Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Elephant Man

Don't you just hate it when you get a gross pimple on your face? Somewhere prominent, like on your nose or above your lip? Don't you hate the way people react? How ashamed you feel and how many things you try to get rid of it. Now imagine, if your entire body was like one big pimple, only much, much worse and painful. What would it be like, to be an abomination of nature? To be ugly beyond mere ugliness, with no fault of yours?

I happened to see David Lynch’s ‘The Elephant Man’ tonight. What a movie! It’s a true story based on the life of John Merrick, a severely deformed man as a result of his mother getting mauled by an elephant while he was still in the womb.

Doctor Treves, a surgeon at the London Hospital first spots John at a carnival, being exposed and exhibited as a freak by an abusive, cold man. He offers to examine him and brings him to his hospital; at first assuming that he probably is an imbecile, but realizes later what an admirable, intelligent and a sensitive man he really is. Because he is so grotesquely distorted, people run away from him in terror, look at him with disgust and laugh and make fun of him. He always has to wear a hood when out in public. Dr. Treves, played remarkably by Anthony Hopkins, proves to be kind enough to realize the man beneath the hideous skin abnormalities and becomes his friend.  It’s the story of the journey of John Merrick, from the brutal beatings in the rusty dungeons of a carnival, to elite tête-à-têtes with high dignitaries and going to the theatre with the Princess of Wales.

Little things have been paid attention to in the movie, playing with human emotions, and making the audience’s hearts leap out of their chests to hug John Merrick despite his obvious repulsiveness. It makes you wonder what life would be if you had a similar fate. If you were scorned and jeered and spat upon simply because of a physical malfunction which you had no control over. What can mere misfortune do to people. It helps you realize what such people go through and would perhaps change your attitude towards them. If you usually cry in movies, then be prepared with a big box of tissues when you’re watching this one. It’s not for the faint-hearted, like me. Seldom do movies manage to touch me this much, but this one did. One hundred percent and more. It’s truly a masterpiece and I admire the makers of this movie to portray human sentiments and ruthlessness in such a convincing and raw manner.

I respect them for taking care of every miniscule thing and working so very hard to get the make-up and costumes right. The make-up of the Elephant man took SEVEN hours every time it was applied. Can you imagine the amount of patience and hard work?!
Definitely one of my favourite movies so far. If you like true stories, especially the ones that throw light on human psychology, then this movie is for you. 

"'Tis true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God;
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you.

If I could reach from pole to pole
Or grasp the ocean with a span,
I would be measured by the soul;
The mind's the standard of the man."

 —poem used by Joseph Merrick to end his letters.


  1. That poem is so heart-wrenching. You know, I've always wondered about this. We all like to boast about being part of an enlightened "modern" society. But the truth is, it is very difficult for most people to see beyond a person's appearance and notice anything else - be it kindness, sweetness, intelligence or talent.

    And this goes for not only the outward appearance of one's body but also the clothes people wear. It's really astounding to realise how shallow and superficial most of us really are.

    Elephant Man is a great film and I'm so glad you watched it and posted about it. I cried when I saw it, too. It felt like such a waste, you know, to have such a gentle soul tormented simply because others were too foolish to ignore its vessel.

    Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was also about the same idea to a large extent. I wrote a post about it once. Would you like to read it, Astha?

    It's just that I thought that you wrote this post with so much feeling that you also know what I was talking about there.

  2. Astha,That is one great film.I cried.And I cried some more.And I am a guy.But I have no problems admitting it as far as this film is concerned.On the Kleenex scale,Titanic is 1,and this one is 10:-)

    You know,one of my best friends today,is the most amazing human being I have ever come across,but is not very easy on the eyes.The first time I saw A,7 years ago,I never thought I would associate myself with that person...
    *hangs head in shame*

    "Dancer in the dark" is another film that came as close as this one in opening the floodgates...

  3. Karishma, I loved the poem so much, I think I've read it a hundred times.
    I know about the physical appearance bit. The media and society is of no help when it comes to making people believe that it is truly the person beneath the exterior that really matters.
    Even if people do judge others on the basis of their inner qualities, the first judgement we make is based on their physical appearance, isn't it?
    I was bowled over by John Hurt, who played John Merrick in the movie. He is so believable, so real, so true to the character. And they haven't exaggerated the story or incidents anywhere. The entire movie is an honest tribute to the real John Merrick. He was such a loving soul beneath all that destroyed flesh :(

    I read your post and I loved it. You've an unbelievable power to express yourself so eloquently. I know what you're talking about, it's just that maybe I wouldn't have been able to express it so beautifully. I really want to watch that play now!

  4. Arumugam, thanks for the comment! :)
    I think it is adorable when guys cry and admirable when they admit that they cry. The whole 'macho' act doesn't really impress me much.
    I guess this movie has the power to make anyone shed a few big ones. Although I cried in Titanic as well. But well, I cry in all movies.

    It is so awesome that you told me your little story here :) Not many people would share something like that. And it is okay. You're only human. 7 years ago you were probably not mature enough to understand. And frankly, it's all the beauty magazines and movies and music channels that compel us to believe that good looking people are the people we need to hang out with when we're growing up. I'm just glad you guys are best friends now! :)

    I just IMDb-ed 'Dancer in the Dark'. Seems VERY interesting. I'll watch it soon, for sure. Thanks :)

  5. Isn't it like one of those movies which is like ethereal, and elegant in its grotesqueness?!
    I think I need to add this one to the list of movies I need to have on my HD.
    I am somehow reminded of that ugly duckling phase of childhood, where I used to run away from the limelight. I used to feel horrid then. I felt unlucky in failing to acquire looks God blessed all girls around me then. Of course I didn't know.

    However how i wished the society did not judge people by their eyes! I wish we all could stop judging.!

  6. Yes Tangerine, this movie is definitely ethereal. One of the most moving movies I've seen. I couldn't stop thinking about it after watching it. Do read the original story of the real John Merrick as well.
    Know what? Even I used to feel ugly once. During the adolescent years, looking good seems so important just to fit in with the crowd. It's so sad. I wish the same. Amen.


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