Eraserhead (1977): Obsession and Compromise

Directed by David Lynch, IMDB

This review is based upon my impressions having immediately watched the film. I have since been informed that noted film critics differ from my views. But, this is my review so YMMV. And spoiler alert.

Eraserhead has multiple overlapping themes. The protagonist (Jack) coming to terms with new adulthood and fatherhood is covered elsewhere. A former student of mine says the film was about being uncomfortable in everything about yourself. To me there are two further themes:

1. Ending an obsession to clear mental space for the new. In this theme the baby represents a grotesque and under-formed idea on which Jack has begun a collaboration. While others abandon him, he is driven on by obsessive responsibility and social pressure. Once Jack has killed the baby then, metaphorically abandoning the bad idea, that new and better ideas come to him.

2. A catharsis for David Lynch as he comes to terms with what he then saw as selling out or compromising. In doing so he knows he will have access to greater resources with which to achieve greater ideas but that comes at a cost. This interpretation stems from how the symbols in the movie are interpreted.

The women in the film stand in for various genres. He sees lesser men flirting with the woman next door. What have they got that he hasn't? The smiley dream woman is the mainstream crappy film genre. She stomps on his ideas without mercy or guilt, always superficial and shiny but with her own flaws. Jack’s wife represents his early film-making circles: fickle, weak and without the endurance to achieve much of note.

The pencil factory is Jack’s job interview/school exams where he is being evaluated to see if he can produce the sharp but ultimately ephemeral popular movie. Like the pencil, these films are not intended to leave an indelible mark so that they can be replaced on a consumer cylce.

Once the baby is dead, Jack is rewarded with a burst of creative energy symbolised by pollen clouds releasing from plants in his room. The man in the planet then burns - representing Jack mastering his anxieties.

I don't pretend to read DL's mind or have access to any insider info: to my lack I know little about David Lynch. I don't begrudge any creative who does bread and butter work to pay for living and financing their more pure works.

What did this film mean to you?

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