Friday, July 6, 2007

ERASERHEAD

Humans are essentially wet and gooey. Our bodies contain up to 60% water, and our biological processes, from digestion to circulation to reproduction, all basically involve slippery organs slushing soupy liquids from place to place. And although we're often too vain to acknowledge it, we all leave a trail of oily fingerprints, stray nose hairs, clipped toe nails, and dead skin cells everywhere we go. Civilization could be defined by everything that tries to conceal our basically messy nature: band-aids, underwear, deodorant, electric shavers, etc.

In David Lynch's Eraserhead, the rigid facade of smooth surfaces and right angles fits awkwardly over the undulating globs of flesh that make up the basis of our biology. A man and woman falling in love, having sex, and raising a baby, should be the most natural thing in the world, but in this movie, it's monstrously repugnant.

Early in the film, our protagonist, Henry, accepts an invitation to dinner with his girlfriend and her parents. All the social implications and arbitrary etiquette create an itchy discomfort. This mood is permeated by the sound of the family's puppies suckling; loudly demonstrating how uncomplicated the basic act of eating ought to be. The main course is man made chickens, presumably manufactured by white-coated technicians in an antiseptic laboratory instead of farmers with dirty fingernails or hunters with blood up to their elbows. Appropriately, the mechanical cuckoo clock signals when it is permissible to eat.

The father, is the only character not alienated from his nature. As a plumber, he's not fooled by the my-shit-don't-stink pretense of the rest of society. He's "put every damn pipe in this neighborhood", he says, and he's seen it change "from pastures to the hell-hole it is now". Every time his conversation veers toward his body - his bad knees, or his numb left arm - he is quickly shushed by his wife.

According to Eraserhead, we have more in common with the primordial ooze we crawled out of than the civilized society we pretend to live in.

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