It would take a heart of stone not be moved by "The Elephant Man". Based upon the true story of the horrendously deformed John Merrick (Hurt), this tale of a pure soul struggling to be heard over the prejudice of the many is quite heart-rending.
Trapped for years as part of a travelling freak show, Merrick is beaten and deprived of any help that might alleviate his pain. Discovered by Dr Frederick Treves (Hopkins), he is able to get Merrick out of his never-ending life of misery by admitting him into hospital. Merrick is a major find for Treves, although at first he does not realise just how important he really is. "The man's an idiot," he declares, before adding, "I pray to God he's an idiot."
The truth is rather different, and after the initial revulsion of those around him has subsided, Merrick begins to communicate. Within time, it's all too clear that he's intelligent, sensitive, and above all only too aware of the tortuous life of humiliation that he has had to endure. Sadly, trouble looms for Merrick as his former master returns, determined to snatch him back from his only chance of happiness.
Buried under an incredible mass of make-up, John Hurt still manages to invest his portrayal of Merrick with dignity and courage. His moving performance contrasts with the Victorian world of industrial horror that director David Lynch tries to crush him with. The result is a glimpse into a nightmare from which a beacon of humanity clearly shines out, despite his hideous disfigurement.
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