Thoughts On: Eraserhead - Into The Anima


Eraserhead - Into The Anima

Thoughts On: Eraserhead (1977)

This is the final post of the series where we will again look at Lynch's Eraserhead.

To close the Kaleidoscope series, I want to offer my personal interpretation of Lynch's infamous Eraserhead as a film that journeys into a man's psyche, into the element of himself that is, in essence, female: his anima. To provide this commentary we will analyse the symbolic nature of a few key scenes and see how they fit into the wider picture of the narrative. In turn, we will be looking at a few sequences revolving around Henry and the three main women he encounters. To start, we come to the opening:

This tremendous opening shot superimposes Henry's head, his blankly fearful and inherently naive expression, over a shot of an orb in space. This orb seems planet-like, but, equally so, bacterial: it seems like a cell. Through association with this later shot...

... and, furthermore, the general content of the film, you get the sense that this is an egg. The ambiguous opening then reveals itself to be one depicting impregnation. To return to the opening shot, however...

... what this superimposition implies is that Henry is thinking, and in turn, co-existing with the egg. He conceptualises of it as in a void of space surrounded by distant stars (other eggs possibly). Henry's unconscious then conceptualises the female body as simultaneously full of potential and ambiguously empty; it seems he does not understand it beyond being a matrix of connected femininity. That is, in expanding upon the idea that the other stars are other eggs (possibly of other women), to say that internal female body is not unique: it is merely space that holds an egg. All such spaces are connected, one egg perceivable from another in this infinite realm of feminine internals.

Returning to this shot, we have a fascinating image:

To juxtapose, these, as most will recognise, are the opening lines of Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. 
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

The bible's commentary on life is a dualistic one. From one came two; from God came heaven and earth. That is to say, from the Logos came his own domain (heaven) and a formless void (earth) faced with its own shadow. The earth without form, a void, is pure potential. A darkness, that which manifests seemingly as contrary to heaven, is upon the face of that potential, which suggests that the void bears the probability to become, for lack of a better word, hell. Alas, the Spirit of God, who we can assume is in heaven, is reflected by the void that is the universe, or rather, earth without form. This says that, in facing up, earth can look past darkness and see light. Recognising this to be true, God utters the words, "Let there be light", and so something to confront the darkness was born. God would then divide the good from the bad, the negative from the positive, the yin from the yang, the night from the day, and thus begin shaping the domains he created by populating them with new life forms.

This opening of Genesis provides some fascinating parallels to that of Eraserhead. Henry is in a voidal domain and he speaks into it life:

This domain is feminine, but it remains unnamed. The only name we can attribute to it is Mary X, the girl that Henry impregnates. And it seems quite uncoincidental that Lynch would name his female character Mary. In the bible and beyond, Mary, like Lynch's Mary X, comes to symbolise the eternal female in heaven and upon earth; she is the Mother of God. Fascinatingly, there is no mention of this Mother of God in Genesis - just like there is no mention of Mary in the beginning of Eraserhead. The commentary provided by this collision of the Bible and Eraserhead is one of the unconsciousness' ignorance of the feminine.

As mythology so often suggests, life is feminine, and simultaneously, life just is. However, as such, life's inception is too difficult to grasp. How does one explain how 'is' emerged from a state of 'non-is'? This suggests why there is no Mother of God in the start of the Bible. God creates his mother long after he has established life so he can, retrospectively, begin to define the universe in terms of a syzygy, in terms of masculine and female forces. The universe begins as masculine because we are asking how it came to be. We can only conceptualise of inception, one of the key defining traits of the male, and so characterise the start of everything as the essence of impregnating forces. God creating universe seems to be the manifestation of life force willing life itself to be: the will precedes the being, the son before the mother, for the Bible.

