Monday, November 18, 2013

David Lynch’s Eraserhead Explained!


Eraserhead is one of David Lynch’s most recognized films; it was also his first, which by the way took about six years to make while Lynch studied at the American Film Institute. Now for those of you who don’t know a blip about David Lynch’s films, they often times defy interpretation, they’ll make you wonder just what the hell the filmmaker is trying to say with them. Sometimes a David Lynch film will be so surreal that you’ll want to see it again instantly! Or not. You see, Lynch is a very polarizing director, you either fall in love with his style of filmmaking or you don’t. I personally love Lynch’s films because of how challenging they are. I like films that defy me to interpret them, I love films loaded with symbolisms and Lynch’s films are like that. Eraserhead for example is one of those films that everyone always tries to figure out after seeing. Ask anyone about any David Lynch film and they’ll give you their own interpretation of it because his films work that way, they could mean anything to anyone. So here I offer you guys my interpretation of Lynch’s Eraserhead! Cause the way I see it, it’s not as much of a mind twist as most make it out to be! This article is goes into detail about specific moments in the film and its themes so if you haven’t seen the film, skip it and come back after you’ve seen it.


CHAPTER I: HENRY WORRIES ABOUT BEING A FATHER

From its very first frames, Eraserhead challenges you to interpret what you are seeing and you definitely get the idea that you’re in for a surreal film. During the whole film, we constantly revisit what’s going on inside the head of Henry Spencer, the films main character, which is why the film starts out by showing us one of Henry’s many dreams. In this first dream, we see Henry’s head, floating through space. Now apparently, what Henry is having is a nightmare involving something that looks like a giant sperm coming out of his mouth, floating through space. This is not the only reference to sperm that we see in the film by the way; which kind of lets us know what the film is really about! So anyhow, this evil looking man called “The Man in the Planet” pulls a lever, and out comes the sperm from Henry’s mouth, flying through space. The Man in the Planet could represent many things, but since the film addresses sexual themes, I’m gonna go down as saying that this Man in the Planet could possibly represent Henry’s sexual desires? At any rate, this ominous character represents something that controls Henry, and what’s more controlling than our sexual desires? Do they not sometimes control us like a puppeteer pulling strings? So anyhow, as the giant sperm floats through space, it ends up on a planet, as it keeps going down; the sperm thing goes into a dark crevasse. Now it doesn’t take much to figure out that a sperm going into a crevasse would represent impregnation? Taking in consideration that this film is all about the horrors of unwanted pregnancy, well, if you put one and two together you’ll understand that what we are seeing here is Henry Spencer impregnating his girlfriend, Mary X. But this is all happening in Henry’s mind, so what we’re really seeing here is Henry having a nightmare about the possibility of having gotten his girlfriend pregnant.


CHAPTER II: HENRY’S HUMBLE AND DEPRESSING LIFE

Fast forward to Henry coming home from work walking through an industrial wasteland; this is where we learn just what a decidedly bleak landscape Lynch wants to paint with this film. Henry not only leads a depressing lonely life, he lives in a depressing looking city, made this way by industrialization. This is a city without trees, without beautiful looking anythings, this city that Henry lives in and walks through every day from and to his job is one industrial nightmare. It seems post apocalyptic, abandoned, an utterly sad place to live in. The apartment building in which Henry lives in is equally depressing. Henry is portrayed as the quintessential, low income blue collar worker who can only afford to live in these sad circumstances, with only the bare necessities, in an apartment filled with dirt and dying vegetation. Here is where we find out that this is definitely a man who does not have the means to bring a child into this world and care for it properly. He can barely take care of himself.


CHAPTER III: THE WORST DINNER EVER

Next, Henry gets a message from his sexy, provocateur neighbor that he has received a phone call from Mary X, inviting him over for dinner so he could meet her parents, a notion that completely horrifies Henry. He doesn’t seem to be in love with Mary at all and Mary doesn’t seem to be head over heels for Henry either, but something is bringing them together tonight, what could it be? This is where the main theme of the film is revealed. Their unwanted pregnancy and all the awkward, uncomfortable and downright horrifying situations it will create. Henry has to face the possibilities of having to marry Mary, a girl which he obviously doesn’t love. And that’s the worst part about it, by the way they behave around each other, it’s quite obvious that Henry and Mary had a one night stand type of deal and that no love was involved. But here’s Henry, months after having had intercourse with Mary, facing the realities of being a father. Mary asks Henry “You wouldn’t mind marrying me would you Henry?” to which he nervously answers “Well….no.”

