O P I N I O N
With its combination of metaphorical imagery and literal depiction, David Lynch’s self-proclaimed most spiritual film Eraserhead is unquestionably a tremendous challenge for its interpreters. If you are the kind of film lover who wants to understand what’s going on with the overall story of a film and get your questions answered, this timeless horror film is absolutely not for you.
If, however, the philosophy of the lady in both the radiator scene and the eraser moment can be dissected, a few key notions may start to be coined together and this film could ultimately make sense. These two completely opposing moments provide an astonishing insight into the dread and remorse of our main character Henry, and how escapism really comes into play.
If you haven’t watched this film yet, I recommend you stop before proceeding through the texts.
The scene begins as a reflection of Henry, the main protagonist’s hopes and dreams, which could be quite confusing with all these games between dreams and realities. It is important to gauge the lady’s design decision in the radiator and her function in the film. She is clothed entirely in white with large exaggerated checks. She might be a representation of an angel or a fairy. That’s especially clearer by the fact that she repeatedly sings: “In heaven, everything is fine.”
She is assuring him that when he dies, all his problems would vanish in the abyss of certainty. Or, even worse, he can murder his child and get away with it. Because the newborn is deformed and, apparently, uncomfortable and agonising, everything in heaven may be wonderful for both Henry and the kid.
Henry is terrified, but he is in the middle of letting go of his fears and accepting what may happen. As Henry touches the lady in the radiator, the screen flashes white, symbolising salvation, escaping that obsolete, sinister world. Now the question is, how innocent people of our society come into the scene?
Maybe I’m exaggerating or merely explaining an excessively complicated film scene passionately, I noticed that he is inclined to finding distraction and solace from difficult situations in his head. Henry, like most readers, lives and is dragged into the cultural framework known as “adulthood” for the most part.
We will return to Henry with this in mind. Henry seemed to be leading a very normal, though slightly uncomfortable, lifestyle. He has a job that he works diligently at (despite the fact that he is on holiday for the movie), a neighbour who he treats with respect, and an ex-girlfriend whom he still loves. All of this being said, Henry’s life does not appear to please him or provide him with the happiness that is meant to come with it.
He foregoes his personal enjoyment in order to alleviate the suffering of someone he is obligated to look for: his child. The way the youngster is depicted in the film reflects Henry’s misfortune, disturbingly. He realises that he should stay optimistic for his child, but when he looks at him, all he sees is a monster. Henry does not get what he believes he deserves in life.
The woman sings to Henry in the radiator a song with only two unique repeating lines: “In Heaven, everything is fine.” “You got your good thing and you’ve got mine,” she says. These lines serve as a stand-in for Henry, allowing him to imagine how different things may be for him. Escapism of this kind is everywhere in our entire lives.
We, the ordinary people of society, want to find a route to a better life like Henry, despite substantial cultural pressure and conventional beliefs. Adulthood, the beginning of your twenties, the external pressures of creating a career and a relationship demonstrate what contemporary society can do to a person. If life begins to lose its value, Henry’s wishful psychedelic dark nightmarish dreams represent what we desire intrinsically from our core. Escapism is exemplified by doing everything you’re obliged to do but not focusing on the initial perspective, the desire to live a life.
Because societal standards are created by humans, there is no need to simply accept the rules established by those who came before. You could protest, but if you can state that you must make up your own rules, I can simply specify the opposite—that you should obey these rules.
And, when you are unable to go against societal norms and cultural boundaries, your soul begins to disintegrate inside and seeks a way out of reality. David Lynch has depicted modern society’s evident escapism in an eerie, amorphous, cold, elegant, avant-garde, and altogether highly unsettling fashion.
Or maybe, in the midst of a lockdown, I’m overthinking Henry’s problems. Take what you will from the article, but escaping reality is never an option, whether we like it or not.
Tahmid Shuvro prefers watching philosophical and psychological videos to sleeping.