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The Elephant Man (1980)

A Victorian surgeon rescues a heavily disfigured man who is mistreated while scraping a living as a side-show freak. Behind his monstrous façade, there is revealed a person of kindness, intelligence and sophistication.

Director:

David Lynch

Writers:

Christopher De Vore (screenplay), Eric Bergren (screenplay) | 3 more credits »
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Popularity
2,086 ( 468)

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Anthony Hopkins ... Frederick Treves
John Hurt ... John Merrick
Anne Bancroft ... Mrs. Kendal
John Gielgud ... Carr Gomm
Wendy Hiller ... Mothershead
Freddie Jones ... Bytes
Michael Elphick ... Night Porter
Hannah Gordon ... Mrs. Treves
Helen Ryan ... Princess Alex
John Standing ... Fox
Dexter Fletcher ... Bytes' Boy
Lesley Dunlop ... Nora
Phoebe Nicholls ... Merrick's Mother
Pat Gorman ... Fairground Bobby
Claire Davenport Claire Davenport ... Fat Lady
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Storyline

Joseph "John" Merrick is an intelligent and friendly man, but he is hated by his Victorian-era English society because he is severely deformed. Once he is discovered by a doctor, however, he is saved from his life in a freak show and he is treated like the human being that he really is. Written by Sam Cibula

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

I am not an animal! I am a human being! I...am...a man!

Genres:

Biography | Drama

Certificate:

PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA | UK

Language:

English

Release Date:

10 October 1980 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

El hombre elefante See more »

Filming Locations:

Broadgate, London, England, UK See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$5,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$26,010,864

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$26,010,864
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Brooksfilms See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Joseph "John" Merrick's condition was undiagnosed at the time of his death. Later studies of his skeleton, and the casts made of his body, led researchers to suggest he suffered from neurofibromatosis (NF) type I, a genetic condition, from which one in four thousand people suffer. The NF Foundation used this movie as a fund-raising tool, and credited it with making the disease more widely known. Later examination, including CT scans of the skeleton, lead researchers to believe he suffered from Proteus syndrome, a much rarer condition than NF. A scientist, in 2001, speculated that Merrick may have suffered from a combination of neurofibromatosis type I and Proteus syndrome. In 2003, researchers used surviving DNA samples from Merrick in an attempt to determine his unique condition. However, these tests were inconclusive, and the cause of Joseph "John" Merrick's medical condition remains unknown. See more »

Goofs

00:24:19 Frederick Treves says that Merrick is a complete imbecile probably from birth, then right after that says that he's a complete idiot. Imbecile and idiot were actually psychological terms, the former being someone with an IQ between 26 and 50 and the latter being those with an IQ between 0 and 25, so nobody could be both. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Skeleton Man: Get rid of them! I don't want to see them!
Fat Lady: Darling, don't be difficult! Let's take our sweet lovely children on an outing.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Closing disclaimer: This has been based upon the true life story of John Merrick, known as The Elephant Man, and not upon the Broadway play of the same title or any other fictional account. See more »

Connections

Referenced in The Fly (1986) See more »

Soundtracks

Adagio for Strings, Op. 11
Composed by Samuel Barber
Performed by London Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by André Previn
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more »

User Reviews

a perfect film
6 November 2004 | by Bastian Balthazar BuxSee all my reviews

If one was to turn on David Lynch's The Elephant Man midway through, without knowing what it was, one might be startled at the appearance of the main character. One might even be tempted to make fun of the character. But if one was to watch the film from the beginning, one's sympathy with John Merrick (John Hurt), 'The Elephant Man,' would be strong enough to deny that the former situation was ever a possibility. Lynch does not allow his audience to glimpse Merrick sans mask until his appearance has been built up substantially. When we the audience are at our zenith of anticipation, we see him-no dramatic music, no slow motion; a simple cut and he's there. There he is. And it's no big deal.

This is the beauty of Lynch's direction. We are led through our morbid curiosity at the same rate the characters in the film are. We develop alongside them. More specifically, we develop alongside Frederick Treeves, played with an astounding sublimity of emotion by Anthony Hopkins. Next to Treeves we pity Merrick, respect him, pity him again, and then ask ourselves with him, 'is he just a spectacle to me? Am I a bad person?'

Lynch certainly doesn't let us bypass this question easily. Are we bad people for being intrigued or are we good people for pitying? Certainly there is a mix of intrigue and pity with every character who first meets John, and we are not excluded. However, as with almost every character who truly comes to know John and confer with him, we learn to respect him as a human being and not as a spectacle. Nonetheless, this issue never finds close in the film, nor do I feel it ever can be closed in actual life. Hopkin's Treeves is never fully sated in how he feels about this dilemma, and so, neither can we be.

Technically, The Elephant Man is a beautifully shot film. In crisp black and white, the film recalls the cinematic technique of American cinema circa the 1930's. The scenes dissolve into one another; there is no brisk editing. The lighting is kept low-key during dark scenes, balanced during daytime scenes-this is standard film-making of the era. The one digression from this form are the distinctly Lynchian surrealities-pseudo-dream-sequences of commendably original imagery that break up the film and serve as distinct mood-setters for the audience. These are, for the most part, fairly intimidating sidenotes. We as an audience are caught off-guard because in these tangents we are not identifying with Treeves, we are put instead into Merrick's shoes. It is unsettling.

But Lynch has never been a director to flinch at unsettling prospects. We must watch Merrick beaten, abused, harassed, humiliated, and tormented. We may feel a surge of happiness when he finally stands up for himself, but by that point we still have to cope with what we've already, what he's already, experienced. I suppose that is the greatest and most devastating aspect of the film-empathy. Every moment is heartbreaking. Yet no matter how hard it gets, and how much better it then turns, there is always the threat of another jab. And those jabs only get more and more painful.

The Elephant Man is a perfect film. It is sorrowful but it apologizes not at all for it. It is a film about where our empathy stems from, a film that asks you to feel sorry but rebukes you for your blind pity. It asks you to respect Merrick, not cry for him. But you can't help crying. The Elephant Man is a film that treks you through despair and asks for your hope in the end. It asks you to hate humanity but to love the humane. It asks you to look at a man who appears sad and know that inside, he's okay.


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