something you'll never ever see

The Elephant Man is a strange film to have been familiar with as a kid, I think. A drama in black and white, a true story, about a deformed man in a hospital. There's hardly a plot. The film is slow. Deliberate. And sad. But, I liked it then. I might be imagining it, but I think I even saw this movie in the theater. I would have been four, so maybe not.

I have not watched it in a while.






The story is interesting, based on the memoir of Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) and another book about Joseph "John" Merrick (John Hurt). The comparison between Merrick's role in the freak show and his role at the hospital, still on display... as the nurse, Mrs. Mothershead (Wendy Hiller) tells Treves, "He's only being stared at all over again." Just by a different class of people.

Note: in reality, Bytes (Freddie Jones) was likely not a belligerent drunk prone to beating Merrick. Rather, he and Merrick were probably business partners and even friends. Only Treves' memoir suggests that Bytes beat Merrick.






Also, something I never knew before today: the film was produced by Mel Brooks. He deliberately went uncredited so audiences wouldn't see his name and expect a comedy.






I imagine that this film helped fuel my empathy. I mean, studies suggest that watching film in general increases empathy, but this film maybe more than some others for me. The Elephant Man offers a deformed man who can barely live his life, and he is more human than many of the "normal" people in the film. He is a curiosity to poor folks and rich folks alike. But, the freaks save him. The freaks--not just Merrick--are the good people here. (The nurses, too, of course; the film doesn't only have bad people on display, but it does make a point of countering those who are normal on the outside but awful inside with those who are freaks on the outside but good inside.


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