Disturbing cinema it may be, Eraserhead sounds good on paper, and proves frustratingly shallow in execution. Sacrilege it may be to disrupt the peace of our world with the clash of criticism, David Lynch is an oddity of cinema. Never quite loving him or his work, never carried away on that tidal wave so many others have drowned in, but on no account disliking his work. His artistry, deserves and demands respect, although this positivity is often due to a compelling narrative or some stylish flair that captures his interests and themes. Eraserhead, for me, has neither. An inescapable depression sets the tone for the film, which consistently holds itself in a rut that is bound to interest some, but has nary a degree of engrossment for me.
Capturing the emotion of an audience is crucial to the success of a film. Eraserhead is neither repugnant nor beautiful, it is just there. When time is so fleeting and my interest so stretched between the many horrid follies of life, it is hard to spare any second longer for Lynch’s debut. His production design and style is there already, set in stone with strong camerawork and technical merits that would prove themselves intensely useful over his decades-long career. But, and this is that crucial, mortifying word that unravels it all, what is the point of it? With no reason to care for the rather disinteresting performances, Jack Nance staggers around the screen in some distraught temperament, attempting to deal with his life. An allegory or message for the pangs of a humdrum lifestyle, never capitalised on or pushed further than including them from time to time. Parenthood is scary? It sure is! I don’t want kids, and by the sounds of it, neither does lead character, Henry Spencer. I agree with the message and that encroaching fear of sudden consequence, I just don’t care for its adaptation here.
There are few directors out there who can start their career off with such a strong debut, that much is true, but the qualities of Eraserhead are that they feel very similar to the work Lynch would produce later down the line with either more clarity or interest. Hard it may be to move past the premise that it’s just “not my cup of tea”, understanding why that is has been far more difficult than first expected. Appreciating the art on offer here is rather difficult, the lack of any real narrative sense, and the defence utilised by fans or filmmakers that “film does not need meaning” is understandable, and even a possibility, but it is difficult to reach that conclusion when Lynch’s heavy thematics are just as provocative here are they are in, say, Twin Peaks or Lost Highway.
They are expanded upon better in those projects, and I find myself feeling that Eraserhead is forgettable at best. Horrifying imagery that just doesn’t cut through the weird and varied products found elsewhere. A narrative detached from its story, with lingering composition, framing characters that are suffering for no particular reason, it’s just not for me. Surely there is a point to it all? Apparently not. Until there is again. I do not fear a lack of structure, but I do fear looking after a horrid creature similar to that of the son Henry Spencer finds himself coupled with. Lynch plays on fears well when he provides structure, here is just a portion of ideas that are somewhat scary, but lacking that vivid, disgusting punch he would turn in with The Elephant Man or Blue Velvet.