Eraserhead – What…the…

This disturbing post should have been written around Halloween but I’ve been busy with other projects lately. So without further ado…it was around Halloween time of 2011 and my awesomely weird and irresistible boyfriend said, “You’ve gotta see Eraserhead. It’s an older, artsy film about this couple who have a really weird looking baby.” Being a weird person who enjoys strange things, I figured Eraserhead was right up my alley. Think of it as a horror/sci-fi/fantasy/avant-garde combo.


Here are 4 faces I made frequently during the viewing of this 1977 David Lynch film (excuse the robe and disheveled look):


After seeing the film, I read up on themes, background and reviews. I found this anonymous person’s view particularly amusing:

“A lot of arrogant film watchers often point to this movie as some sort of neo-surrealist endeavor and act as if understanding it is some language only understood by smart people. In reality, “Eraserhead” is simply a stupid movie where a bunch of things that have nothing to do with each other happen on a screen. “Eraserhead” is not art. David Lynch merely threw a bunch of things together and somehow got his heart broken when no one liked it. Only a fool with low standards would find this film the remote bit interesting. A perfect example of how not to make a film.”

I must say, I found the film more than a bit interesting and I think it’s safe to say I’m not a fool with low standards. Does a movie have to make sense to be good? (*cough*No*cough*) It seems that reviewers either love or detest this movie.

I much prefer this view on the film:

“However, Eraserhead is not a film that you can watch and expect to be mindlessly entertained by. To achieve more than boredom and frustration, a little effort needs to be put into resolving the symbolism, throwing light upon what initially seems to be a darkened room. If you can’t do this, at least appreciate Henry’s awesome hairstyle!”

Basics – I won’t give away too much detail in case you haven’t seen this film

Setting: Post apocalyptic…in a nameless, industrial city filled with urban decay. You can hear machine-like sounds such as clanks, hums and rumbles in the background. The film is in black and white. Throughout the movie one can see lots of baffling imagery – won’t go into detail here or I would spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it.

Who/what: Henry Spencer, a printer who is on vacation. He has a girlfriend called Mary X. They have a weird mutant baby. Strange things happen! You will be baffled.

Mood: bleak, hopeless, full of despair, nightmarish

Some possible themes

Fear of adulthood,  committment and responsibility – Henry has an angry girlfriend and a constantly crying mutant baby

Sexual fear and anxiety – spermlike things falling from the sky and getting stepped on, Mary’s mother grilling Henry about whether he had sexual intercourse with her daughter and then pawing at him, spermlike things being pulled out of Mary’s vagina by Henry

Suicide – the easy way out? (lady in the radiator singing of heaven’s promise) because of his fears and forced marriage, responsibilities of fatherhood, committing to marriage, loneliness and isolation since Mary returns home to her parents and the girl across the hall rejects his advances, Henry finds himself thinking about the lady in the radiator

Some background and interesting facts:

  • The film was created over 5 years, with many sets rebuilt after being torn down to make way for other work.
  •  David Lynch had a lot of trouble getting financial assistance from the AFI, because the script was only 20 pages long. He received a grant from AFI but after about 3 years of production, ran out of money. At one point Terrence Malick screened the film for a potential financial backer, who walked out, calling the movie “bullshit”.
  • The mutant baby was apparently created from the embalmed fetus of a calf, although David Lynch has never confirmed this or described how he articulated it. During filming when he watched rushes, he even had the projectionist cover his eyes when takes with the baby were playing, so that no one would know how it was made. After completing the film, Lynch reportedly buried the “Embalmed Calf” in an undisclosed location. At the wrap party, they had a mock wake for it.
  • Though only released at first as a “midnight movie,” a number of Hollywood A-list directors saw the film and were impressed by it. John Waters, whose Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble played the same venue, often mentioned Eraserhead as a favorite film, urging viewers to see it. Stanley Kubrick reportedly said the same; this was one of the films he made the cast and crew of The Shining watch to get in the right frame of mind for. Mel Brooks saw it and offered Lynch the chance to direct The Elephant Man; Lynch accepted. George Lucas asked Lynch to direct Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi; Lynch turned it down.
  • There is no dialogue for the first 10 1/2 minutes of this movie. It is David Lynch‘s feature debut.
  • David Lynch refuses to say anything about Eraserhead because he wants to let viewers decide for themselves what they think it means.
  • David Lynch performed many duties on the film himself, e.g. directing, writing, producing, production design, special effects, etc.
  • It is often erroneously stated that Lynch’s wife at the time, Peggy Lynch was pregnant during the making of Eraserhead. In actual fact, Jennifer Chambers Lynch (Lynch’s daughter) was three years old when the film was first being prepped, and would be eight by the time it was finished.

