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The Elephant Man

The Elephant Man is a 1980 biographical film which tells the story of the 19th century British deformed celebrity Joseph Merrick. It stars Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon and Freddie Jones. more...

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The movie was adapted by Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren and David Lynch from the book The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity by Sir Frederick Treves and Ashley Montagu and was directed by Lynch. For artistic reasons, it was shot in black and white.

It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (John Hurt), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Score, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.


The story begins with Treves (Hopkins) discovering Merrick (Hurt) in a Victorian freak show where he is managed by the brutish Bytes (Jones). Merrick is so hideously deformed that he must wear a hood when in public. Also, Bytes claims Merrick is an imbecile. Treves is moved by Merrick's condition and pays Bytes to bring him to his hospital so that he can inspect him and present a lecture on him, at which Treves displays him coldly as a curiosity. Bytes badly beats Merrick to the extent that Treves is called, who attempts to take him back to the hospital. Bytes confronts Treves and accuses him of also exploiting Merrick for his own ends, an accusation which leads Treves to resolve to do what he can to help Merrick.

The ward nurses are revolted by Merrick's appearance, so Treves places him in a quarantine room under the watchful care of the dour matron Mothershead (Hiller). Mr. Carr Gomm (Gielgud), the Governor of the Hospital, questions Treves about the infectious patient and reminds him that the hospital cannot entertain an incurable patient. Treves attempts to coach Merrick (who has thus far remained mute) to recite a few polite sentences such as "Hello. My name is John Merrick." However, during his interview with Carr Gomm, the confused and anxious Merrick breaks down. Carr Gomm leaves, telling Treves it was a good attempt but the man is an obvious imbecile. As Carr Gomm walks away. Treves hears Merrick in a strong and confident voice recite the 23rd Psalm and he calls Carr Gomm back.

It is revealed that Merrick is in fact a sophisticated and articulate person and that him playing dumb is a defence mechanism to avoid the beatings of Bytes. Carr Gomm arranges a set of rooms at the hospital, and Queen Victoria--having learnt of Merrick--instructs funds to be set aside for his care. He makes drawings and models of churches and reads. Merrick visits the home of Treves and his wife (Gordon) and reveals his most treasured possession, a portrait of his mother. When he states his hope that his mother would love him if she could only see what lovely friends he now has, Mrs. Treves breaks down and begins to weep, much to her embarrassment. Merrick begins to receive society visitors in his rooms including the actress Mrs. Kendall (Bancroft) and becomes a celebrity. He becomes so successful at this that the head nurse complains that it seems that Merrick is still being treated as a freak show attraction, only now in a more up-scale style. For Treves' part, this observation and his role in this situation deeply trouble him.


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