A glimpse into the vast depths of man’s inhumanity, The Elephant Man is David Lynch’s unflinching look at the barbarism that arises when people are confronted with the strange or unusual.
The Elephant Man is the semi-biographical story of Joseph Merrick (called John in the film), who suffered from a series of deformities including an enlarged skull, enlarged right arm and legs, and various subcutaneous masses. Beginning his life as a sideshow performer, Merrick (John Hurt) is billed as “The Elephant Man” due to his strange appearance, and a story regarding his pregnant mother being knocked over by a circus elephant. Seen as a curiosity by some, and as an appalling sight by others, Merrick’s “owner,” Bytes (Freddie Jones), is forced by police to end his exposition. Treated as nothing more than an object by Bytes, Merrick is moved to an underground showroom where he is beaten and locked in a basement. Dr. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), having heard the uproar over the deformed man, decides to seek him out in order to medically examine him. Finding Merrick in such abhorrent conditions, and stricken with bronchitis, he coerces Bytes to let him take Merrick to the hospital. During treatment for his illness, Treves learns that Merrick is able to talk, and is well educated. A friendship develops between the two men, and Merrick is given a more-suitable home at the hospital.