Wine, Pizza and A Whole Lot of Surrealism

Words by Thomasin McCuaig

On Friday night, as the rain poured down over Courtyard, film lovers gathered together inside the Bevery to watch a screening of short surrealist films in anticipation of David Lynch’s debut film, ‘Eraserhead’. As I walked into the dark, gloomy room filled with coloured bean bags, atmospheric music and fellow film buffs, I knew this was going to be a great night. With a glass of wine in hand and margherita pizza delivered to me, I was ready to begin the short films. In brief, the films gave us a taste of the unusual; with women climbing up walls, pushing keys out of mouths, grudge-like creatures being pulled from drains and using asparagus as a form of foreplay. As surreal, absurd, creepy and humourous as these films were, they proved to be highly entertaining and set the tone for the main event.

It would not be honest if I said that I completely understood the purpose of ‘Eraserhead’ as it was my first viewing of the film. However, upon reflection and some much-needed research, I have gained a deeper insight into the potential meanings that can be deduced and David Lynch’s surrealist style. The film centres on the character of Henry Spencer: a hapless factory worker living in a highly industrialised and somewhat stark alternate reality. Henry learns from his beautiful neighbour that he has been invited for dinner at the home of Mary and her parents. It is during this dinner that he discovers that he is the father of Mary’s premature and deformed baby. Subsequently, Henry and his malcontent girlfriend choose to move in together in order to care for the baby. However, the incessant cries of the baby drive the two near insanity.  

This storyline may seem basic, however, it is David Lynch’s unique and surreal style which polarises viewers. Viewers either love or hate his style and my opinion is of the former as it is important to challenge oneself. David Lynch’s work is often loaded with symbolism, positioning viewers to figure out potential meanings and find their own interpretation. That is the beauty of his work. The multi-faceted nature of his films allow for numerous interpretations… they could mean anything to anyone. Here is my brief interpretation:

Surrealist films sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind and that is exactly what David Lynch achieves. Throughout the film we are constantly given an insight into the mechanical workings inside Henry’s head. In the opening scene, we see Henry’s head floating through space with something that looks like a giant sperm coming out of his mouth. The sperm ends up on a planet and enters a dark crevasse. As obscure and absurd as the opening scene is, to me it represents Henry’s nightmare about the possibility of impregnating his girlfriend. Fun note: David Lynch said, “Sex is a doorway to something so powerful and mystical, but movies usually depict it in a completely flat way.” Well Lynch, this opening was definitely not flat.

This beginning scene opens the door for the various themes that are explored within the film. David Lynch deals with a man’s anxiety of becoming a parent and settling down, especially with a woman that he has little to no connection with. The claustrophobic set and camera shots enhance this anxiety, causing the viewer to feel similarly trapped within this nightmarish world. The attractive woman across the hall ties into the fear of settling as she represents more of an ideal than a real person. In the pencil factory, a worker takes a part of Henry’s brain, turning it into the eraser of a pencil. When tested on, the residue of the eraser blows in the wind and we see an image of Henry’s head superimposed over it. In regard to the meaning behind the film’s title, I believe that Henry wants the mess that surrounds his life to be erased and forgotten. But hey, this is just my interpretation!

Thank you Verge Festival and FilmSoc for giving me this weird, yet enjoyable experience.

Pulp Editors