Eraserhead (1977)
August 4, 2014 10:27 AM - Subscribe

In David Lynch's "dream of dark and troubling things," Henry is left alone in his apartment to care for his deformed baby and has a series of strange encounters with the beautiful girl across the hall and the woman living in his radiator.
posted by maxsparber (20 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
LOVE the "ohyouaresick" tag.
posted by Brainy at 11:18 AM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you get a chance to see it in the theater, do. If you are going to watch it at home, the DVD includes a calibration tool for adjusting the black levels on your screen. (If you are watching a digital file or streaming it from someplace, god help you.)

The whole story of the making of the film (explained by Lynch in an extensive interview included on the DVD) is amazing-- production went so long and Lynch was so broke that he was living illegally on the set and the crew would actually nail the door shut when they left him there so no one would find him asleep on AFI property.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:01 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

"We've got chicken tonight. Strangest damn things! They're man made. Little damn things! Smaller than my fist. But they're new!"

I once watched Eraserhead three times in a single weekend to write a film paper, and I swore I could actually hear the Alan Splet industrial drone-underscore in my head for weeks afterwards. Also, there have been many times during my life, being an occasionally cash-strapped apartment dweller and sporadically-depressed introvert, where I felt like I lived on the set of Eraserhead. But I don't think any of that could possibly prepare me for actually living on the set of Eraserhead. Lynch is a master.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:47 PM on August 4, 2014

Also, that Interview with Fred Elmes is a goldmine. Fantastic.
posted by Brainy at 1:03 PM on August 4, 2014

I was starting to worry about my mental well being because I hadn't found any of the horror film club movies to be scary. This terrified me, though, so I think I am ok. I just sat down and watched it without knowing anything in advance. I mean I knew it was David Lynch, so had certain expectations, but knew nothing other than that.

I loved this movie. When he is eating dinner in Mary's house and the mom comes out of the kitchen to talk to him, the dad is just sitting there with a huge grin and not moving for the entire scene. Hilarious. Also, the fish mounted on the wall is so ridiculous.

Henry's apartment is also ridiculous. With the piles of dirt and dead vegetation (I believe those are the words Wikipedia used), and his moth eaten blankets. Oh wow.
posted by Literaryhero at 8:43 PM on August 4, 2014

My favorite detail in the whole movie is how the mom puts the salad bowl in the catatonic grandma's lap and takes her hands and puts the salad tongs in them and uses grandma's hands on the tongs to mix the salad and then takes the salad bowl back. Grandma does nothing this entire time.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:59 PM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I haven't gotten a chance to rewatch it yet, but of all the memorable and evocative scenes in that movie, the one that comes back to me most often is Mary rubbing her eye. I add sound effects in my head (and sometimes with my mouth) whenever I am witness or party to eye rubbing.

For me, that's the main quality that takes a movie from being good to great--when it burrows into my head like that, and some imagery or metaphor starts informing my worldview in some way. But I can't think of any other movie that's become my mental model for something as common as that.

This is probably why nobody likes me. I think about Eraserhead every single time someone rubs their eye.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:17 AM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you get a chance to see it in the theater, do.

My first time seeing this was in an older theatre that looked like this. It kinda added to it. It was a double feature, inexplicably paired with Legend of the Overfiend. I loved Eraserhead immediately. I hated the next one and convinced my friends to leave about 30 minutes in (it was so perverted it made me feel ill. I think this was the feeling of my young self becoming desensitized). I still went back anytime I could go see Eraserhead though.

I wish I had something else to add, but I don't know much of anything
posted by Hoopo at 3:16 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favorite part, and IMHO one of the funniest movie moments ever, is when he gets in the elevator and you wait and wait and wait for the door to close. You wait long enough that you start to wonder what's going to happen. Will the power go out? Will he decide to take the stairs? Will someone join him? Come onnnnnn, what's gonna happen?!?

And then the door just closes. Scene.
posted by whuppy at 6:18 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

We watched this one by random chance a few years ago. Looking for something OnDemand and the choice was between some french movie with an interesting description and this one. We knew that David Lynch was a famous person but otherwise had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Still very confused. I think this sums up my confusion well.

My husband was very impressed with the special effects though.
posted by LizBoBiz at 8:58 AM on August 6, 2014

The sound design is phenomenal. There's a formal soundtrack you can get that's largely industrial white noise.

