By Michael Kalafatis (Stoke on Trent)
Eraserhead starts with the medium shot of Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) floating into endless space, then he suddenly opens his mouth and a spermatozoon-like creature emerges and floats in the pitch black void. This opening is a very good introduction into the world of David lynch, whose Eraserhead was his debut film. Eraserhead manage to introduce all his idiosyncrasies: like his love for a non-linear narrative, outlandish settings and characters and the use of various symbolisms to tell a simple story in a complex and mentally challenging way.
Eraserhead is about Henley Spencer who lives in an industrial cityscape, he has a girlfriend named Mary and she gives birth to their child prematurely, so Mary moves in with Henry and brings their baby as well. The odd thing that anyone watching Eraserhead will notice is the outlandish and alien look of the baby, which does not resemble a normal human baby, but a bizarre creature that does not stops crying and sometimes laughs in a sinister way at Henry. This creature also manages to annoy Mary in a very effective way causing her on many occasions to complain that she cannot sleep due to its constant crying which has as a result for Mary to leave Henry more than once to go at her mother.
The main motif of Eraserhead is parenthood and its hardship, but it is told in a surrealistic way. David Lynch creates a story that is a hybrid of German expressionism and surrealism and borrows elements from two great auteurs of these two influential movements: Luis Bunuel and Robert Wiene and their respective films Un Chien Andalou (1929) and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). But Lynch has created a far more disturbing film, and like his other later surrealist films sometimes we get lost in the films non-linear narrative, even though Eraserhead has a more straightforward and more comprehensible narrative than Lynch’s later surrealist films which lack a clear narrative progression.
The virtuosity of David Lynch is that even though on more than one occasion we are left perplexed on what is really happens on Eraserhead, in a weird way we do not lose interest in the film, but we become more transfixed from its alluring weirdness, like for example on one of Henry’s visions we see the lady in the radiator who sings “In Heaven”, a charming and uplifting moment which comes in contrast with the rest of film which is saturated in bleakness, a monster baby, a scary looking man living on a black desolate and presumably dead planet and characters who do not resemble real people as they do not interact like real human beings, they resemble creatures who try to remember how to be humans, who are surrounded by an industrial milieu that has remove all their humanity that they once had and they try and fail to regain it by trying and failing to have a normal life.
The diegetic sound is a very important aspect of Eraserhead as it conveys the bleakness of the environment resided by the protagonists, these diegetic sounds are mostly industrial sounds and howling winds that unsettles us because they create a more realistic depiction of specific place and time. The use of unnerving diegetic sounds together with the monochrome cinematography, outlandish characters and perplexing narrative are the ingredients David Lynch has use to create a weird world, which in some of his interviews has admitted he would like to be able to reside, and that is the reason the film works because Lynch has created what he considers an Utopian vision, even though most viewers will perceive Eraserhead as a vision of dystopian future.