"Just cut em up like regular chickens"

Onward we go to meeting Mary’s parents. Mr. and Mrs. X, and boy is this encounter one of the most awkward situations every filmed. First, Henry meets Mary’s mother and of course she begins everything by asking Henry what he does for a living, because all she cares about is how Henry is going to take care of her daughter. Everyone in this room seems to be uncomfortable around one another, everything we see, a dark omen of the negative energies floating around that living room! At one point Henry looks at the floor and sees a dog, feeding her puppies, all of them sucking on her mother’s breasts like mad little doggies. Henry looks at this image and it horrifies him because it obviously reminds him of the responsibilities that await him as a father; it’s here that he realizes that from here on in, a child will depend on him for all of its needs! The energies on this room are so negative that the lamps on the room begin to flicker on and off until the light bulb explodes! Next we meet Mary’s father, a man who is not all that different from Henry, a blue collar worker as well, who has been apparently driven insane by 30 years of hard labor. Same as in many films, the father character is represented as being aloof, apparently not at all there, not even aware that his daughter has given birth to a baby! He just casually converses with Henry about the weird little chickens they are about to eat, which by the way are simply there to make matters even more uncomfortable. How uncomfortable? Well, as Henry begins to cut up the “man made chickens” that the family is going to have for dinner, they begin to bleed profusely! As you can see, nothing in this moment is right, everything is some sort of negative bad omen, it’s as if Henry was not meant to be here at all. In fact, he wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t gotten Mary pregnant. Here Lynch is accentuating the uncomfortable situations brought on by an unwanted pregnancy, it seems that now Henry is going to become a part of this weird ass family unit? All throughout, Henry’s face is telling us he is cursing himself for not having used a condom.


CHAPTER IV: HENRY LEARNS HE IS A FATHER

Next, Mary’s mom takes Henry aside and asks him if he had intercourse with Mary because there’s a baby in the hospital and he is the father! Henry is so nervous he doesn’t know how to answer the question, but under pressure, he tells Mrs. X that he ‘loves’ Mary! The mother keeps pressuring him, asking about the intercourse, all while viciously licking Henry’s neck! Henry calls out to Mary who walks in on Mrs. X salivating over Henry, Mary is horrified. So this is how Henry learns that he is the father of a baby…weird part is that Mary tells Henry that the doctors don’t even know if the baby is really a baby or not! Apparently, Henry and Mary’s baby is not your normal every day baby! The doctors don’t even know what it is! So anyhow, fast forward a couple of days and we see Mary moving in with Henry. Sure, all he’s got is this little apartment, but he is a father now and he has to man up and deal with this new situation in his life! It’s his baby after all; right?


CHAPTER V: MEET THE BABY!

So from this moment in the picture, we meet Henry and Mary’s baby. And let me tell ya, it’s not a pretty sight! The baby looks like some sort of mutant, half formed and incomplete and to top things off, sick. Here the film really starts to test your boundaries. Can you take it? Why is this baby so ugly, so monstrous? I believe that the idea behind making the baby in the film so ugly and downright disgusting is to accentuate the idea that this baby was not planned, it is unwanted. The fact that he is sick, always hungry and crying is meant to remind the viewer of the things that a baby can bring into your life. Now I personally think that under the right circumstances, a child is a reason for happiness and joy in your life, but I also understand how having one when you are not ready can become a burden, and not only that, it can and probably make your life miserable. Let’s say you’re young and are in that part of your life where you just want to party and have fun, well, that’s all over because now you have a baby to take care of and feed and nurture. You gotta worry about earning enough money to give the child everything it needs. Once a baby is born, you sacrifice a lot of yourself in order to take care of that child and if you are not ready for that in your life, you will more than likely be miserable. In Eraserhead, the child never stops crying, never stops being hungry; it is a constant nag in Henry’s life.


