David Lynch famously described his 1977/78 feature-film debut, Eraserhead, as “a dream of dark and troubling things” (1). Generally considered one of the truly groundbreaking independent films to emerge in the horror and horror/thriller genres, Eraserhead offers a vaguely linear plot, ambiguously motivated and realised characters, and, despite an atmospheric dreamscape created via such familiar images from psychoanalysis as spewing liquids and worm-like organisms, an arguably incoherent set of messages about the interconnectedness of sexuality, identity, violence and loss.
Set in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic urban landscape resembling an industrial town well on its way to dilapidation, and inhabited sparsely by those without sufficient means to relocate even if a more desirable habitat were available to them, the story paradoxically both embraces and ignores the sterility and decay that typify the bleak, nightmarish landscape (enhanced by the film’s black-and-white stock). Henry Spencer (John Nance), occupant of a tiny grim room in a dark and decrepit building, learns from his girlfriend’s parents’ grotesque and bizarre dinner conversation that Mary (Charlotte Stewart), the girlfriend, has given birth to an offspring they believe to be Henry’s. They pressure Henry into marriage, and Mary and the swaddled offspring (a reptilian, fetal creature not unlike the chest-bursting embryo of Alien [Ridley Scott, 1979]) subsequently move into Henry’s apartment at the parents’ insistence. However, the offspring’s persistent crying compels Mary to abandon both it and Henry, who becomes sole caregiver for the infant. In what appears to be a genuinely caring and loving manner, Henry tends to the sickly baby until its escalating illness and relentless cries drive Henry to a point beyond endurance: in a moment of ambiguous violence (frustration and rage or euthanasia?), he cuts the offspring’s wraps, which, disturbingly, appear to be the only thing holding its organs intact, and then stabs its chest with the scissors, killing it. As the bleak, decaying world around Henry disintegrates – overseen by the same horribly disfigured and burn-scarred Man in the Planet (Jack Fisk) who works the symbolic levers in the film’s opening credits – a dancing Henry is received into his vision of Heaven under the auspices of the Lady in the Radiator (Laurel Near).[Sensesofcinema.com]