I don’t want to give away too much about the plot, so I’ll just let you watch it if you haven’t seen it. 😉

Credits for Info:



7 thoughts on “Eraserhead – What…the…

  1. Yay. A blog post after my own heart. I went back and watched this again a few weeks ago after you told me I should go as Henry for Halloween. lol. I could write 20 pages on David Lynch films, as he is certainly a filmmaking idol of mine, but I’ll spare you. I love the facial expressions you posted. Haha. That pretty much sums it up.

    I still didn’t understand a lot after watching it the second time around, but that’s the thing with his films that I love: they aren’t written using the traditional storytelling method, and he doesn’t spell everything out for you at the end, like so many no-brainer Hollywood films do that have to play down to the majority of casual movie-goers who don’t want to think too much. He has no interest in insulting the viewer’s intelligence by doing such. His films are more of a surreal journey of exploration through bizarre characters, unconventional plot-lines, and of course his brilliant talent for directing the visual aspects of a film: lighting, camera angles, close-ups, wide shots, his characters’ looks, and of course the editing of the film that rarely follows a linear timeline.

    No one should be expected to understand this film or any other in its entirety the first time through, if ever. From what I got from his vague explanation of Lost Highway, he didn’t really want people to understand it. Sometimes I wonder if he gets away with such nonsensical storytelling because of his brilliant visual aspects, but regardless, that’s still part of the fun, trying to decipher the metaphors and what not. At least it’s making you think for days on end after watching. All I know is, the “mystery man” in Lost Highway, played by Robert Blake, will forever haunt my dreams. 🙂

    I like the making-of facts you presented. Did you watch the documentary that accompanies the film on dvd? Not sure if the one you watched came with it, but the one I have has an hour-or-so-long interview with him about the film where he talks for a while with one of the crew members on the phone about Henry’s hair and everything. It’s quite entertaining. He talked about how he slept in a storage room at the studio during the day that one of the crew members had to lock from the outside and cover up with plywood so no one would know he was illegally sleeping there. Haha. Everything about it just sounded like so much fun: the struggling art film student eating the same measly sandwiches everyday and basically living on the set, doing it all for the sake of his passion, making a film that no one understood and hardly anyone believed in at first.

    And as far as the guy who wrote that review saying no one liked it, your points about all those other now-famous directors loving it completely proves that ignorant claim completely wrong. It’s obviously gone on to be known as one of the greatest “art house” films of all time. I LOVE that Kubrick made his actors for The Shining watch it before filming. I had no idea about that. That’s so awesome.

  2. Haha, I like that you practically wrote an essay as your comment. The only other Lynch film I’ve seen is Mulholland Drive – I need to see that one again, it’s been a while! Lost Highway is one I’ll have to see then. And no, I haven’t watched the documentary that accompanies Eraserhead. I think we watched this on Netflix or downloaded it somehow, I don’t remember. I like how he wouldn’t even let the projectionist see the “baby” when it was being filmed so nobody could see how it was made. I kept trying to mimic the baby cries. And the scene when he cuts the cloth off with the scissors and then….hah. Oh my…how unforgettable. Well the whole film is unforgettable! I’m glad my man said I needed to see it. 🙂

    Also, I love this:

    Thanks for reading! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Ha, I told you! I ramble sometimes. 😉

    Yes! I never saw them play that before. That’s awesome. The soundtracks to his movies are always great. I think that’s an understated part of them that add to their surrealism and the creepy vibe. I love how in Eraserhead, there’s pretty much no music, just those constant, droning, industrial-sounding, ambient noises that can almost drive a person crazy.