CHAPTER VI: MARRIAGE IS AS UNWANTED AS THE BABY

And how about those people that get married because they suddenly face the prospect of having a child? You’ve seen it happen a thousand times. Two kids have unprotected sex, choose not to abort the baby and so they figure they have to get married. If two people get a surprise pregnancy and they love each other, cool beans, get married! Have a family! Be happy! But what of those that have an unwanted pregnancy and don’t feel they love each other? What if all you had was a one night stand? What if you were simply having casual sex? Do you have to marry that person? Should the child be aborted? Do you want to be entangled with a person you barely know? It seems to me that if you marry a person this way, you are forcing things, doing something that doesn’t come out of you naturally. Chances are that this type of marriage will not end up well, and so, this is what happens to Henry. Henry and Mary are trying to force something that’s not cemented on love. Should they have aborted the baby? Would they have been happier? Henry and Mary’s marriage is portrayed as a very uncomfortable thing. Henry isn’t even comfortable with Mary sleeping next to him! She fidgets and moves around and doesn’t let him sleep. To make matters worse, the baby never stops crying! After a while Mary herself can’t take it anymore and moves out, running, like a crying baby to her parents house. This lets us see that even Mary herself, the mother of the child, was not ready to be a mother. She’d rather crawl back to the safety of her parents’ house, which she does. She leaves Henry alone with the monstrous baby!


CHAPTER VII: A TRIP INTO HENRY’S SUBCONSCIOUS

How do we know that Henry is not ready to be a father? Well, aside from the fact that he is obviously distraught by the constant crying of the baby and the fact that the baby is sick and bursting with these ugly warts all over its body, he also starts dreaming about all the things that are going through his mind. First up, he dreams about his next door neighbor, the provocative lady who is constantly flirting with him. And this is where we once again, dive deep into the mind of Henry Spencer through one of his dreams. In his mind Henry has sex with the next door neighbor in a pool of milk! He completely submerges himself in it, letting us see that he wishes he could be fulfilling his sexual desires with women instead of being with Mary X and taking care of a crying baby. Again, Henry wasn’t ready to be tied down by marriage. Even further than that, Henry ends up dreaming with this woman singing on a stage, as she sings, little spermatozoa falls from above, barely missing her. She then proceeds to step on the sperm, alluding possibly to the fact that the mother of the child possibly didn’t want to be a mother either.


Still, this is not the end of Henry’s nightmares, as we go deeper in his mind we see his dream extend and in it he ends up in some sort of judicial court room with the baby as part of the jury! The baby judges Henry and decides it’s off with his head! So Henry’s head pops off and falls to the floor!  This of course all means that if Henry’s child was to judge him for how he is performing in his role as a father, Henry would be found wanting and guilty as charged!  So these dreams within dreams that Henry has all have to do with his preoccupations about being a father, that’s understood. It is quite obvious Henry would rather forget the whole thing; he wishes he could erase the whole thing from his mind, which makes perfect sense when we see what follows. At this point in the dream, Henry’s head is found by a child who takes the head to a pencil factory. In the pencil factory, a worker takes a part of Henry’s brain and turns it into the eraser of a pencil. He then tests the eraser and blows on the residue left by it, as the residue of the eraser blows in the wind, we see the image of Henry’s head superimposed over it. The Meaning behind it all is that Henry wants this whole mess with the deformed baby out of his mind! Erased, forgotten. Unfortunately, the reality is another one. The baby is still in his apartment!


CHAPTER VIII: FILICIDE – MURDERING YOUR OWN CHILD


Then it’s back to reality and we see Henry heading back to his apartment. At first he tries to connect with the sexy neighbor; unfortunately she’s busy with some other man. Frustrated by this Henry returns to his apartment only to find his baby sicker than ever! The warts on the baby have gotten worse and it appears to be choking to death! Henry than decides to cut open the bandages that cover the lower half of the creature before him, you see, till this point in the film we’ve only seen the baby’s head, the rest of its body is covered in bandages. So Henry cuts open the bandages and we discover the baby has no lower body, it’s simply composed of a pair of lungs and its innards! Henry can’t take it anymore so he begins to stab the abomination before him to death! Now this is quite possibly the films most shocking moment because of the idea involved: killing one’s own child. Once Henry is through stabbing the baby, it begins to scream in the midst of a horrible gooey mess, it gushes blood and who knows what else! The energies in this room are so awful that the lights begin to flicker on and off (as they often do in a Lynch film when things are too intense) then the baby grows to gigantic proportions, the lights go out and we fade to black! According to the book David Lynch: Beautiful Dark by Greg Olson, the original ending for the film would have been the baby gobbling up Henry, but for some reason this wasn’t filmed, I would have loved to see that ending, but I guess they couldn’t pull it off. So there you have it ladies and gents. Eraserhead, as seen by The Film Connoisseur, obviously the film might have meant a whole other thing to you so don’t worry if none of this makes any sense, still, I hope you found my interpretation of it interesting. 

