By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Couple has deformed baby.
In David Lynch’s first feature length film, a movie that took almost 5 years to make and had a good deal of it financed by Sissy Spacek and her husband, we have a surreal almost cryptic-like tale detailing a lonely man named Henry (Jack Nance) and his ultimate descent into a madness as he is forced to take care of severely deformed child while also harboring the dark urge to kill it.
It is hard to say whether one can like or dislike this as it goes so far out of the conventional form of film narrative that it seemingly defies all genres and puts itself into a category all its own. On a sheer technical level it is quite impressive especially when you factor in its shoestring budget and array of production set-backs. Each scene is meticulously detailed with wild and unsettling imagery that on a purely visual level will be more than enough to leave an impact. Overall the film is cold, ugly and unyielding, but helped tremendously by Nance’s presence as a sort of detached everyman who seems as confused and aloof to his surroundings as the viewer.
To me the most jarring image is the baby, which is incredibly lifelike. Had it came off looking fake, or like some puppet or Claymation attempt the film would’ve been a failure, or deemed laughable, but this thing is freaky looking to the extreme and Lynch spares no expense in getting the camera close up to it, which could force some viewers to turn away. Supposedly it was made from the embalmed fetus of a calf, but no one knows for sure and the crew was forced to blind fold themselves when Lynch set it up, so the secret would never come out. Either way it is effective and it manages to move its eyes and mouth almost like it were real and coming off as far more authentic than any computerized effect.
Of course the most confounding thing about the film is its story and symbolism’s that can be interpreted in a million different ways depending on the viewer’s own perspective. For what it’s worth I’ll give you my interpretation, which isn’t that complicated. To me the deformed baby symbolizes Henry’s soul, which has been mangled by the soulless world that he lives in, which would explain why he is so extremely passive because he is simply a walking zombie. The scene where his head pops off and the ugly child’s head pops into its place only reinforces this. The lady that he sees in the radiator is an angel from heaven and the beautiful lady that lives across the hall from him is the devil who entices him with sex, but when she realizes he has no soul to take, just an ugly mangled remnant of one, which gets exposed to her when she sees him standing in the doorway, she quickly loses interest and moves onto someone else. When he finally kills the baby he is essentially killing himself, which then explains why he ends up in the final scene in heaven with the lady in the radiator.
The man in the planet that we see at the beginning represents Henry’s own subconscious as he quarrels within his mind at the thoughts of killing the child. The man could also represent the world at large and how it controls everyone with its levers, which when Henry finally kills himself they start to have sparks fly from them and the man struggles in containing them, which shows that Henry has now ‘broken free’ from the man and this world by taking his own life.
End of Spoiler Alert!
Some consider this a horror pic, but I found certain parts of it to be quite funny in a darkly humorous way particularly the segment where Henry goes to visit his girlfriend’s parents. To me the most horrifying thing about is the way it challenges the viewers to question their own morality by forcing them to face the difficult quandary or what they would do if put into the same situation as Henry and forced to care for a hideous looking baby that some would consider would be better off dead.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: September 28, 1977
Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes
Director: David Lynch
Studio: Libra Films International
Available: DVD (Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video