Eraserhead makes a similar statement. However, it deals not with universal fundamentals, the start of space, but, a girl and a boy. In turn, it is a story about failure, one that shows how a boy conceiving of himself as God, as a creative force, without responsibility, knowledge or great words to speak is destined for trouble. The boy does not understand the feminine, thus, he, solipsistically, sees himself to inherently be within the domain of the female. There is then no Mary in the beginning of Eraserhead because Henry cannot recognise her. He will recognise Mary as existing only once his will - which is a sexual one - manifests as a baby. Henry's will manifesting then becomes a seed that he speaks into existence:

This seed is an incomplete form; a reflection of who he is inside; a reflection of his words. It can only be understood, however, by analysing the shots that precede it. So, after Henry thinks of the egg in space...

... it is inspected in closer detail:

It is probably worthwhile here to emphasise the vaginal nature of this cleft or channel. Alas, we then move into a different domain, one that we can't be sure belongs to the egg or Henry, a house of sorts:

We move into this house to find a monster:

This monster, as we soon find out, controls the egg and/or Henry. Thus, after he speaks his seed into existence...

... the monster pulls his lever...

... and the seed shoots off towards these waters...

We cannot know what the lever that is pulled controls. However, it gives incite into who and what the monster is. He seems to be darkness; he is the distorted man with Henry. His distortion is aesthetically bound to the primordial image of the egg - as is the rest of the world of Eraserhead. Everything is piled in dirt and grime, given a crusty bacterial aesthetic. With the juxtaposition of the egg and dirt comes the idea that the specific kind of egg that we are shown, an unnamed egg, an egg in a void of the feminine as presided over by a naive man, bears a burden: is tainted. The man divorced from the feminine, likewise, seems to be tainted. As a result, this monster...

... seems to be the purveyor of the tainting, undeveloped force that is present throughout the film. That is to say that Eraserhead is a film all about underdevelopment; about a boy not ready to become a father, a girl not ready to become a mother and a baby not ready to be human. The monster is the first underdeveloped and tainted figure we see. It manifests as the will of Henry, the winds that carry his words of life into a fertile space, and, in turn, the monster seems to be sexual urge as well as the dark shadow on the face of the created. Such says so much about Eraserhead as a film that very much so appears to be about a boy and a girl who have a baby and can't bear take care of it as it represents all that is dark and mistaken within themselves. Taking Henry's perspective in this domain of story, what is emphasised is his ignorance of the feminine and its capacity to manifest as a reflection of his own inadequacy.

And so this scene is complete with Henry's will accepted into a pool of the feminine under the management of the monster.

We then enter the 'real world' beyond Henry's psychic space by moving into this pool of new, created space and out of the feminine through an unambiguously feminine channel:

Eraserhead then opens with the expulsion of Henry's ego in the ignored feminine domain as controlled by monsters of underdevelopment and tainted naivety. It goes onto to show Henry travel through a decimated and empty industrialised world - one that comes to characterise Henry's view of his surroundings as inaccessible and drenched in his own fear and lack of understanding - to meet his estranged girlfriend and learn of the fact that she is pregnant.

We then get the dinner scene where Henry has to confront his own sexual being alongside the parents of his girlfriend. This scene is particularly ingenious because it holds a deprived concept of sexuality over the heads of two key relationships, that of parent and child and that of mother and father:

This particularly gruesome moment of blood coming out of a micro-chicken seemingly alludes to an infant and menstruation simultaneously. As the blood oozes and bubbles, the mother...

... groans with her tongue extended, semi-sexually, before crying and exiting. She returns to confront Henry about having sex with her daughter before attempting to seduce him.

The mother, triggered by the menstruating infant, seemingly thinks of the careless pleasures of sex before realising that her daughter has not just had sex, but also a baby. Thus the blood of menstruation seemingly does not wash away anything, nor does it cleanse and prepare; it only brings fourth vulgarity of a horrifyingly intimate and disturbing kind. This blood also seems to plant a seed of refusal within Mary and implies that she wishes to abandon her baby because it exists in this strange place between menstruation and infancy; between being destroyed and being raised, between casual sex and procreation. And the manifestation of this seems to be the underdeveloped baby itself:

This baby is the embodiment of all of the conflicts alluded to. It is the word of a naive man, who speaks within the unknown and the undeveloped female. It is the epitome of a mistake.

