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  • PG
  • Biography, Drama
  • 1980
  • 124 mins

The Elephant Man

The Elephant Man


Sensitive fable about Victorian England's most renowned "freak" from David Lynch.


Sensitive fable about Victorian England's most renowned "freak" from David Lynch. Black and white widescreen provides a sumptuous backdrop to excellent turns from a youthful Anthony Hopkins and an unrecognisable John Hurt. In unsympathetic Victorian England, John Merrick (Hurt) has been abused since childhood and forced into a freakshow because of his appalling deformity. Frederick Treves (Hopkins), a surgeon at the London Hospital, removes Merrick from the dingy sideshow and treats his bronchitis. Although Treves initially thinks - hopes - Merrick is no more than an imbecile and exhibits him to his fellow doctors, he is essentially a more humane keeper than Bytes (Jones), the drunk who had presented Merrick in the freakshow.

Posh London society replaces the sideshow punters, and Merrick is essentially still on display. This worsens when the hosptial night porter (Elphick) starts showing Merrick off to his drunken pub mates by night.

However, while Merrick is in the care of Treves, he is treated well, both physically and psychologically, and reveals a sensitivity and intelligence that had been missed by those who do not see beyond appearances. He even experiences friendship and respect.

David Lynch's The Elephant Man raises myriad questions about medicine, the notion of vainglory and society's prejudices and asks us to wonder whether, over a century later, matters have improved.

What astonishes most is the compassion of Lynch's direction, something not echoed widely in his other films. The greatest contribution - apart from the central performances - comes from Francis, whose wonderful black and white, widescreen photography lends atmosphere and clarity to the proceedings.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Hurt, Freddie Jones, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Michael Elphick
  • Director: David Lynch
  • Screen Writer: David Lynch, Eric Bergren, Christopher De Vore
  • Writer (Book): Ashley Montagu, Sir Frederick Treves
  • Producer: Stuart Cornfield, Jonathan Sanger
  • Photographer: Freddie Francis
  • Composer: Angelo Badalamenti

In a nutshell

Up there with both the best of David Lynch and the best of British cinema.

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