Eraserhead IU Cinema’s Friday “Not-Quite Midnight” Film

It’s not a pretty film, dark, dingy, a low-level industrial machine noise permeating the soundtrack. Interesting, though, and I’m not sure whether I like it or not. A man has made his girlfriend pregnant and now they must marry. She moves in with him in his slum apartment along with the already prematurely born baby, a creature that looks more like a reptile’s head sticking out from a cloth-swaddled body. It also cries — not a baby’s shrill cry but more a constant whimpering sound — until the mom can no longer take it, moving out and leaving the baby with hapless pop.

So pop muddles along, has a brief affair with the woman who lives across the hall; there are several dream sequences, one with a puffy-cheeked woman who “lives in a radiator” and sings a song.  In another dream sequence the man’s head flies off; it falls out the window and a boy finds it, takes it to a pencil-making factory where it’s made into erasers.  Thus the name of the film:  ERASERHEAD.  When he wakes up(?), he finally unwraps the baby’s full-body diaper to find there’s nothing beneath to serve for skin. . . .  Ick!  But eventually may find some kind of salvation, somehow, with the radiator lady.

As the film ended, a girl in the row behind me blurted, “What?”  But, yes, ERASERHEAD is nothing if not surreal.  I’d seen it before, but on DVD, and a lot seems to make more sense (symbolic and/or actual) when seen on the large screen — and some parts are quite good on any level, the awkwardness of a dinner with the man’s girlfriend’s parents as one example, though others to me seemed perhaps a bit drawn out.

To quote the IU Cinema’s blurb:  A dream of dark and troubling things, David Lynch’s 1977 debut feature, ERASERHEAD, is both a lasting cult sensation and a work of extraordinary craft and beauty.  With its mesmerizing black-and-white photography by Frederick Elmes and Herbert Cardwell, evocative sound design, and unforgettably enigmatic performance by Jack Nance, this visionary nocturnal odyssey continues to haunt American cinema like no other film.  Contains mature content, including violence and disturbing imagery.

And whether one likes the film or not might not really matter.

  1. Haven’t seen this movie in years, but a lot of the imagery has really stuck with me.

  2. Me too. I was glad for the chance to see it again.

  3. Gary Conner

    I have seen the first thirty minutes dozens of times. I love Lynch’s work and, at one time, this was available on Netflix. So, one night I settled in to watch it, and fell asleep thirty minutes in. This was at a time when I was suffering from horrible bouts of insomnia, so this film became my go-to tranquilizer. I have never seen the whole film. I *have* tried, but the effect remains.

  4. I recall, with the DVD on TV, some trouble keeping my mind from wandering at times, especially in the first scenes with the baby (though not quite to the point of falling asleep). I wonder if others have had similar feelings. On the large screen, I think, there was more opportunity to take in background detail, maybe experience the film to a fuller extent — or maybe for me it’s just a case of my being in a theater acting itself as a focusing element.

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