Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977, USA)

           Eraserhead is simply one of the greatest debut features of all time. A masterpiece of tone, design, and sound, David Lynch’s film – the product of a grant from the American Film Institute – launched him onto the world stage and gave birth to one of the greatest American filmmakers. It is hard to overstate the film’s influence, not only on other filmmakers but also on subculture. Originally a very limited release, the film gained traction on the midnight movie circuit, becoming one of the last great midnight movies following the likes of El Topo and Pink Flamingo.
           Eraserhead tells the story of Henry, a young man in a city that could be our own world but could also be another planet. In one of cinema’s most awkward meetings with the in-laws, Henry learns that his wife Mary has become pregnant – although something is wrong with the baby. The rest of the film becomes increasingly surreal and involves – among other things – a woman living in Henry’s radiator, and Henry’s affair with an attractive woman living across the hall. This is permeated with a deep sense of dread that grows stronger throughout the film. Lynch was inspired by his time living as a new father in Philadelphia.         

           While many have commented on the inscrutability of Eraserhead, it is not as indecipherable as some people claim. Clearly, the film is exploring the anxieties around parenthood, particularly the anxieties of an expectant father. The film also generally seems to be examining the horrors of domestic life. What is perhaps most neglected about Eraserhead is the film’s dark sense of humor. The film also has an incredible sound design, put together by Lynch and his collaborator Alan Splet. Eraserhead is truly a film that needs to be experienced rather than simply watched, preferably in the dark with a good sound system.


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