David Lynch and Jack Nance, fooling around on the set of Eraserhead

24 comments:

Maurice Mitchell said...

I've never seen this movie, but your breakdown really explores his vision. So I might watch it sometime.

Francisco Gonzalez said...

Its a classic, with some pretty deep themes and a lot of surrealism, hope you enjoy it Maurice, it's an experience!

Roman J. Martel said...

Really like your analysis of the film. It really seems to fit and is pretty close to what I came up with when I first viewed the film.

I find that with David Lynch films it's best to watch them and let them wash over you. Don't try to figure it out as you watch, just take all the imagery in. Then take some time to ponder it and come up with your theory on the themes and ideas in the film. It is a lot less frustrating that way.

I love his stuff, and he has such a wonderful visual style and uses some really interesting symbols in all his films. "Eraserhead" is certainly one of his most obtuse films ("Inland Empire" is right behind it). I don't watch it very often, but I always get something new out of the experience.

Francisco Gonzalez said...

Glad you enjoyed the analysis of Eraserhead. Agree, when watching a Lynch film it's best to take it all in, then through subsequent viewings, try to make your own interpretations.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The bird who played his girlfriend in this is the same bird who played the teacher in "Little House on the Prairie", i think the bird actually alternated between the sets of this movie and that show ! ! !, strickly speaking, in my opinion, that makes the bird one of the greatest actresses of all-time.

Francisco Gonzalez said...

Also, Jack Nance (the actor who plays Henry) appears in practically every Lynch movie, always in some small role, or a cameo.

J.D. Lafrance said...

Excellent dissection of this masterpiece! Great job, my friend.

Francisco Gonzalez said...

Thanks J.D!

Kyle Shepherd said...

Hey Francisco, i know this is like a year later but GREAT breakdown, I tend to agree with a lot of what you're saying but I had some questions as to what you though about a few things:

First, rather than choking before the end scene, i think the baby is "laughing" at Henry because of his perceived inadequacy with the neighbor next door.

Also, what did you think of the Lady in the Radiator embracing Henry at the end? Was she saying he made the right choice? Or was it his subconscious consoling him for his hard decision?

great site! Thanks man!

Michelle Hayton said...

Very good interpretation that comes close to the way I interpret the film! One thing I never thought of before was the Judge and jury scenario with the baby saying "off with his head" and then his head being made into erasers as a way to try to erase what has happened. It makes much more sense to me now so thanks for sharing your viewpoint! I love Eraserhead, I have seen about 500 films and it is one of my top ten favorites. Check out my review on the film if you like by going to the title Art Freak Movie Review Eraserhead on you tube!

Francisco Gonzalez said...

Thanks Michell I will check it out! Glad you enjoyed my take on the movie, but I'm sure it means different things to different people, as do mosto f Lynch's films. Thats what makes them so fun!

Dina Barrett Grantham said...

Sorry people..it was frigging rediculous. I'm no film expert but looks to me like someone was on heavy duty hallucinating crap. If that's art ...I don't want part of it. And 6 years to make..wtf. grandkids could do better with their imaginary friends :-\

Francisco Gonzalez said...

Yeah, Eraserhead is certainly not for everyone! But it does have its admirers and fans, it's a cult classic for a reason! :)

Carl Salveson said...

I just watched for the first time and noticed that when x is leaving to go home she spends quite a bit of time at the end of the bed looking through the metal bed frame which resembles jail bars while trying to retrieve the suitcase with her personal belongings. Perhaps this portrays the feeling of being trapped as a mother, as if in jail with a constant crying child, so she leaves to go home. Good job with the film dissection, thanks.
Carl Salveson

Francisco Gonzalez said...

Glad you enjoyed the article Carl, that scene with the heat generator has always baffled me as well..."in heaven everything will be alright"...he seems to look into the heat generator and drift away into a better place psychologically or something. Thanks for commenting Carl!

