The Elephant Man
John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud,
In recreating the story of John Merrick, the Victorian who was reputed to be “the ugliest man alive,” David Lynch effects a study of prejudice, voyeurism, and human dignity. Merrick was born with neurofibromatosis, giving him an enlarged head, a twisted spine, and facial deformities. As an adult, he is a virtual prisoner of a traveling freak show until the surgeon Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) becomes his protector, finding funding for a private room in the London Hospital. Here Merrick very gradually reveals himself to be not only intelligent but an intellectual, and finds a measure of happiness equal to his measure of dignity. But he becomes another kind of sideshow—for high society—and Treves must ask if he himself is not a high-class carny. Lynch plays with point-of-view to make his point: aided by the actor John Hurt in an extraordinarily moving performance, he shows us what it must be like to see through Merrick’s eyes, hear with his ears.