Eraserhead screens this Thursday, July 29th, at 9:15pm at Toronto Underground Cinema. Be sure to come early and make a night of it by seeing Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt at 7pm. This is a double bill that cinema fans should not want to miss.
Ask 5 different people what they think David Lynch's Eraserhead means and you will get 5 different answers. I forget who said that to me, or in what capacity it was said. It might have been an original notion or something written down by a scholar or critic at some point. Either way, this statement rings incredibly true. Eraserhead isn't completely indecipherable. There is a plot to some degree and the visuals do convey images of dread, hope, shock, and despair. It is probably, however, best put as critic proof. I defy anyone, detractor or supporter, to really say anything more than that Eraserhead is quite simply an original. This is a film designed to take on a dream like quality where nothing in particular has to make a lot of sense or really needs to.
In light of the recent box office smash that Inception has become, allow me to paraphrase a concept from Christopher Nolan's most recent film that could easily be applied to Eraserhead. How do you know you are in a dream? How do you know where you really are? Think back to a dream you once had and try to remember how it started. You can't really seem to find your way back to the beginning because dreams are often non-linear and drop you into the middle of some sort of action. Retracing your steps is really quite a hassle so you will either try to end the dream on a conscious level, or you will simply blissfully go along with it.
The most obvious interpretation of Eraserhead would probably have to surround the horrors and fears associated with parenthood, especially in the case of the child being unplanned and unwanted by both parents. This unplanned offspring of Henry (Jack Nance) and Mary (Charlotte Stewart) just happens to be a hideous abomination that neither of them seem to love very much. The baby is constantly covered in viscera and looks like a shaved Muppet with a bandaged "body" to go along with its hideous facial features. Upon Mary's departure, Henry is left alone as guardian of the child, and that is when things begin to get even stranger and more obtuse. The notion of parenthood as a nightmare doesn't exactly hold up when your protagonist (?) starts dreaming he is headless and seeing women in his radiator espousing the virtues of heaven.
I would say I am saving you the spoilers, but the truth is that I have now seen Eraserhead 4 times and I am no closer to finding any true meaning from the film than when I first saw it almost 10 years ago. Maybe it is for the best that I don't say anything more. I think that is the way that Lynch would have wanted it. In fact, Lynch has gone on the record as saying that hardly anyone has even come close to what he believes the meaning of Eraserhead is. I for one am content to quite simply never know. I am going to take the dream for what it is. After all, it is just a movie and I know I am going to wake up. Right?