Skip to content

Directed by David Lynch

United States 1980 124 mins. In English

Surreptitiously produced by none other than Mel Brooks, Lynch’s haunting, macabre, and beautiful vision of Victorian London was—following the cult circuit successes of Eraserhead—the director’s first critical and commercial smash, garnering eight Oscar nominations and sparking an outcry over the lack of distinction for the film’s achievements in makeup, which caused the Academy to create an award honoring makeup artists. John Hurt unforgettably stars as John Merrick, a facially disfigured “freak” kept in bondage and callously displayed to paying audiences as entertainment. Dr. Treves (Anthony Hopkins) discovers Merrick, and seeks to free him, but Merrick’s captor Mr. Bytes (Freddie Jones) has other ideas. Shot in luminous black-and-white by Freddie Francis and featuring a career-defining, heartbreaking performance by Hurt, the film “exerts an almost total hold over its audience, using a combination of image, sound, and story to produce a gut reaction which is, in my experience, almost unprecedented. For all its period trappings and classical narrative, The Elephant Man remains a wonderfully idiosyncratic, creatively groundbreaking film: perhaps we simply have yet to catch up to it.”—Tom Huddleston, Not Coming to a Theater Near You. “It was a very, very difficult film for me, because I was in a place where a lot of people thought I didn’t belong. I had made one feature no one had heard about, and here I am, born in Missoula, Montana, making a Victorian drama. I think a lot of people thought: Who is this nutcake? Who was I to be doing this?”—David Lynch.  35mm print courtesy of Lowell Peterson, ASC.