Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Elephant Man

I realize that this blog has been oddly film-heavy. I did, however, go to film school, so maybe that has something to do with my cultural points of reference. In any event, I was pondering events that shaped my childhood.....one of these occurred around the David Lynch film The Elephant Man . Have you seen it? I have only seen it the one time.

First, let me set the stage. I must have been 8 or 9 years old. My parents were already separated and my father was living in NY. He had a condo and boat at the beach in Southern California. My mother and I used to spend weekends down there, as he flew back to LA almost every weekend.....in on Friday night and back out Sunday night on the red eye. Needless to say, my parents, although involved in other romantic entanglements, maintained a blurry relationship with one another. Why this is a part of the story, I don't know, but I am including it anyway.

OK, so one Saturday night my parents had rented The Elephant Man and, as I am sure you have guessed or there would be no story, we watched it. While I loved the film, the true story of Joseph Merrick haunted me in a way I could not, with my limited childhood experiences, have anticipated. It crystallized, for me, the depth of cruelty in the world. I was so hysterical at the end of the film, that my mother actually slapped me, in an attempt to snap me out of it. It was one of those moments, as a kid, where a little more innocence is lost. I was already a pretty pensive child. This brought up in me 2 very clear things: a poignant and sharp anguish, based on both the disappointment in humanity, as well as a comprehension of true suffering; secondly, a rage surged inside me, a rage directed at injustices brought upon by mankind.

Later that year, I got into my one and only fight at school. I walked into the girls' bathroom and found 2 girls, who were a year older but c-list at best (yes, I was a-list popular in school), cajoling one of the special-ed students, a boy named Jonathan, to eat shit, literally, out of the toilet. That familiar rage rose up in my chest. I grabbed Jonathan and told him to leave the bathroom and never listen to these girls again. I grabbed one of those little bitches by the throat and pressed her against the wall. The other idiot stood by, speechless. I told her, in no uncertain terms, that she was DEAD at this school. I may have been popular, but I was not a total asshole about it. I pretty much got along with everyone. I made sure that all of my friends knew what they had done, and put a social hit, or as close to a social hit as a 9 year old can do, on them.



I have not been the same, since seeing that film oh so many years ago. It profoundly affected me. I remember the closing scene so clearly. I have included it below. Don't watch it if you plan on seeing this film for the first time. I will tell you this, in watching the final scene again, for the first time since then, the tears flowed and I have to say, that the story of John Merrick could teach us all something about life.

4 comments:

Ben Grieme: SCRAPS said...

another mistake? really? you're slipping.

erin said...

nice try.

AMAZONpr said...

Wow. This brought back such memories for me. I was traumatized by that film, too. I related to the victimization of kids taunting and abusing other kids for being different or for things they couldn't control. In my sister's and my case it was height. Kids were cruel and when I managed to pull myself out of the homeliness of 12 and 13 I found I actually fit in. Boys started to think I was pretty and the popular girls let me in their group all because they liked the way I looked. I enjoyed my new-found popularity, but never really trusted it. I was the same person they teased and that feeling is still a part of who I am. My sister had it much harder -- she's 6'5" and even today people ask her if she is a man and you can hear people making comments when she walks by. She's beautiful and very smart and intellectually knows these people are severely limited (to put it nicely) - but it still hurts. Over the years I've gotten into verbal fights over comments made to and about her (I once even punched a guy!) but have learned to deal in a more civil manner. This challenge has been a gift in a way though -- being different made me resilient and independent and I have no trouble standing up to people. While I've had to temper some anger, I have tremendous compassion for others as I've seen life from both sides. Thank you for reminding me of this beautiful, heartbreaking film. I like your blog! xo ko

erin said...

Karen, Thanks you for your beautiful words and for reading!! xoxo