Eraserhead, analysed with the help of Joseph Campbell
Last night, I had the singular experience of seeing Eraserhead without knowing a single thing about it except that it was David Lynch’s first feature length film. All things considered, that should have been warning enough. I had never even seen a still photograph of Henry’s candyfloss hair.
How did I miss this.
I sat there for almost two hours, unable to move or speak. Afterwards, I wandered the streets all night, shrieking occasionally at homeless people. After sleeping for 12 hours, I decided that the only reasonable way to handle this was to put it into academic context. I turned to the author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces and curiously moustache-less 50s scientist guy, Joseph Campbell.
I thought moustaches were a requirement, but what do I know.
In case you are unusually dense, this will have spoilers, but I assure you, it makes no fucking difference.
- The Call to Adventure
When our hero, Henry Spencer, the result of a silent but presumably joyful union between Charlie Chaplin and Vincent Price, arrives at his apartment, which we are profoundly glad is in black and white so we cannot actually see how dirty it really is, he is intercepted by a foxy neighbour. Said fox says his girlfriend is at her parents and he is invited over.
- Refusal of the Call
The ENDLESS MOTHERFUCKING PAUSE until Henry says “Thank you” to Ms. Fox. Where are your motherfucking manners, son. I nearly fell off my seat waiting for you to answer.
- Supernatural Aid
It’s harder to identify which parts are not supernatural, here, although there is little aid to be found. If forced, I would say the leaky animatronic nightmare chicken. Not sure if it aided anything
though, except perhaps my decision to go vegetarian again.
- The Crossing of the First Threshold
That would be the face-licking by Henry’s future mother-in-law. Or the catatonic grandma in the kitchen, whose ability to smoke an entire cigarette without moving a muscle is on point. Or possibly that rictus grin on Mr. X. Or maybe even sperm-maker general during the intro. All I know is these are the waters uncharted.
- Belly of the Whale
The announcement that Henry and Mary have somehow produced offspring. I find the baby itself less shocking than the idea that these two have ever bumped nasties. Imagine, the faces they would make.
- The Road of Trials
The rejected ET rubber glove which will not stop screaming. I don’t care how vague Lynch is about this, if it isn’t some reference to the horrors of whelping early, I’ll eat…something. Not my shoes. Werner Herzog already cornered the market on that.
- The Meeting with the Goddess
Well, depending on your mileage/kink/issues, this could either be Ms. Fox or that tiny masked lady which the internet informs me is called The Lady in the Radiator. Thanks, internet! If you like sex in what I hope isn’t liquid cement, complete with floaty wigs, then go for Fox. If you prefer blondes/terrifying masked women who smile shyly while stamping on your sperm-leeches, then get yourself in that radiator, cowboy. It really doesn’t matter; it could be either. Nothing matters.
- Woman as the Temptress
Whatever your choice was above, insert the other one here. Or don’t.
- Atonement with the Father
Definitely the ring which turns into a dancing penis-slug. No question.
All of it. None of it. I miss Star Wars.
11.The Ultimate Boon
Having Henry’s head eaten by a puddle and then taken to a pencil rubber factory? Although, I am tempted to say that the boon is the brief moment when the ambient noise stops, presumably when Lynch tires of offering us a taste of those torture methods which no one formally admits to using.
- Refusal of the Return
I don’t think Henry refuses anything. This is part of the problem. My man, it would not kill you to just say no. Like to the face-licking. I mean, really.
- The Magic Flight
Any one of Henry’s flights of fancy we get dragged on, mostly about the Radiator Lady, or the pencil factory. Bonus points if you can identify what is real and what is a dream. (Hint: It’s trick question).
- Rescue from Without
?? Henry is saved from further sex with Ms. Fox by a horrifying stranger? Whew.
- The Crossing of the Return Threshold
When Henry popped the muppet, to let out 10 gallons of slimy porridge and I don’t even think he felt bad about it. That was certainly crossing a line.
- Master of Two Worlds
I count at least four worlds, if not more. It is entirely possible that none of them are real. It is entirely possible that no world is real. There is no God.
- Freedom to Live
Good for you, Henry. None of us are every eating, sleeping or having sex again.
Disclaimer: I did quite enjoy Eraserhead, upon reflection, and was able to appreciate its weird as hell brilliance. I doubt I’ll watch it again, though.
Additional Disclaimer: This isn’t how the Hero’s Journey model works? Really? You don’t say.