The Elephant Man

Year: 1980
Director: David Lynch
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft
Lynch's modern fable is ironically one of the straightest stories he's ever worked with (maybe with the exception of The Straight Story). It's also interesting to note that most people would assume it was much older than it really is, having been made in 1980 but shot in black and white.

A doctor (Hopkins) in Elizabethan England who gets wind of a hideously deformed man peddled as a circus freak is determined to bring him in and either study him or finally treat him like a human (it's never clear which).

Seemingly before David Lynch's mindbend, headtrip period, it was actually made after Eraserhead, so maybe Lynch wanted to tell a simple story with a strong allegory about racism or prejudice in general. If it's a plain message about how inhumane we are to the disabled or the different, it's not as potent nowdays simply because it's unlikely (we'd hope) anyone like that would really live as a circus freak, caged and whipped like an animal.

So when Hopkins' surgeon discovers John Merrick (Hurt) and brings him back to his residency hospital to care for him, not a lot more happens as everyone quickly learns to love Merrick and treat him as an equal, apart from a small number of people who visit any pain he suffers on him (all orderlies and unskilled workers who spend their nights in pubs drinking and cavorting - was Lynch saying something about class?)

The only part with any more strength than just your revulsion and sympathy for Merrick is when Hopkins' character starts to question his own motives, wondering if he's any better than the carnival guy who owned him before. Also based on a true story.

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