Friday, June 3, 2011

Movies I Actually Enjoy: Eraserhead

(Editor’s note: If there is a way to spoiler Eraserhead, I’m going to do it in this entry.  Granted, if you’re a newbie, it’s quite possible that I could give you a blow by blow of the entire movie and you’d still be lost.  That being said, consider this fair warning.)
Is This the Final Word on Eraserhead?
Not hardly.  
Not even close.   
Why?  Because I tried to write that months ago after buying a shiny new copy of the DVD and watching it.  What happened?  My brain fractured under the weight of unjustified effort.  I bandaged up my wounds and went to bed, leaving nothing but a Twitter trail about my defeat.   
Something to the tune of: “Just because I like Eraserhead doesn’t mean I can tell you why.”  (Well under the 140 character limit, in case you were wondering.)   
So why am I putting the gloves back on all these months later?  What makes me think this is going to go any differently?  In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t even watched the movie since that ill fated entry.   
Let’s reiterate: Why?   
I know what I think Eraserhead is about.   
The old cliche about multiple people watching a car accident holds true here.  You might have an entirely different account of what it all means.  Lord knows we all won’t even be in the same ball park as David Lynch.  We won’t even hold a candle to some genius film critic who will write a book on it ten years from now.   
That’s all well and good: I’m gambling on the fact that my explanation is the simplest.   
What you like the pudding served before you eat the meat?  Do you want me to give away my thunder this quickly?  
Okay, fine...Eraserhead is a metaphor for ditching serious, adult responsibility in the favor childhood indulgence.  What the hell does that mean?  In simpler English: it’s a bout a guy who decides not to grow up.    
Think about it: Henry (Jack Nance) grabs the scissors, cuts his only living child in half, and escapes into “Heaven” with the Lady in the Radiator.  She loves him in the way we all want to be loved.  That is so much more fulfilling than sticking around with the ugly, ungrateful little monster your (now absent) girlfriend spat out of her loins.
That’s it.
That is what Eraserhead is a parable for.  

Now you can do one of two things:  
  1. Consider yourself done: You have either thrown your laptop across the room in revolt, or emptily nodded your head.  Now you can be finished with what is most likely going to be wordy and not much “fun.”  
  2. You can stick around for my own personal context: Why do I hold this conviction?  What would persuade me to even conceive of such a thing?  
Those are your options, my friends.  If you choose to leave, imagine an “Exit” sign and run for it.   
And now: Context.  (Yes, this does have something to do with Eraserhead).
I didn’t see Eraserhead at a midnight screening full of stoned out college kids.  I was on the older end of “young,” and had landed my first real job.  (This is the aforementioned “adult responsibility” part of this essay.)    
Now, I suppose I should leave the nature of this “adult” job rather vague.  I won’t name the institution (other than to tell you it was large and government operated).  I’ll give you a brief sense of what we did there.  It was all health related: tallying up the number of disasters, diseases, and outbreaks in the area.  
After we got done crunching the numbers, we’d sit around and ponder about why a certain county had a sudden spike in cow related STDs.  (Yes, cows can get STDs.  Aren’t you glad you now know that?)  
Cow STDs was the least of it: I can tell you all about the exact mechanics of teen suicide, drug addiction, obesity, and the truth about what happens when a child dies on the ER.  (The entire staff starts laughing, because it’s the only way to release the tension.)     
What exactly was my role in all of this?  Well, I never really knew, to be perfectly honest.  I had a barely mandatory title (“Management Analyst B”), and about 20 hours worth of work in an entire full time week.  The other half of the time I was just bored.  
I was a commuter: I would pile onto a dirty bus in the morning with a crowd of similarly spiritually dead people.  We would pass time at the bus stop by having a variation of the following conversation:
Person A: Well, it’s Tuesday.   
Person B: It sure is.  And guess what tomorrow is?  
Person A: Wednesday.   
Person B: It sure will be.  
What was the real problem?  Beyond the whiny details we’ve all struggled with?  
Somewhere in between The Daily Grind, godawful statistics, and meaningless conversations I had a realization.  

Life is really, really short.  The fact is that it is incredibly easy to become trapped in something you don’t particularly like.  That spawns the ugliest of beasts: regret.  What if I had done this...?  I should have done that...   
I had spoken with my coworkers about my ambitions to write, or do something artistic.  The standard response was always: “Oh, that’s a nice hobby...but you just can’t leave this job.”  There are mythical creatures which all working people worship.  They have names like Career Stability and Benefits.  
Once you step outside the Realm of Steady Work, these things vanish into thin air.  Why would anyone want to do that? 

So yes...
Eraserhead does factor into this conversation.  This was around the time in my life that I rented it, watching it on my Mom’s HDTV while housesitting. 
Did I sit there and consciously think about any of this stuff?  No, but I suppose it was floating in the back of my mind.  I don’t know how much I can credit it for leaving the horrible job I was at (killing the baby, so to speak). 
Though I will say this: I chose to chase after the dream of “making movies.”  Possibly the most immature and irrational of career decisions.  And what about the benefits?  That’s right, there are none.    
Like a hyperactive toddler with a Crayola, my own psyche scribbled all over my first impression of this movie.  I am more than willing to acknowledge the fact that I saw what I wanted to see.  
In the end, doesn’t everyone?  


  1. my personal favorite tactic when it comes to lynch is to just sit back and let it sink in. i find that when i stop trying so damn hard to find meaning, i'm intuitively flooded by it. this was particularly helpful with inland empire, which i thought was a lot like a painting on film.

    astute observations on eraserhead, though, i remember reading an interview with lynch in which he stated that it was about his feelings as he was about to become a first time father.

  2. I totally agree with your techniques. In a strange way, my issue with Lynch before watching Eraserhead came from over thinking. Eraserhead struck me in a certain way, in the moment I saw it. I thought: "Okay, I get this..."

    I think I read that interview too. He doesn't like to talk about the meaning of his films...but he is fairly disclosing about his directorial style. Lynch on Lynch is a great book.

  3. I love articles in which the writer connects their experience of the film to what was going on in their life when they saw the film, and not just because I write a lot of articles like that. Eraserhead is a hard one for me to sit through but I think you've inspired me to watch it again, both to see if you're right and to see if I too can boil it down to one simple concept.

  4. Yep, Lynch on Lynch was indeed a great ressource, which I relied upon for my Eraserhead review last week, you might want to check it out! Can't promise it will be as humorous as your piece though, haha

  5. Wow, thanks for dropping by, guys. Sorry about missing your comments! Yeah, Eraserhead was a life event for sure. I also love Lynch on Lynch, fascinating because he reveals his methods (if not his meaning.)