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The Elephant Man

From Academic Kids

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The Elephant Man is a 1980 biographical film which tells the story of the 19th century British deformed celebrity Joseph Merrick. It stars Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon and Freddie Jones.

The movie was adapted by Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren and David Lynch from the book The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity by Sir Frederick Treves and Ashley Montagu. It was directed by Lynch. For artistic reasons, it was shot in black and white. The movie's most famous moment comes when Merrick (played with tender realism by John Hurt) stands up to his tormentors and cries, "I AM NOT AN ANIMAL! I AM A HUMAN BEING! I ...AM ...A MAN!!".

It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (John Hurt), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Score, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

The film was produced by Mel Brooks but he downplayed his involvement as he did not want the project to be perceived as a comedy.

The Elephant Man's name was Joseph, not John, Merrick. When Frederick Treves wrote his memoir, he referred to him as John. Why Treves changed the name is unclear.

The makeup for John Hurt was made from casts of Merrick's body, which had been preserved at the Royal London Hospital. David Lynch originally attempted to do the make-up himself but this was not filmable. The filmed make-up was devised by Carlo Rambaldi.

In addition to writing and directing the film, David Lynch provided the musical direction and sound design. The soundtrack uses Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber and has been partly responsible for the popularity of the tune.

The story begins with Treves (Hopkins) discovering Merrick (Hurt) in a Victorian freak show where he is managed by the brutish Bytes (Jones). Merrick is so hideously deformed that he must wear a hood when in public. Also, Bytes claims Merrick is an imbecile. Treves is moved by Merrick's condition and pays Bytes to bring him to his hospital so that he can inspect him and present a lecture on him, at which Treves displays him coldly as a curiosity. Bytes badly beats Merrick to the extent that Treves is called, who attempts to take him back to the hospital. Bytes confronts Treves and accuses him of also exploiting Merrick for his own ends, an accusation which leads Treves to resolve to do what he can to help Merrick.

The ward nurses are revolted by Merrick's appearance, so Treves places him in a quarantine room. Mr. Carr Gomm (Gielgud), the Governor of the Hospital, questions Treves about the infectious patient and reminds him that the hospital cannot entertain an incurable patient. Treves attempts to coach Merrick (who has thus far remained mute) to recite a few polite sentences such as "Hello. My name is John Merrick." However, during his interview with Carr Gomm, the confused and anxious Merrick breaks down. Carr Gomm leaves, telling Treves it was a good attempt but the man is an obvious imbecile. As Carr Gomm walks away. Treves hears Merrick in a strong and confident voice recite the 23rd Psalm and he calls Carr Gomm back.

It is revealed that Merrick is in fact a sophisticated and articulate person and that him playing dumb is a defence mechanism to avoid the beatings of Bytes. Carr Gomm arranges a set of rooms at the hospital, and Queen Victoria--having learnt of Merrick--instructs funds to be set aside for his care. He makes drawings and models of churches and reads. Merrick visits the home of Treves and his wife (Gordon) and reveals his most treasured possession, a portrait of his mother. When he states his hope that his mother would love him if she could only see what lovely friends he now has, Mrs. Treves breaks down and begins to weep, much to her embarassment. Merrick begins to receive society visitors in his rooms including the actress Mrs. Kendall (Bancroft) and becomes a celebrity. He becomes so successful at this that the head nurse complains that it seems that Merrick is still being treated as a freak show attraction, only now in a more up-scale style. For Treves' part, this observation and his role in this situation deeply trouble him.

However the rooms are not secure and a night porter (Elphick) begins to exploit Merrick again. Also Bytes learns how to get to Merrick and abducts him to continental Europe where he is put on show again. By now very ill-treated Merrick escapes with the help with the sympathetic staff of the show and manages to make it back to London. However, he is harassed by a group of boys at a train station, one of whom he accidently knocks down. This causes him to be chased and cornered by an angry mob. Merrick removes his mask and angrily asserts his humanity and then collapses from exhaustion.

Treves meanwhile is consumed with guilt and takes action against the Night Porter. When the police bring Merrick back to the hospital, he is re-installed in his rooms in the Hospital and makes some recovery but it is clear that he is dying. As a treat Mrs Kendall arranges an evening at the theatre where Merrick receives an ovation. That night back at the hospital Merrick thanks Treves and for the first time sleeps lying down even though he knows this will kill him (because of his oversized head, which he had to rest on his knees lest it snap his neck). The spirit of his beloved mother appears to comfort him at the last.

External links

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