August 02, 2013

Must Watch Before You Die #37: Eraserhead (1977)

I introduced a new movie to the current batch of students I am teaching the subject 'Understanding Cinema'. One day before the screening, I sent this SMS to the students: The screening of "the strangest film ever made" will start at 2.10 pm sharp. Please have a light lunch before it starts. Empty or too full stomachs will make it difficult for you to watch the film. Also, feel free to walk out as I don't expect all of you to bear it entirely.

This is the film after watching which some six years ago I had exclaimed with disgust that this is the worst film I had seen in my life. Of course, I eventually realised I couldn't have been more wrong. Even if you ignore its originality and its guts, you cannot not appreciate its impeccable craft - the stunning cinematography, the amazingly intricate sound, and the incredible special effects. That it remains one of the biggest mysteries of cinema - the interpretation and little details like the 'monster baby' - further adds to the 'must watch' tag of the film. Among all the movies I have recommended here, perhaps this is the one which truly deserves the throne of "One film you must watch before you die".

How strange can a film be? All of us have seen strange plots and characters, where nothing makes sense. All of us have seen confusing gender-bending movies, where you don't know whether this is body horror or black comedy. We have seen movie-puzzles, and have spent hours trying to crack them. We have seen repulsive and disgusting films, experimental films, mood films, and sci-fi films that are painfully slower than anything else. But trust me on this. You have not watched anything stranger than this film, the first by the great American surrealist master, David Lynch, a prime example of avant-garde cinema, and its biggest contribution lies in the boundaries it has stretched and the extremes it has shown regarding what cinema can do or achieve.

Considered by many as the greatest American debut after 'Citizen Kane', this film is strange from its first shot. And every ten minutes, it keeps getting stranger. Mid-way into it, when you feel that you have already watched the most disgusting images of your life, it will surprise you again, proving that things can get even filthier, and scarier, and more repulsive than what you have watched. This graph of rising weirdness will finally lead into an explosive climax that will remain one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life. If cinema could be music, this film is a glorious cacophony, celebrating the ugliness of life and minds through its form. If cinema could be sculpture, this film is a celebration of texture, indulging in mud and dust, and metal and hair and flesh and body fluids. When I described to my Mom, what this film shows, she turned livid - "It is films like these that have spoiled your mind!" The moral of the story is this - do not share the details of this film with people who care for you. Just experience it. As one of the critics has rightly said - "Eraserhead" is no ordinary film. It is a pure sensory experience that will haunt you for life. Just sit back, and get disturbed.

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