Where your nightmares end...
Year of Release: 1977
Genre: Science Fiction
Running Time: 89 minutes (1:29)
Director: David Lynch
Jack Nance ... Henry Spencer
Charlotte Stewart ... Mary X
Allen Joseph ... Mr. X
Jeanne Bates ... Mrs. X
Judith Roberts ... Beautiful Girl Across the Hall
Laurel Near ... Lady in the Radiator
Jack Fisk ... Man in the Planet
Hal Landon Jr. ... Pencil Machine Operator
Jennifer Chambers Lynch ... Little Girl
Is it a nightmare or an actual view of a post-apocalyptic world? Set in an industrial town in which giant machines are constantly working, spewing smoke, and making noise that is inescapable, Henry Spencer lives in a building that, like all the others, appears to be abandoned. The lights flicker on and off, he has bowls of water in his dresser drawers, and for his only diversion he watches and listens to the Lady in the Radiator sing about finding happiness in heaven. Henry has a girlfriend, Mary X, who has frequent spastic fits. Mary gives birth to Henry's child, a frightening looking mutant, which leads to the injection of all sorts of sexual imagery into the depressive and chaotic mix.
If you can take anything away from this one, it'll be that suicide looks pretty good, if this is the future we're making for ourselves. Just the same, glimpses into the future are a dime a dozen in the movie industry. But those manufactured by certifiably insane people? Much harder to come by. So here's the straight skinny about the future, as told by David Lynch. First, ovens only have enough power to put a nice tan on a chicken. As Doohan would say, "they du'nt have the power." We know this because once they come out, they're still able to do the wave. Also, no middle aged women will be able to resist the Bride of Frankenstein hair. So if you can make it work, you'll have more MILF action than you'll know what to do with. An third, not only are pencil erasers made out of human heads, but no one seems surprised or asks any questions when you go to recycle one. So the future's not all bad. They really should start figuring out how to get that third one working now, just think of all the money we'd save without having to house prisoners. Not to mention the cost of pencils would come down to reasonable levels. But for the point of discussion, I'm afraid we're going to have to tear down the fourth wall. Oh heaven forbid I break a rule, certainly the movie isn't guilty of that at all. I think what I've learned most about Eraserhead is that, the less you know for certain about the plot of a film, the better that makes it. There's not a damn thing you can interpret as a certainty in this movie. The whole thing may be a dream. It may be shot for shot exactly what happens. Some characters may not physically exist, then again they may. An if they do, in what capacity? Are the events metaphors? If so, what for? One thing at least seems spelled out for certain, those being the sexual undertones. But can you even be sure of that? After all, you're not certain about anything else. If the entire movie isn't a dream, how many of the scenes in which he appears to wake up in bed were dreams, an how much of those scenes were real? Does the climax actually happen the way it's shown, or is that a dream?
Only David Lynch knows, an he'll never tell. He wants the viewers to decide for themselves what it means. Although he certainly seems to revel in the idea that, of all the theories he's heard, no one has explained it, in accordance with what he envisioned. So the fact of the matter is that we'll probably never find out. This is the kind of movie that's just made for people with hyphens an Roman numerals in their names. You know the type. The ones that hang out in Starbucks for hours at a time, wearing berets an the black nerd frame glasses, that sit cross legged with one elbow on the table doing their impression of Rodin's "The Thinker" an generally supporting a look of extreme constipation. Lynch had this crowd in mind when he made this thing, cause the movie is essentially an 89 minute, visual, "choose your own adventure" book. It allows the intellectual crowd the perfect muse with which to argue the deep, psychological aspects of Jack's character, an how all these seemingly nonsensical sequences all make perfect sense if you're just "open minded" enough, or "receptive" enough to see the deeper meaning. Which is invariably the opposite of what the other intellectuals believe it to be. So the debate rages on forever, with no clear winner because one theory is just as valid as another, an we're never going to get any kind of definitive answer from Lynch whose probably getting a tremendous chuckle out of the whole situation. An that's assuming he even knows what any of it means, if any of it means anything an people aren't trying to turn something that legitimately has no meaning into a Rorschach ink blot test. I have a theory, myself. Not about what any of this nonsense means, or IF it means. I'm more interested in why so many people love it, aside from the obvious notion that, if you like it, people will think you're sophisticated and intelligent. That's a given. Which isn't to say that I don't like it, it's alright. I just get the idea that so many people love it because, with no aspect of the movie really set in stone, they can interpret it anyway they want to. And if the movie's exactly what you want it to be... well, by definition, that'd make it perfect. Would it not?
Dude, that's deep. Incidentally, I'm going to reveal the ending, as nothing in the entire movie is for certain, it doesn't seem like the kind of movie you can really spoil by revealing the ending, because it must be seen to be believed.
