You can’t possibly finish watching Eraserhead and not think that you’ve just gone insane. It’s a movie full of metaphors and art. And just like actual art, it’s often open to interpretation.
What happens in David Lynch’s debut feature film is straightforward, yet extremely nuanced, full of strict symbols. I literally had to read the plot synopsis online to make sure I got everything right afterwards.
The movie follows Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), in a black-and-white world, as he deals with the news that his girlfriend has just had his baby. Not only that, but the baby is some sort of inhuman creature that looks like a cross between E.T. and an ostrich.
Before all this happens, we get a scene with some weird man, apparently named “The Man in the Planet”, who is doing something indescribable as Henry’s head is floating in space. Right away we know we’re getting into something strange. At least that tone is established immediately, rather than catching us off guard after making us think things are going to be normal.
Later on, we see some deformed woman inside of Henry’s radiator, who sings songs on a stage while stomping on giant spermatozoon-like objects on the ground.
I feel like I could describe almost any scene from this film without giving anything away, since most of it means absolutely nothing out of context. Heck, it barely means anything IN context. Yet, these things are all supposed to represent certain emotions or plights or struggles, possibly intended to surrealistically depict man’s fear of having a baby.
As a new parent myself, I could not relate to Henry. And if I can’t relate to a character even though he and I are going through similar things, why would I find any personal value to it?
Inspired by the stories of Franz Kafka and Nikolai Gogol, Lynch makes Henry feel alienated and insanely anxious–strange considering how much silence there is. However, the film’s lack of dialogue makes the development of Henry suffer a bit. We understand the little we get, but don’t fully grasp him as a character. He’s limited to what we see on screen. We thirst for more and become anxious ourselves.
The one part I can’t reveal is the ending, since it’s the only thing worth spoiling. For a film that’s well thought-out and carefully artistic, the final scene can easily be labelled as shock for shock’s sake.
Whereas some movies give us too much exposition, this one doesn’t quite give us enough. The ambiguity is intentional, but unlike a poem that you can quickly read several times in order to grasp an interpretation, or a painting that you can stare at for awhile, I’m not going to sit and watch Eraserhead again–at least not any time soon. For what this movie is–a self-aggrandized metaphor–it’s seemingly great. But Lynch’s film just might be a little too esoteric and cryptic for me to be worthily entertained by it.