Elephant Man (movie)

Elephant Man (original title: The Elephant Man ) is a British – American film directed by David Lynch and released in 1980 .

This black and white film is a fictionalized adaptation of the memoirs of Frederick Treves , the doctor who took over Joseph Merrick , nicknamed ” Elephant Man ” because of his many deformities. In the film, the character bears the name “John” Merrick, according to the wrong name in the memories of Treves.


In 1884 , in London , John Merrick , called “elephant man” ( John Hurt ) is a freak like many people affected deformities or severe congenital physical abnormalities. The “owner” of the elephant-man is Bytes ( Freddie Jones ). The Dr. Frederick Treves ( Anthony Hopkins), a famous London surgeon, intrigued by the terrible visual appearance of the elephant-man, with horrible monstrous deformities that he had never seen before in his life, asks Bytes to be able to examine it in more detail. The name of this horribly deformed being is John Merrick, he is 21 years old and does not seem to be able to express himself verbally.

The r Treves then borrows the elephant man to the owner for a few days against a sum of money and momentarily hosts in a quarantine room at the time of the hospital study in more detail and present it to his colleagues during one of his anatomy classes at the Faculty of Medicine, detailing his frightening body deformities. He decides to keep him in the hospital, housing him more or less secretly (with the agreement of the director of the establishment, Sir Carr Gomm ( John Gielgud ), although reserved) in a single room not to shock the others patients. But Bytes sum the r Treves to give him the elephant-man, his “livelihood,” which Treves refuses, supported by the director of the establishment.

Merrick begins to communicate with Treves, reciting an entire passage from a Bible psalm on the director’s first visit, and speaking perfect English despite pronunciation flaws due to his terribly distorted lips and mouth , and revealing a great sensitivity coupled with an extraordinary intelligence.

The night guard of the hospital, unscrupulous man, will again use Merrick as a phenomenon of fair by nocturnal invitations against money. Bytes meets the night watchman at the bar where he makes his daily invitations to prostitutes and alcoholics in the neighborhood, a witnessreport to Dr. Treves who turns the guard. Bytes finally manages to seize John, they go to the continent where he starts to exhibit again at fairs, in Belgium in the region of Ostend. Bytes multiplying the mistreatment, terrorizing John, going so far as to lock him up one night in a bar cage next to that of aggressive baboons. With the help of the other “phenomena” of the circus, John manages to escape at night. Returning to Ostend, he takes a steamer to return to London.

Upon arrival, he is pursued by the population. Accused in a public restroom at London Station, in his distress he screams that he is a human being. Police officers came to his aid and brought him back to his hospital where he soon found the r Treves and safety of his room.

After attending a show in a big theater, invited by the great actress Madge Kendal who took him in friendship, John, who knows himself condemned, kills himself by deciding to fall asleep for the one and only time of his life on his back as a “normal man”, which he knows to be fatal because of the weight of his head, this position on his back preventing him from breathing and knowing himself unable to recover himself. His last thought is that of his mother saying “nothing ever dies”.


The credits of beginning and end of the film specify, respectively:

“This film is a film adaptation of the real life of Joseph Merrick , from the biographical book The elephant man and other reminiscences of r Sir Frederick Treves and book In hand on the elephant man: a study in human dignity of Ashley Montagu. “

“This film is based on the real story of John Merrick, the elephant man , not the play of the same name or any other piece of fiction. “

Technical sheet

  • Original title: The Elephant Man
  • Based on the work of Frederick Treves (testimony of Frederick Treves translated and available at Stalker Publisher – Paris) and Ashley Montagu
  • Director: David Lynch
  • Year of production: 1980
  • Scenario: Christopher De Vore , Eric Bergen , David Lynch, based on the books of Sir Frederick Treves The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences , and Ashley Montagu The Elephant Man, a Study in Human Dignity .
  • Photo: Freddie Francis
  • Production: Brooksfilms (United States)
  • Sets: Stuart Craig , Bob Cartwright
  • Costumes: Patricia Norris
  • Music: John Morris (The soundtrack also features Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio for strings )
  • Special makeup: Christopher Tucker applied by Wally Schneidermann
  • Country of Origin: United Kingdom , United States
  • Format: black and white – 35mm – Ratio : 2.35: 1 shot in Dolby stereo , but projected in mono sound in most rooms not yet equipped.
  • Editing: Anne V. Coates , Melvin G.
  • Genre: drama , biography
  • Duration: 124 minutes
  • Release dates:
    • United States : 
    • La France : 
  • Budget: USD 5 million
  • Box office in the United States: 26 million USD
  • Entries in France: 2,443,507
  • Classifications:
    • PG-13 in the United States
    • All public in France


  • Anthony Hopkins (VF: Dominique Paturel ) : Dr. Frederick Treves
  • John Hurt (VF: Dominique Collignon-Maurin ) : John Merrick says “The Elephant Man”
  • Anne Bancroft (VF: Nadine Alari ) : Mrs. Madge Kendal
  • John Gielgud (VF: Rene Berard ) : Carr Gomm
  • Wendy Hiller (VF: Marie Francey ) : Mrs. Motherhead
  • Freddie Jones (VF: John Topart ) : Bytes
  • Michael Elphick  ( VF: Henry Djanik ) : Jim, the night porter
  • Lesley Dunlop : Nora
  • Hannah Gordon  ( VF: Évelyne Séléna ) : Mrs. Treves
  • Helen Ryan : Princess Alexandra
  • John Standing : r Fox
  • Hugh Manning : Broadneck
  • Dexter Fletcher (VF: Jackie Berger ) : The Kid Of Bytes
  • David Ryall (VF: Philippe Dumat ) : the man who accompanies prostitutes
  • Kenny Baker : The dwarf


This is the first film produced by the production company Mel Brooks : The Brooksfilms .


At the origin of the project, David Lynch had initially undertaken to design himself the makeup of the elephant man, but the material used, polyurethane foam, proved unsuitable for the realization of prostheses 1 . In disaster, Lynch decides to call on the English makeup artist Christopher Tucker  (in) , known for his make-ups for historical series of the BBC like Moi Claude Empereur 2 . Tucker designed his prostheses from two-layer latex foams for bone and soft parts 1 . John Hurt’s makeuphad to be worn 12 hours a day. It was directly developed by the makeup artist from the post-mortem molding of Joseph Merrick’s head . In order to prevent unexpected incidents for Christopher Tucker, the production decided to insure him for two million pounds 1 .


Named eight times at the Oscars, the film received no statuette.

  • Grand Prix of the Avoriaz International Fantastic Film Festival , 1981 .
  • César of the best foreign film 1982
  • British Academy Film Award for Best Film
  • British Academy Film Award for Best Actor for John Hurt
  • British Academy Film Award for Best Sets


The Elephant Man is a tribute to Tod Browning’s films , such as Freaks .

Another adaptation of the life of the elephant man

Before the film adaptation, Bernard Pomerance wrote a play with Philip Anglim playing the role of John Merrick without any makeup, represented on Broadway and later resumed by David Bowie . A TV movie was shot in 1982 by Jack Hofsiss based on Bernard Pomerance’s play . It is again Philip Anglim who takes again the role of John Merrick.

Notes and references

  1. ↑ a , b and c Pintel 2015 , p.  436
  2. ↑ Pinteau 2015 , p.  435

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