(Note: Most of this post is taken from a essay I wrote in a past course. There have been some edits made)
First off I have to mention that David Lynch is one of my favorite auteurs and I believe this man is a genius, even though I may not really understand his point. Either way I am a big fan of his When examining a film, it typically helps to know what is going on in said movie. However, if you have chosen to watch a David Lynch film, this is an aspiration that you will most likely not reach. Lynch is known for unusual plot lines that don’t always seem to connect to the viewer, and usually causes people to wonder what the hell they just viewed. However, there is a method to his madness (cliche but seriously applies in this case). I will explore the film Eraserhead, one of Lynch’s most famous works, while also trying to figure out what was the meaning of this film. To summarize my idea in one simple line, I believe this movie addressed the terror of (forced) marriage and responsibility.
Before the idea of marriage is introduced to Henry, the concept of what it entails is brought up in the very beginning of the film where we see Henry floating around what looks like another planet. This could introduce the alien concept to his current lifestyle (i.e. marriage). Although the planet seems somewhat more rounded and smooth, a closer examination of the “planet” reveals multiple craters that are deep and look difficult to traverse. Could this mirror the idea of childbirth in this film? Childbirth is typically viewed as a blessing for people who view the act from the outside. However, once the camera zooms into the planet you see the craters and unevenness. Does this present the idea of something thought to be beautiful is actually unappealing up close.
Following this vision of the planet, there is the man who seems frozen with skin that resembles bark on a tree. A tree, which is although continues to grow, still remains stationary in this life until it dies and leaves behind a stump. This imagery could be the result of an unwanted pregnancy (which in turn may lead to an unhappy marriage), and being in this confined arrangement drains the life out of the person, leaving them a frozen stationary being. Then he pulls a lever, which sucks away what looks like an umbilical cord from Henry. The use of the umbilical cord (at least that’s what I assume it is) seems to represent the upcoming pregnancy that Henry will be faced with. Connecting this with the man who reeks of hopelessness, the implication seems very clear of the attitude of this unplanned pregnancy.
Playing off the idea of regretful decisions, the sound effects seem to enhance this idea. For instance when Henry was first meeting Mary’s parents there was an odd rubbery sound in the background. Now this may sound a bit odd, but it almost sounded like a rubber condom being rubbed back and forth. Henry becomes increasingly uncomfortable in this scene, as if being haunted by a past mistake. A broken condom perhaps? There is also the scene where Mary leaves after the first night at the apartment, and before she leaves she reaches to get her suitcase from underneath the bed. As she is doing this, she repeatedly rocks the bed back and forth, which also denotes sex. Once again, this sound (and action) terrifies Henry, potentially once again reminding him of his mistake.
Going back to the idea of the umbilical cord, I will examine one of the more popular characters to arise from this film.
looking at the scene of the girl with the exaggerated cheeks, she slides back and forth across the stage as other cords fell around her. She was careful not to step on any of them at first, but eventually begins to deliberately step on two of them. When you look at the woman, she seemed to have an exaggerated image of innocence.The grotesquely plump cheeks, the angelic dress, the childish demeanor. This woman could be the embodiment of Henry’s subconscious, a sort of warped form of innocence that he still holds onto. Maybe he feels he is the victim and this situation and internally feels resentment towards this birth. (Side note – relating to the idea of innocence, towards the beginning as Henry is show walking through an empty, desolate wasteland in high water pants, which almost demonstrates immaturity (having pants that don’t fit quite right). Once he enters the elevator clutching his package, where he looks small and innocent as he clutches the package the same way a child may clutch a teddy bear)
As the movie progresses, there is the increased conflict felt from Henry towards the “baby”. There is the imagined sequence where Henry’s head falls off and he is taken to a pencil machine operator (according to the credits), the operator examines the head and says that it is ok. Although pencil machine operators do not typically make the best therapist, maybe this helped to sharpen Henry’s view of his surroundings? Then as the operator brushes away the pencil dust, this almost represents the freedom that Henry may now experience as a result of the diagnosis. It almost tells him that he is not the guilty person in this family and what’s really destroying his psychosis is the baby. In the following scene, the image of the baby becomes more sinister and mocking when Henry comes out of his dream. The only way for Henry to heal himself and the marriage is to destroy the nuisance. Once he does this, he is free as the dust that swirls behind him. He is free to reclaim his innocent past, free from the responsibilities that dragged him down. The world seems brighter and he is free to drift off with his subconscious (potentially signaling a loss with the real world and instead embracing the comfort of his imagination)
All images are from Google. I retain no rights.