Eraserhead begins with a sideways image of Jack Nance's face, getting more an more horrified by an albino lamprey that's growing larger an larger beside his head, until it can no longer fit in the frame an splashes down into a pool of liquid not much bigger than the lamprey itself. But before the lamprey can achieve splashdown, this sweaty guy that lives in a dingy one bedroom apartment has to pull a lever. We assume the lever releases the lamprey from it's bondage, so it can return to it's natural environment. Next thing, Jack Nance walks home through what looks like a sanitized version of downtown Detroit until he gets home to his own dingy, one bedroom apartment. The electricity is set to intermittent, an there's no running water, so you can expect that if it was located in NYC in the present day, it'd be around $1800 a month. As he arrives at his door, the lady across the hall tells him that his girlfriend called an that if he doesn't show up for dinner at her folks' house he's gonna be stuck eating Bachelor Chow for the 82nd day in a row. So he decides to head over to his girlfriend Mary's house, but first he needs to toss his wet sock on the radiator so that the room'll stink up real good an no woman will ever wanna ride his Pink Pet. So once all his plants start dying he calls it a day an heads over to Mary's house, where she grudgingly invites him in, kinda like when Bill comes come at night at the Clinton estate. Once inside, Mom starts making small talk with Jack about what he does while Mary starts acting like an old hound dog that's got some jerk that won't stop scratching her belly. Then Dad comes out an starts telling Jack about how he's not as good as he once was cause he's got two bum knees, presumably from all the ass kissing he has to do with Mom, who promptly scolds him an tells him to get his bitch ass back in the kitchen. Then Dad asks Jack if he wants to carve the little chickens he's prepared for dinner, only he didn't notice the label said "Chernobyl Farms" an every time Jack tries to cut the chicken they do the wave an pump out about a quart of blood. Then Mom starts acting like there's someone under the table performing cunnalingus on her an she an Mary have to get out of there before Mom's panty shield goes south. A few moments later, Mom returns, all the while Dad's been looking at Jack with a shit eating grin, an she wants to talk to him in the other room.
She wants to know if he an Mary ever made the sign of the four tailed garden weasel. Then Jack starts to get real nervous an Mom tries to calm him down by sticking her tongue down his throat, but that just makes things worse an Jack has to get Mary to pry Mom off him an get him a fresh pair of shorts. After Mom regains her composure she explains that Mary's baby is at the hospital, except it's got a few structural defects an looks a lot like Admiral Ackbar from Return of the Jedi. Then Mom says they have to be married, cause mutant or no mutant, she's not about to be the only one in her church group with a bastard in the family. Jack says that's fine cause he didn't have any other plans for the next 18 years anyway. Then, at some point in the undisclosed future, Mary's moved in with Jack an is trying to get Ackbar to eat, only she's not having much luck an she'd rather let it die than have something that ugly sucking on her titty. Then Jack comes home an has a lengthy staring contest with the radiator until it's time for go to bed. Only when it's time to sleep, there's a hurricane going on outside an Ackbar won't shut his god damn cry hole an Mary freaks out an has to try to drag the bed across the floor with her teeth until she can get calmed down enough to tell Jack that she's going home an doesn't wanna play house anymore. Jack don't much care, because she was really starting to cramp his style an he knows that he an Ackbar can make it if they try, just the two of them. So he gets up to take the little shit's temperature, only it's a mutant an we don't know what its temperature's supposed to be, an what's worse, it must be allergic to thermometers because within moments it shrivels up into a turkey neck an sprouts more acne than the high school chess club. So Jack has to setup a humidifier to blow into Ackbar's face until it shuts up long enough for him to get some shut eye. Then he dreams about a blonde chick that's storing up sunflower seeds for the winter in her cheek pouches that sings to him about how hunky dory everything is in Heaven, all the while she's stomping on more albino lampreys. Then he wakes up an Mary's back in bed with him, an she won't stop having epileptic fits all over the bed so he has to get up an pull a half dozen lampreys out from under her an splatter 'em against the wall. Only one of the lampreys turns into a Rock Slurm from Eureka's Castle an starts darting all over the screen until it finds a hole to slip into.
