Old Favourites: Eraserhead
It took David Lynch nearly 6 years to bring Eraserhead into reality, and once you see it you will understand why. Considering Lynch’s subsequent efforts like Dune, Mulholland Drive, and the breathtaking Blue Velvet, there always seems to be a sense of ambiguity and symbolism to his filmmaking. I suspect that to even attempt a review of Eraserhead would drive me to madness.
Lynch beautifully portrays this unnamed depressing, post-apocalyptic neighbourhood where Henry (Jack Nance) lives. Soon enough, he learns from his neighbour (Judith Roberts) that his girlfriend MaryX (Charlotte Stewart) has invited him for dinner with his family. Henry does not look excited, in fact, he looks a bit drained and distraught. A “Lynchian trip” begins when Henry meets the parents for dinner, this will probably be the most unsettling version of the 'boyfriend meets the family' trope you will ever see. We see a dog feeding its puppies in the corner of the house, a catatonic old woman on the sofa, and for dinner, a “man-made chicken” that begins to gush out blood when cut to serve. To top everything, Henry finally learns he is the father of MaryX’s premature baby. Ah-the baby! How to describe it? Imagine a cross between a foetal version of an evil dead character and something plagued, that gushes out some sort of slime when it cries. After, a couple of days of this domestic bliss, Henry and his girlfriend separate and he is left alone to take care of this baby.
Soon we encounter quite a disturbing scene as Henry’s chopped off head is found by a child wandering the street who takes the head to a pencil factory. We now see Henry’s brain turned into an “eraser”, gradually the eraser is tested and the residue is blown away in the wind. I think this “blown away” residue could symbolise his unwanted memories of an unborn child. The baby gets sicker day by day and to escape this reality, Henry floats though some dream-like states and we begin to visit his unconscious (I like to call it that).
Whilst floating we encounter a severely burnt man who is pulling down a lever to launch a sperm-like creature coming out of henry’s mouth and a dancing woman stomping on a sperm-like creature, suggesting an end to its existence, perhaps another allusion to the premature baby. Henry eventually comes to terms with reality (I like to believe that) and checks in on the baby, I won't say what happens next. But you will be left with some lingering images once the film eventually cuts to black.
Eraserhead is a brilliant mixture of narrative and experimental structure with strong storytelling points to give viewers something to hang on to, at least in the early stages, before completely mesmerising them with its more daring moments later on. At the same time, while some have attempted to explain "Eraserhead" as Lynch's nightmarish take on the perils of a pro or anti-abortion stance, it is testament to the power and purity of his perception that even after several years, it is still a terribly difficult film to pin down.