” ‘Eraserhead’ was easier to follow than this movie.”
– Crow, “Mystery Science Theater 3000: Overdrawn at the Memory Bank”
The above quote is from my favorite episode of MST3K, a geek’s dream of a show. And after finally viewing “Eraserhead,” David Lynch’s 1977 directorial debut, I have to agree.
Maybe it’s that I’m always sifting through my dreams for meaning, but this doesn’t seem that hard to understand. You have a man, Henry (Jack Nance), struggling through work, fatherhood and marriage and coming a little undone by the whole experience. Sure, his “child” is not quite human, and his wife (Charlotte Stewart) succumbs to the pressures of motherhood and leaves him, and the hottie across the hall (Judith Roberts) shamelessly ends up in his bed (then ditches him for another guy), but hey, we’ve all got problems, right?
At the beginning of this odyssey, I was sure he was the crazy one because of all the out-of-place bits and pieces that make up his world. But, remembering Lynch’s later films (bless you hindsight), Henry isn’t nuts; he’s the last sane man in crazytown, and he’s fighting a losing battle. He’s all alone in this loony bin, but he has his dreams of heaven, where he’s safe and loved and welcome. It’s here that he retreats to and where he ends up when the horrors of his life wage their final battle.
Lynch has refused to offer clarity, and maybe that’s for the best; this way, we can pick and choose our meaning and work up whatever theory we want.
As far as “Eraserhead” goes, I didn’t find it frustrating, but it was kind of boring. The imagery was the stuff of dreams (or nightmares, depending), but with such a loose narrative, it was hard to focus on the plot (as I fashioned it). Streams of surreal visuals don’t interest me, and I just can’t get into a film that’s more concerned with look than plot.
As I reminded myself while writing this, it was only the beginning. Lynch worked his way into my brain and my heart with “Mulholland Dr.,” a dark fairy tale for the ages. After that, “Twin Peaks” (the first season anyway) sealed the deal; I’m a Lynch fan, even if I don’t like all of his movies. The best thing about “Eraserhead” is that Lynch learned from his mistakes, learned how to incorporate the dreams into a structure rather than letting his visions run wild. I’m just grateful he didn’t stop here.
Written and directed by David Lynch
Jack Nance (Henry)
Charlotte Stewart (Mary X)