The Elephant Man

  • Directors: David Lynch
  • Producers: Jonathan Sanger, Stuart Cornfeld, Mel Brooks
  • Writers: Screenplay, Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren, David Lynch, Books, Sir Frederick Treves, Ashley Montagu
  • Genres: Biography, Drama, History
  • Actors: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller

Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), a surgeon at the London Hospital, discovers John Merrick (John Hurt) in a Victorian freak show in London’s East End, where he is managed by the brutish Bytes (Freddie Jones). Merrick is so deformed that he must wear a hood and cape when in public. Bytes further claims that his “exhibit” is an imbecile. Treves is professionally intrigued by Merrick’s condition and pays Bytes to bring him to the London Hospital so that he can examine him. He then presents a lecture to his colleagues on Merrick’s disability, dispassionately displaying him as a prize physiological curiosity. Treves draws attention to the oversized deformities of Merrick’s skull; it is his most obvious disability and (as he was so informed by Bytes) also the most life-threatening, as he is compelled to sleep sitting with his head resting upon his knees, as the weight of his skull would asphyxiate him if he were to ever lie down. On Merrick’s return, Bytes beats him so severely that a sympathetic apprentice (Dexter Fletcher) alerts Treves, who attempts to take him back to the hospital. Bytes confronts Treves, accusing him of likewise exploiting Merrick for his own ends, which leads the surgeon to resolve to do what he can to help the unfortunate man.

As the shocked mob backs away, he collapses from illness and exhaustion. Treves, consumed with guilt over Merrick’s plight, takes action against the night porter with the help of Mrs. Mothershead. When the police return Merrick to the hospital, he is reinstated to his rooms. He recovers a little but it is soon clear he is dying from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. As a treat, Mrs. Kemble arranges an evening at the musical theatre, where Merrick is accompanied by his beloved friends: Treves, Mrs Mothershead, Nurse Nora, and HRH The Princess Of Wales. Resplendent in white tie, he rises in the Royal Box to an ovation, having had the performance dedicated to him from Mrs Kemble. That night, back at the hospital, Merrick thanks Treves for all he has done and finishes his model of the nearby church. Imitating one of his sketches on the wall — a sleeping child — he removes the pillows that have allowed him to sleep in an upright position, lies down on his bed and dies, consoled by a vision of his mother.

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