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01 Apr 2010

By the time you reach around the half-hour mark of Eraserhead, one question will have surfaced in your mind: “Could this movie possibly get any weirder?” And then it does. Eraserhead – the controversial 1977 surrealist mind-melt from director David Lynch – is undoubtedly one the strangest, most disturbing and impenetrable films you are ever likely to see.

Let me put it this way: if Franz Kafka and Salvador Dali had a baby, and that baby had a terrible, terrible nightmare, that nightmare would look a lot like Eraserhead.

Set in a bleak, dream-like industrial wasteland, Eraserhead follows one Henry Spencer, a ‘vacationing’ everyman as he fathers an alien, is harassed by strange flagellate creatures, loses his head on a pencil production line, hallucinates wildly while staring at a radiator and... well, you get the idea.

As such, it’s not easy viewing, by any stretch of the imagination. Wriggling, bleeding chicken dinners, that endlessly crying mutant baby, as well as one of the most jarring scores ever committed to tape make Eraserhead not just an essay in sustained strangeness, but also an exercise in viewer endurance. Personally, by the one-hour mark I had to pause the movie while I went and got some fresh air.

As can be expected, critical opinion is divided when it comes to this bizarre and troubling film (although it receives a pretty healthy 90% freshness rating on rottentomatoes.com). But don’t worry about what the critics have to say – if you’ve read this far you probably know already whether Eraserhead is for you.

But the question remains: is it any good? Is it, as one reviewer spat, “a pretentious, incoherent and boring exercise in self-indulgent weirdness”? Probably, but is that all it is?

Is Eraserhead merely pointless weirdness for the sake of weird? Or is it art of the highest form, a bold first step of American surrealist film; a nightmarish parable for an industrialised, dehumanised world-gone-mad? Beats me. Both, I suppose. Or neither.

And I guess no one, except Lynch himself, knows for sure. One thing is for certain though: you have never seen anything like Eraserhead; and once you have seen it... well, good luck trying to forget it.