    I still need to see Inland Empire and The Elephant Man. I think those are the only ones I haven’t really sat down and watched straight through. I haven’t watched all of the Twin Peaks series in forever, though. I need to go back and watch those, too. Lost Highway is crazy. You’ll be even more confused than when you watched Eraserhead, but I liked it a lot. Patricia Arquette is surprisingly nude in it a lot. I can’t complain about that. lol. Wild at Heart is good and has its crazy-funny moments, and I wouldn’t say it’s his best, but still worth watching. Nick Cage is pretty funny in it. Blue Velvet is pretty jacked up. I bet you’d like that one. Dennis Hopper is crazy in it. I need to go back and watch that one again, too. I loved Mulholland Drive the first time I saw it, probably because I was also really stoned when I watched it. Ha. Watching his movies high is almost too much to handle. lol. He also put out these creepy, black and white stick figure animated short called Dumbland. I don’t even know how to describe it other than that. You’ll just have to watch it. I realized there are a few other shorts he put out that I haven’t seen yet, now that I skimmed over his IMDB page. I watched The Cowboy and the Frenchman on IFC a while back. It’s kind of boring except for this one scene of dialogue that made me laugh so hard I was crying. lol. I almost forgot he directed and wrote the adapted screenplay for Dune, also. I haven’t seen that in forever, either. We should have a David Lynch screening party! Ha. And then we’ll all commit mass suicide.

    I just love how he always incorporates sort of an homage to old Hollywood in most of his films. You can tell he studied the classics and pays tribute to them through a lot of his characters, and then mixes it with his own weird, artsy style.

    • Dude, you are a Lynch freak! Haha. I loved reading Dune but I haven’t seen the film. I need to put that one on my list of must-sees. Maybe you should create a David Lynch blog? Eh, eh? You certainly have enough to write about.

  4. I just watched this and then went online and read a number of interpretations. So the rock is heaven and the guy with the levers is god and the radiator is suicide and the name of the film is about erasing fear etc. Whatever. I’m sure Lynch is that he himself doesn’t always know what he means. Sometimes he’s just creating an experience. One thing that is clear though is the overall theme of sex and procreation.

    So some of my random thoughts.

    I think the name of the movie simply refers to the male glans (head of the penis). It does look exactly like an eraser tip after all!

    And the radiator? It’s a vagina. Not heaven or some other big concept. Just a vagina. It’s got a slit… there’s hair all around it (or something) on the floor… it rains down “sperm” inside… the lady squashes most of them (most sperm don’t make it)… etc. And Henry is at once fascinated by it (staring at it from his bed) and scared of it (inside it in his dream). Sounds crude but it could be that simple.

    As for “god” and the “rock”. Again being really literal and crude I don’t think the “rock” is any kind of big concept like heaven or whatever. It’s could just represent the male anatomy. A testicle perhaps. And the dude controlling it (the lever guy) is just the dude controlling it. He’s the one working so hard after all to make those ugly “sperm” appear right? To me the opening scene is just the conception of their “baby”. Simple.

    The “baby” also kinda looks like a penis with it’s round head and scrotum shaped “body”. I don’t know that. I don’t really get the “baby”. But again, I’m pretty sure that David Lynch himself doesn’t really know. It’s a collection of ideas around sex and reproduction and fear and salvation (at the end)… etc… and I’m sure it’s not even 100% clear in his mind.

    Interesting that pencils can so easily create (write) and destroy (erase). And he destroys his “baby” in the end. Maybe Henry just castrated himself in the end so he could be free of all his anxieties over the “whore” (sexy neighbour) and the “madonna” (the radiant radiator lady). Who knows.

  5. Thanks for your comment! I particularly like the thoughts about pencils easily creating and destroying. And I couldn’t have said it better about it all being a collection of ideas around sex, reproduction, fear, and salvation. I should probably watch it again sometime – I’m sure I would notice things I didn’t notice during the first viewing. Have you seen any other Lynch films?

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