Review: The Elephant Man (1980)

‘The Elephant Man’ is a biopic of the life of John Merrick (played by John Hurt), who had severe facial (and other) deformities due to the disease Elephentiasis.  Filmed in black and white, we first encounter Merrick as the Elephant Man on display at a freak show in Victorian era London.

Regarded as an imbecile, Dr Treves (played by a young Anthony Hopkins) encounters Merrick at the freak show and pays a sum to Merrick’s brutal keeper to examine him at a London Hospital.

Treated initially as an imbecile, Merrick has the chance to prove otherwise to Dr. Treves by reciting Psalm 23 by heart.  Initially we don’t know either way, whether  Merrick can speak at all, and feel sheer sympathy to the brutality and judgement that he has suffered up to this moment of triumph.

Merrick is granted permission to stay in the hospital in comfortable accomodation and is met by a flurry of people interested in the fact that this ‘freak’ is a man of culture and intelligence underneath.

Dr. Treves, at first excited by the fact that ‘discovering’ Merrick marks an important step forward in his career,  soon realises the erroneousness even of his own treatment of Merrick: that placing him in the hospital with advertisement to the public, is pretty much just another freak show for Merrick.

The film boats no ostentation in its presentation and almost feels a bit ‘B-grade’ .  However, in its simplicity of directly telling the story, it really implores  us not to judge a book by its cover.

Being shot in black and white, the few moments of elation conveyed by Merrick are well contrasted by an overall feeling of deep sadness.

Overall, a beautiful story and movie.


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