Eraserhead (1977)


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18   85 min  –  Fantasy | Horror | Sci-Fi  –   31 December 1978 (Poland)


David Lynch


David Lynch


Jack Nance; Charlotte Stewart; Allen Joseph


Henry gets a girl pregnant, and she gives birth to a mutant baby who keeps him – and her – awake all night every day. Throughout this entire experience of looking after the baby, Henry lives and dreams in a nightmarish world unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.


Eraserhead (1977)

Eraserhead (1977)

In Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris we see the great surrealist Luis Bunuel; he is an odd creature in this film, as his motives and dialogue seem to be centred around rhinoceroses; and indeed there is a section where he responds to every statement/question with the word ‘rhinoceros’. It is a misconception to look at a surrealist film and simply just focus on the plain weirdness of it, don’t just focus on the rhinoceroses or hands just being covered with ants. Instead it’s better to just allow the images to wash over you and manipulate you emotionally, as opposed to just staring and screaming out loud: “WHY THE HELL ARE THEIR RANDOM WORM-THINGS FALLING FROM THE SKY?!” When watching Eraserhead, it is better to allow yourself to get sucked into Lynchland and straight into the heart of its black and white nightmare.

After a beautifully impressionistic opening (which I will not disclose to you), we cut to a shot of Henry (Jack Nance). Henry hardly talks in this film, and when he does, it almost comes as a surprise to us, because we warm to his facial expressions and reactions.

In this respect, Eraserhead is very much like a silent film – again, this film uses strong intense visuals to create an atmosphere. Henry then goes into his rundown apartment building and into his own flat. His room is small and chlaustrophobic. All of the interiors are similar to the exteriors in this film, they feel industrial-like, mechanic, cold (in terms of temperature) and inhuman: we see pipes and wires leading off out of shot, and the sound of humming engines is heard throughout the entire film.

Later on, Henry visits his girlfriend. He has dinner with his girlfriend and her parents (Mr and Mrs X). During this dinner scene, the food quite literally comes alive. Later on in this scene, Mrs X takes Henry out and repeatedly asks him “Have you had sexual intercourse with my daughter?!” Never have I seen such an aggressive mother as Mrs X, but then again, wait till you see the baby that Henry’s girlfriend has produced. It is mutated, disgusting, repugnant, slimy, and yes, it cries a lot. It also looks like the alien in ET.

The next section of the film pretty much occurs in Henry’s flat. He keeps the baby on the table directly in front of his bed. We observe Henry care for the baby: looking after it, feeding it and giving it liquids to drink. We also see him get agitated and distressed as he has no idea how he produced such a thing, such a creature to use a better word. Yet, I empathised with the baby in the same way that I emphasised with the title character of The Elephant Man. It cannot help that it is a ‘freak’. These scenes are very distressing and unsettling, they get underneath your skin and they’re the sort of scenes which involve visuals and events which make you twitch.

As the disturbing dream of Eraserhead progresses, the surrealist visuals intensify. Whether the events happen, are dreams or are simply used to create a meaning or an emotion is not possible to answer. It is perhaps all of these. Henry hears someone singing in the radiator, and the camera tracks into the radiator itself, into another world…We see a girl in an abandoned theatre, the theatre again feels very cold and industrial. She begins to perform, and towards the end of the film we jump back to the scenes inside this radiator. The visuals are unique not just because of circumstance (the set is a theatre inside a radiator!) but what happens in these scenes: the strange unexplainable events that unfold. If this is Henry’s dream, then watching Eraserhead is like being sucked into two distinct worlds, the world of Eraserhead, and the world inside Henry’s head/inside the radiator.

In Eraserhead it isn’t just necessarily that one thing leads to the next. Its narrative isn’t a conventional narrative of cause and effect. Instead it is a narrative which consists of quite simply strange events happening, and we are forced to question whether they happened, what they mean and why they are happening. I must point out that I haven’t even mentioned all of the bizarre events that occur in this film, I’ve merely skimmed them in an attempt to avoid spoilers.

Overall, Lynch’s debut feature film is an exquisite example of inventive filmmaking where we see a filmmaker resort to the simple basics of film to create an emotion: visuals and sound. The surreal images and the high contrast black and white make this world seem more nightmarish than a Franz Kafka novel. The sound of the film isn’t really a musical score but rather a constant noise of humming engines and machinery, where at important moments, the sounds of the machinery and engines  rises in pitch and volume, and falls afterwards.

An important film from one of America’s most original filmmakers.


Out of all of Lynch’s oeuvre of films, this one is the most bonkers. Lynch does not like to talk about ‘meanings’ for his films, and never has his statements about meanings being useless for his films been so true. This is a film which revolves around the basic parts of film-making (visuals and sound) exploited in such an inventive way to create an unsettling and unnerving atmosphere. Eraserhead is to be experienced rather than simply watched.