Then he wakes up still another time an there's a knock at the door. It's the hot lady from across the hallway, an she wants to know if he'd like to play hide the salami on account of his wife vanishing on him again. He tries to keep a gag order on Akbar so she won't get wise to his mutant sperm, but it turns out that she's okay with it because she's had much uglier babies than Ackbar an then Jack delivers the package, if you know what I mean. Then he has another dream where the hamster babe is singing again, only this time he gets up on stage an an she vanishes in a beam of white light. We presume she's been abducted by aliens an pretty quick a big mound of dirt with a tree growing out of it takes center stage an Jack's head pops off an regrows another one like Tony Shalhoub in Men in Black, only it's Ackbar's head instead of Jack's. Then we're outside an his original head drops onto the street an the top busts off of it. It's just as well, because the kid that snatches it up an hauls butt with it needed to crack that part off anyway so the pencil manufacturer can get to the brain for use in the eraser making process. But before we can see how much coin the kid received for bringing in the head, Jack wakes up again. He hears another knock at the door but it's just the lady across the hall wanting to show him how ugly a man she's willing to sleep with, an Jack reenters his apartment, dejected and more than a little concerned about how much clap he's likely to have acquired. Then Ackbar starts cackling at him an Jack decides this is the perfect time to cut Ackbar's body wrap off an see how well his skin condition has improved. Unfortunately, it hasn't improved at all, an it turns out the wrap was all that was keeping the internal organs from becoming external organs an he starts stabbing Ackbar's guts with the scissors until it bleeds out about five gallons of cottage cheese an it's head starts swelling up like Mark Zuckerberg when he decided to put Facebook on the stock exchange. Then he sees the guy inside the rock from the beginning of the movie, only he's got real bad psoriasis now an as he pulls the lever again sparks start flying like he's got a 5 alarm Chinese fire drill goin' on around his feet an then Ms. Hamster Cheeks gives him a big hug. The End.
The jokes kinda write themselves, but the real problem is, how do you rate this movie? There are those that think it's a fantastic piece of surrealist artwork that's so mind blowingly sublime that you can't possibly put its greatness into words. Then there are others that think it's the stupidest thing ever made because it doesn't make sense to them an they can't understand any of it. For me, I think I get about as much of it as can be gotten, without venturing into what it all means. I don't much care what it all means, although I will take my own stab at what I *think* it means, but my theory is no more plausible, likely, or original than anyone else's. It seems to me like the Man in the Planet, that we see only twice, is Jack Nance's brain center, the planet being basically the brain's housing. Which kinda explains why near the end of the movie, the man is disfigured an the levers aren't pulling without a great deal of effort, an there's sparks flying all over the place. His brain's gone to mush over the recent events of the movie an is short circuiting. The Woman in the Radiator, seems like she may be Jack's conscience. She's telling him he needs to get Ackbar out of the picture because he's nothing but a screaming aborted calf fetus an is gonna seriously dampen his prospects for normalcy if he keeps him around. I come to this conclusion after watching her stomp the sperm and the hug at the end of the movie, which looks to be vindication on her part, showing Jack that he's done what needed to be done. The Lady in the Radiator theory isn't my own, I just read it an happen to think it makes as much sense as any other. The bottom line is, you don't know what it means, an you never will, so the best advice I can give is to decide what you think happened, an don't pay it anymore mind than that. As long as you think you might know what it all means, your theory is as good as anyone else's. An incidentally, unless you're able to convince yourself that your theory is an absolute certainty, having a theory you're not confident of doesn't help to rate the movie. At all. Much as I'm discovering now as I try to.
So overall, the plot is pretty confusing. There are enough things we can take to be probably true about the story to rate it at least. So based upon those few things, I like the plot. The special effects are fantastic, in the sense that, they may not make sense, but they're not supposed to. So I can just judge them by their appearance, cleanly. Ackbar steals the show. If only he'd been home from the hospital when Mary asked Jack to marry him so he could have squealed "IT'S A TRAP!" The shooting locations are great, the bleak and horrible future looks bleak and horrible, an the atmosphere of Jack's apartment is really well executed. Mostly I refer to the little touches that don't have much attention drawn to them, the dusty, dilapidated feel, the fact that the electricity is constantly flickering on an off, an the pots of water stored inside his dresser drawers paint quite the picture. Equally important, and if you can ever make a case for the soundtrack being more important than the visuals, this would be the movie to try it with, it's got a great soundtrack. Technically, it has no soundtrack, it's all just a collection of sound effects of the bleak and horrible future going on around Jack in the background. From the machinery constantly rumbling in the background, to the wind storm, the trains, it quite possibly does more for the atmosphere of the movie than any other soundtrack in movie history. An it basically doesn't have one. Not too many movies lack music (I'm not counting Laurel Near's singing), but they always seem to stand out, for no reason other than that it goes against everything we're used to experiencing in a movie. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is another movie that comes to mind. It definitely has its share of sound effects, as Eraserhead does, but no real music to speak of. In that respect, they're both odd and disorienting. It may also be the only movie I've ever seen where, if the acting was bad, it's unlikely that anyone would notice, due to all the crazy shit going on. That said, the acting isn't bad. I would say that it's confusing, in certain cases. Both Mary and her mother have an indeterminate disorder that causes them to have spasmatic fits, an since you don't know what causes them, you really don't know what they're supposed to look like. Radioactive fallout I guess, that's usually the culprit. Anyway, I dunno what the fuck else to say about this movie. It's interesting as all get out. Never a dull moment, that's for sure. I recommend watching it at a time where you've got a good half an hour available afterwards to figure out what the hell you just saw.