The Elephant Man opens in characteristically Lynchian fashion, a woman is knocked over by an elephant as circus music blares in the background. David Lynch is flexing the muscles he developed during his debut masterpiece Eraserhead, suggesting an equally surreal flick. With the exception of a few sequences, however, The Elephant Man depicts the life of Joseph Merrick- a grotesquely deformed freak show attraction- with austere restraint. Which approach is more effective? Neither. Both Lynch’s surreal meanderings and his stiff upper lip simplicity have to contend with the dullness of Merrick’s life story. Whatever dramatic substance compelled the screenwriters to pen this adaptation, is lost in the insipid dialogue and performances (to be fair, all that makeup might complicate acting a smidgen). The lesson to be learned from The Elephant Man is that great suffering doesn’t necessarily make for a great story.
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