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Customer Review

3.0 out of 5 stars He is not an animal., Oct. 1 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Elephant Man (Widescreen) (Bilingual) (DVD)
The magnificent visuals in *The Elephant Man* are rather less due to director David Lynch than they are to cinematographer and Hammer vet (and former director himself) Freddie Francis. On purely visual terms, this has to be one of the greatest black & white movies ever shot. Victorian Europe becomes Hell, here: gritty, damp sidewalks; plumes of smoke everywhere (light and dark, steam and coal); impenetrable shadows; nauseating grays; daguerreotype snapshots in hallucinogenic fogbanks. It is the work of no less than a genius. The photography all by itself raises this otherwise conventional drama to near art. Also worthy of praise are the set design and -- of course! -- the costuming. Only by the film's credits do you realize that it's John Hurt who's portraying the horribly deformed John Merrick, the famous personage in Victorian London who rose from sideshow degredation to national celebrity. Watching this movie again, I wished that Francois Truffaut had written and directed it. I was constantly reminded of that director's *The Wild Child*, in which he played the equivalent doctor-role that Anthony Hopkins plays here. Nothing wrong with Hopkins' performance, mind you; it's more the heavy-handed moralizing that his character is forced to personify. Lynch, that famous finger-waggling moralist, insists on putting Dr. Treves' ethical quandary into the character's own mouth, thereby making sure we "get" it. (Truffaut understood that the ethical quandary of bringing a wild child -- or an elephant man -- into normal society is already a given, without requiring sage speechifying, oratory, declamation.) Every time I hear about what a "daring" director David Lynch is, how he "thinks outside the box", how "revolutionary" he is, I recall this tear-jerking film. *The Elephant Man* is ultimately as sentimental as any Academy Award-bucking Hollywood product. Of course, that's exactly what the movie is. It's also as sentimental and moralistic as most of Lynch's other movies. It's definitely worth seeing, but let's not get carried away.
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