Anonymous said...

Wow that's all I can say. I find myself watching this every time it's on. Extremely different and thought provoking.

Mary Field said...

I totally agree with this! Eraserhead is one of the greatest body horror film I really love to watch. You have to dig deeper when it comes to Lynch film. He really knows how to play the mind of his audience. What I really like about him is his very peculiar attention to details which also made the film to be one of the Hollywood Movies that Took Too Long to Make because of the reason that it took him almost 6 years to make this film. I really like all David Lynch short films but Eraserhead is one of his best masterpiece he did. Anyways, you really did a good job explaining everything here, I admit that his film is like a puzzle that need to be solve and I'm glad that you are very eager to solve those. Thanks!

Francisco Gonzalez said...

Glad you enjoyed the article Mary, I love analyzing Lynch's films...just when I think I've got it figured out...some new element pops up!

Justin Graves said...

I agree with your over view completely except for the chocking scene. I took It as the baby actually laughing at Henery. Witch in turn let Henery believe that the baby actualy wasn't a good baby on the inside ether. As if it's inner spirit was just as ugly as it's grotesque outer appearance.

I also took from the pencil factory scene that the inspector testing out the eraserhead, then giving the ok it's good look was validation that Henery was healthy and sane for think this way. That his nightmare was normal to be concerned about the situation or emotion being felt.

joseph leon said...

hey thanks, i had to walk outside with about 10 minutes to go, it was too claustrophobic, too intense.
having experienced some of the themes you describe and explain, i certainly felt mighty uncomfortable
watching the movie. Thanks for you ideas, you are sharp, great explanation.

Francisco Gonzalez said...

Joseph: This movie certainly has the ability to unsettle, specially if its the first time you experience it! Thanks for the kind words! I aim to please.

Prophet Ascending said...

I felt that the baby represents all that is dysfunctional and broken about the world Henry lives in.
Like the polluted, poisonous and dehumanising world has started to create mutants and abominations in human beings and the baby is one such unfortunate.

Francisco Gonzalez said...

Prophet Ascending: It's true, the baby does disrupt Henry's life to the max! The abomination being a mutant..I always thought the same thing...how could they just decide to take that thing home in the first place right?! It had to be put out of its misery, boom, day one. But I guess LYnch took poetic license with that in order to make a point with his film, don't have a baby if you're not ready for it!

Tucumcari's Silent Singer said...

There are two things that constantly haunt me and demand I constantly revisit them to try and understand them.

One is the animated series, "Serial Experiments: Lain" and the other is this film.

This helped me sort of get an idea of things that confused me; I really only have a few different ideas.

I think the entirety of the gas heater moments are probably more contemplation of suicide, myself. (Probably because the sounds that override during these scenes are akin to a gas leak). Especially with the song "In heaven, everything is fine..." So thus I interpret the scenes where touching her results in flashes of light as edging towards suicide (Possibly self-harm?) and the embrace at the end as him actually...doing it.

Symbolism is something of an irritant for me, because I'm hugely a literalist. (Which is actually great in some ways, creatively, as it gives me a chance to twist surreal/bizarre/symbolic things into rational real things) So this twisted a few other things for me. While I like the idea that the deformed Man in the Planet and the girl in the heater are elements of his subconscious, I also think they're representations of something real.

I interpret the world the film takes place in as some sort of either post-apocalyptic or post-industrial destruction of the planet. The people and places we see are actually the "elite" areas, with "pure" humans. The two deformed we see are humans tainted by fallout/extensive industrial pollution (Most likely radiation as well)...and, thinking on it now, perhaps they're even representative of his parents?

Regardless of that, I'd feel that Henry is definitely NOT a "pure" human. He manages to make his way into that society and live there and looks normal enough to pass; but genetically, he's still a mutant like those two are mutants; and thus not only is there the shame and guilt and trauma of an unwanted pregnancy...but the shame and horror and self-loathing of birthing a mutant. That classic case of "run as far as you want, you can't beat your past".

The only other divergence from your assessment I have is that I think he really did have sex with the woman; but this was the tables being turned where he had more invested in it than she did. Just like - as you surmise - he had a meaningless one-night stand with Mary X....she had a meaningless one-night stand with him, and this time he's in Mary's (Or more accurately, her family's) place of expecting more.

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