught-up in its voyeuristic nature. The late nineteenth century was an age where oddities were peddled for  amusement, intrigue, horror, and entertainment. The theatre wasn’t enough, the printed page wasn’t enough…people wanted to look upon the truly macabre and feel…something. Perhaps they wanted to feel superior, perhaps amazement. Whatever it was, people from all walks and all classes wouldn’t turn up the chance to step into the tent and be amazed.

The look on people’s faces when the first see John Merrick is truly affecting. One wonders how any soul could deal with such expressions day-in and day-out.

One would like to say we’ve evolved since then (would they have needed an elephant man if they had Netflix?), and that we’re more humane. One would like to believe that we wouldn’t stop and stare at the afflicted and physically flawed. But are we really so much more evolved?

Do we not still flock to a story to feel better about ourselves? Do we not still latch on to stories of great tragedy for selfish reasons? After all, in the age of social media, one need not even step into the tent anymore…one can find whatever spectacle they most desire with a few keystrokes. One can see the rise and fall of any individual from the light of their phone’s LED.

We might not be gasping at the bearded lady anymore, or laughing at the dwarves…but truly, how much better off are we gossiping about botched plastic surgery, public shaming, and wardrobe malfunctions?

 

John Hurt in The Elephant Man

 

THE ELEPHANT MAN is all so incredibly macabre, leaving me to wish that David Lynch made more films like it. While my Lynch comprehension is still in a state of flux, most of what I know seems grittier, weirder, and trippier than what I watched unfold in THE ELEPHANT MAN.

The film had a lot of the flourishes that I’ve come to expect from Lynch, especially in its darker moments…but so much of that is offset with pure elegance or romance of the era rendered in stunning black and white. Twice over, I watched characters cry a single tear in response to what they are witnessing, and both moments were far more affecting than 90% of the oddities I have seen in the rest of Lynch’s work.

Perhaps it’s because it feels more sympathetic than most of his other stories I’ve seen…or perhaps it’s because it feels the most elegant (scene after scene feel like daguerrotypes come to life). Whether it’s the pathos the photography, the film seems like it’s Lynch at him most mature…and yet, it comes from an early stage in the man’s career.

Is it possible that exposure changes an artist? Perhaps Hollywood made Lynch a weird-o similar to the way civil society tapped into a melancholy side of Merrick’s attitude?

Who knows.

All I can say is that from those striking opening images, to those deeply sympathetic and loving looks, THE ELEPHANT MAN felt like a man who had learned something from BLUE VELVET and LOST HIGHWAY…not a man who still had those stories in him.

 

Anne Bancroft in The Elephant Man

 

THE ELEPHANT MAN feels like a plea…but a plea for what, I cannot say for sure.

It’s iconic line suggests a plea for deeper humanity (“I am not an animal!…”), but how many of us can truly rise to the plateau that someone like John Merrick deserves. Even the doctors in this film wonder why they are doing what they’re doing after a while; suggesting that they are not acting out of charity or decency, but in-fact for their own fortune and gains.

Perhaps that’s the film’s plea: for true charity.

Surgeons take interesting cases for pedigree, lawyers take high-profile cases for marketing. What do the charitable get from stewardship? Do they earn grace from the almighty? Gratitude from the afflicted? Both? Will we only act charitable if there’s something in it for us, or are we capable of genuine grace?

One hopes that at least a few of us have that virtue. One hopes that just a tiny fraction of humanity is capable of not flinching from the sight of the Merricks of the world, and furthermore, capable of helping him without need for kudos.

Such selflessness is rare more than one hundred years AEM (“After Elephant Man”)…perhaps as rare as finding such a soul as Merrick himself.

Perhaps that should be a carnival sideshow?

Step right up! Right this way!! They think nothing of themselves, only the masses…Step inside and see the selfless, charitable soul!!!

 

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I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.

 

Here’s the round-up for April so far…

 

Erin watched LITTLE CAESAR

Beatrice watched THE USUAL SUSPECTS

Coog watched CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND

Wendell watched THE DOORS

Sean Kelly watched THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS

Brittani watched IN THE BEDROOM