Like all horror movies, definitely worth watching in a theater if you can have the experience. There's something powerful about not being able to turn your head away, or pause to get a drink, or otherwise escape what's happening on the screen.
posted by Nelson at 4:33 PM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favorite thing about this David Lynch film is that he took a really boring, almost cliched story with a slightly "modern" twist - boy meets girl, loves her, loses her, then has to raise their baby himself (rather than boy meets girl, boy loves girl, then boy loses girl, who also represents the boy's loss of innocence) - and turns it into 100% nightmare fuel simply by adding the right soundtrack and lighting. I mean, to me, Henry's "baby" represents a lot of pain and emotional suffering without being cloaked in any of the joys that a real, human baby would give a father in Henry's situation, especially if it were in a more realistic setting; it's raw, despite the whole film looking like... well, something that's the byproduct of too much tequila and food poisoning.

Eraserhead's great because it takes a deceptively simple storyline to a totally unexpected and uncomfortable place. It's very challenging for some viewers, and just imagining the soundtrack makes one of my eyelids involuntarily twitch.

That said, I didn't find it particularly scary on first watch or re-watch because, well, I'd seen Uncle Goddamn a couple weeks prior and that made Eraserhead seem mild by comparison. Kinda wish I didn't try to look that up at work just now.

Pretty sure this film inspired that one, though, and honestly? UG's really, REALLY hard to watch, though I'm sure it has a few MeFite fans.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 5:12 PM on August 6, 2014

I've never thought of it as a horror movie and I'm a little curious about how it came by that descriptor.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:19 PM on August 6, 2014

I don't know that it's commonly understood to be a horror film. But to me it's way more terrifying than any silly serial killer shock film.

Is it weird to identify with Henry?
posted by Nelson at 5:36 PM on August 6, 2014

Is it weird to identify with Henry?

No, I think we're meant to relate to Henry to some degree, or sympathize with him at least. He's sort of selfish, but it's almost a childlike selfish and at least for me I figure it's sort of a case of a guy afraid of his new adult responsibilities and feeling sort of powerless. Not exactly a noble struggle but I think most people have been there at some point.

After typing this out I feel I should also point out I'm not saying that's why you identify with him Nelson, lol
posted by Hoopo at 7:08 AM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Henry's demeanor is really what gives Eraserhead that dreamlike quality that sets it apart from other surrealism. He is the protagonist, just like when you're dreaming and your legs are too heavy to run and you don't really question the otherworldly things that are happening around you. You just sort of go along with it like Henry does, drifting through the dreamworld, looking for cues from others. So when someone tells you you have a baby and they're not even sure it is a baby, and you slowly, unremarkably end up with sole custody of that baby, your response is, effectively, "Okay," and you just go along with it.

It's alienating and distancing, and it is very childlike, in that he's just sort of drifting alone and picking up cues and focusing on doing whatever is put in front of him, pretending to be a normal human by watching other humans and trying to learn the rules as he goes along.

I mean you guys here, just to be clear. Not me. I always know exactly what's going on. I have everything all figured out and totally know what I'm doing at all times. I think that Henry is stupid and weird and I don't relate to him at all because I am a grownup human.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:09 AM on August 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

For me the identification with Henry I most remember is the dinner party at Mary's house. Henry's awkwardness, trying to be polite and fit in while all the weirdness unfolds. Allen Joseph is great as the father there. As an uncomfortable teenager it totally related to my discomfort at sit-down dinners with old people. (And like ernielundquist, now that I'm an adult with adult confidence and adult social skills of course I never ever feel like Awkward Moment Seal.)
posted by Nelson at 10:24 AM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Fun fact: they now call the area of Philly where Lynch used to live "The Eraserhood." For a while there was even a mural on the side of the Mausoleum of Contemporary Art.
posted by The White Hat at 1:43 PM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Eraserhead gets occasionally categorized as "Horror" because there's no formal film genre "Celluloid Nightmare".

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Film Society is planning a Lynch retrospective, starting with Eraserhead on September 10th, and his alma mater, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, will host him for a members-only talk, "David Lynch: The Unified Field". I'm surprised he's coming back, considering what he's said about Philadelphia.

On the other hand, in a 1987 interview he called the city his greatest influence: "horrible, but in a very interesting way. There were places there that had been allowed to decay, where there was so much fear and crime that just for a moment there was an opening to another world. It was fear, but it was so strong, and so magical, like a magnet, that your imagination was always sparking in Philadelphia. I just have to think of Philadelphia now, and I get ideas, I hear the wind, and I'm off into the darkness somewhere."
posted by Doktor Zed at 2:15 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Eraserhead is one of those films that every good father should absolutely have in his collection, like a booby trap for his kids to discover.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:44 PM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

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