Henry is a regular guy dressed in suit and tie and favoring the hairstyle that either Kid or Play made famous in all those great House Party movies. If you think that the movie is called Eraserhead because of his hair though, you seriously underestimate this film. Director David Lynch has a little more up his sleeve than run-of-the-mill nicknames here. Like dinner at Henry’s ex-girlfriend’s house that features little midget dancing chickens as the main course!
Considering the social retardation that his girlfriend Mary X’s mom exhibits, Henry probably doesn’t really mind the frisky chickens though. She repeatedly asks him if he and Mary have had sexual intercourse. Henry is taken aback by all this and then Mrs. X starts sniffing him or trying to make out with him. (I couldn’t really tell which – whatever was happening, she was way too close!)
It turns out that Mary has had a baby, though the doctors aren’t even sure if it is a baby, so the Xs expect Henry to marry her and help raise this thing that their unholy union led to. The next scene shows us that Henry and Mary are living together in his apartment with their brand new, beautiful baby!
Is it a boy? Is it a girl? Who knows? It’s a cute little monster baby! It looks like an alien that you would expect to rip its way out of the womb instead of just being delivered, but it’s Henry’s and Mary’s and they love it, right?
Not exactly. Its bottom part is all wrapped in gauze and all we can see is its neck and smooth head. It’s always crying and squawking and Mary keeps yelling at it to shut up because she can’t sleep. Somebody call family services! Adopt that thing out to a family that’s on the waiting list for baby monsters!
Mary tells Henry that she needs a good night’s sleep so she takes off for her parents and leaves Henry, Jr. in Henry’s care.
Left alone with his baby, Henry sinks deeper into the morose craziness that seems to define his entire existence. He has a succession of strange experiences that defy any rational explanation.
Earlier he had received something in the mail that looked like a seed. He put it in a cabinet and then later he’s staring at a radiator and somehow there’s this tiny woman with deformed cheeks dancing and singing on a stage and these things that can be only be called sperm start dropping from the sky and she tries to dance around them, but eventually starts stomping them. (Ouch! I get the symbolism!)
Henry even manages to take time out of his busy schedule as “weirdo guy with fear of adult responsibilities” to bang the hottie next door.
Later, when his wife returns, they’re laying in bed and he starts pulling out all these giant sperm shaped things from under the covers and chucking them against the wall of his apartment. So much for his security deposit!
Then he watches the radiator again and soon he finds himself on the stage all shrunk down! There’s some weird stuff that goes on here, but I think we’d have to say the highlight is when Henry’s head pops off his neck and is replaced by the head of his little baby! And then it gets really weird!
Lynch is obviously trying to make some point about a guy being scared that his life is going to be utterly ruined by growing up and having kids. Well, duh! Like I need an art film to tell me that!
The movie is stunning to behold in spots, the black and white photography perfectly capturing the distorted reality that make our nightmares so scary. The problem though is that so much oddball crap is going on, that the human element is gone. You get so little of Henry as an actual human being that it’s really hard to care a whole lot about what he’s going through. In fact, you end up feeling more sorry for the monster baby for having such shitty parents.
The scenes where Henry was at Mary’s parents’ house were the most affecting because Lynch was able to successfully capture the anxiety of the situation. Other people’s families always appear strange to the outsider and Lynch is able to nail that feeling dead on with the wild family dinner the Xs were having.
The problem is that the second half of the film becomes a parade of bizarre images and any relation to reality is totally jettisoned. Even if this is just Henry’s descent into madness, why do I even care? Henry is a complete cipher, marked only by his crazy hair and pinched ambivalence toward everything that transpires.
That’s not to say the movie is a failure. It isn’t and is worth a look as it is genuinely unsettling, but if Lynch could have laid off a little of the whacky imagery or interspersed it with something approaching emotion, it would have been even more effective.
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