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Mrs. Kendel: Why, Mr. Merrick, you're not an elephant man at all.
Merrick: Oh no?
Mrs. Kendel: Oh no... no... you're a Romeo.
The Very Loosely Based on a True Story saga of Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man.
Basically, one of the saddest films ever, and one of David Lynch's few non-"omgwhaththehellisthisaaaaaaaaaI'mscared" movies, depicting Joseph (here called John, and played by John Hurt) Merrick's struggle to leave an abusive circus sideshow, while meeting Dr. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), who takes him out of that place and gets him into the London Hospital, where he - being an educated and kind person but still with the outward appearance of a freak - becomes the focus of London's attention, raising the question: is Merrick just moving from one circus to another?
Tropes present in the film:
- Bittersweet Ending: Merrick dies. But he dies on the happiest day of his life, and dies doing what he wants to do: to sleep like he's normal. It does not count as a Downer Ending.
- Body Horror - Sort of. Merrick's physical anomalies become ever less-repellent as his agreeable personality is revealed.
- Circus of Fear
- Come to Gawk
- Creepy Circus Music - The soundtrack (in places), and it's heartbreaking.
- The Danza: John Hurt as John Merrick
- Dream Sequence: Provides the surreal, since most of the film avoids the Mind Screw Lynch is known for.
- Deliberately Monochrome
- Everything's Better with Monkeys - Averted, with the big mean baboons at the circus.
- The Grotesque
- Hey, It's That Guy!: A very young Dexter Fletcher (Soap from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) plays Bytes' assistant
- Heel Realization: Dr. Treves is shaken by the Head Nurse's observation that the arrangement he set up for John Merrick, which include receiving respectable callers, means he is still being treated as a freak on display, albeit in a high class cushy style.
"Why did I do it? Am I a good man or a bad man?"
- Heroic BSOD: Merrick in the train station. See below for This Is Sparta.
- Humans Are Bastards / Humans Are Special: The whole movie questions "What does it mean to be human?"
- I Just Want to Be Normal
- Monstrosity Equals Weakness: Truth in Television for the real Merrick, sadly.
- Not So Different: Bytes accuses Treves of being just as exploitive of John.
- Oscar Bait: A partial aversion. It was a tragic biopic about a physically disabled man shot in black and white, which certainly covers several typical Oscar Bait traits, and was nominated for seven different Oscars. However, it won none of them.
- Also averted in that most people agree a different tragic biopic shot in black and white should have won most of the Oscars that year (and indeed, it did win two).
- Take Our Word for It - For the first chunk of the movie, we never get a good look at John.
- It helps build the suspense as we only see the reactions of others to poor Merrick's physical deformities.
- Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Trailer - Executive producer Mel Brooks deliberately kept his name off the film, for fear people would expect it to be a comedy. He did the same with The Fly, among other films in the early 80s.
- Suicide Is Painless: See Bittersweet Ending.
- This Is Sparta: "I! AM NOT! AN ELEPHANT! I AM NOT! AN ANIMAL! I! AM A HUMAN! BEING! I! AM! ...a man."
- "Where - is - he?"
- In the men's room of a London train station, where he's just been cornered by an angry mob. This exclamation works; the mob immediately becomes more sympathetic.
- "Where - is - he?"
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Bytes is a Composite Character, with evidence indicating that Merrick was actually well-treated in the British sideshow. The Belgian one was probably about as bad as the movie suggests.
- Victorian London: The setting for most of the film.