The sound and world design, in respect to this, impresses Henry's conception of the female as voidal and the meeting of male and female as deformed and perverse onto the world. The world around Henry is then one in which men do not work - in which factories do no function - and that everything from 'Mother Earth', such as the hay and vegetation in his room, is rotten and infesting. The sound design, the wind, shows this voidal world as dangerous and inhospitable. Everything female is tainted, and the males are almost completely absent. Such defines the way in which Henry operates. He is unsure of the feminine around him and scared of the feminine within himself; he does not know how to operate in the world, nor does he know how to take care of his baby alongside the woman he created it with.

Fascinatingly, when the baby speaks, when his will is put into the world, when he cries, his mother, Mary X, is forced to leave. She cannot bear the crying and so Henry must take care of the child himself; he must tend to the baby's words (its cries) and shape them into a kind of speech that the mother can bear to hear. However, in tending to the baby's cries, Henry discovers that it is ill...

What Henry has created, seemingly through impulse and as guided by the monster...

... is unsurprisingly damaged. However, instead of figuring out how to fix the baby, how to take care of it and fix its speech, Henry dreams of his perfect woman:

The Lady In The Radiator is, in my view, Henry's anima manifest. In such, it is the idol and the archetype of his perfect woman. It is a tainted idol, deformed and perverted, but it is nonetheless endearing and, most importantly, has beautiful speech.

The Lady In The Radiator sings of heaven as a place where everything is fine and about the inherent good in both herself and, seemingly, her lover. The Lady In The Radiator then embraces and celebrates a utopian vision for undeveloped individuals seemingly in love. She implies that the perfect woman for Henry is then one who does not test his speech...

... who does not give birth to his children...

... and who does not ask him to know her and to mature. This woman steps on his seed:

In other words, this woman undermines his masculinity and leaves him a boy. And, in Henry's estimation, it seems that the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall is as close to this kind of woman as he will get.

We can estimate this as it is after dreaming of The Lady In The Radiator that he discovers more of his own sperm-like constructs coming from Mary X:

He casts this away, he casts away the chance of having more children with Mary, and finds himself the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall.

The two descend into a pool, igniting thoughts of the first body of water we see in the film:

This pool from the intro seemingly represents the feminine and the unconscious mind simultaneously. Much like one can dive into their unconscious mind, so does one dive into the feminine in the world of Eraserhead, and so this is the journey Henry takes with the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall. With her Henry finds his perfect woman, a sexual lure who seemingly does not want children. Henry has found his heaven. And so The Lady In The Radiator sings again...

Henry, seemingly having found heaven, then meets his anima:

She extends her hands to him, he touches them and she releases a blinding light:

This light is an illumination of sudden truth. The Lady In The Radiator, a little like Mary X, has interacted with Henry's seed - his speech - and from that has come the potential for light - for good. However, no good comes from the world Henry creates. His world disappears - like Mary X, The Lady In The Radiator is suddenly gone - replaced by the monster...

The undeveloped monster stares at Henry. This is who he has been possessed by. And so he realises the dead nature, the deceased feminine, that he projects onto the world in the form of a leafless tree...

The tree is life, it is the feminine. Henry has the ability to call this into being, but, such an act is represented as him losing his head:

A phallic object knocks Henry's head off and it rolls onto a ground of black and white - of masculine and feminine.

Life, the tree, then begins to bleed...

Henry's head is drenched in the blood - which may be considered menstruation blood.

This seemingly symbolises a rejection of the feminine becoming the dark world in which a man's head - his Logos - can exist. The man who wishes he never had children, who wishes his deformed child dead, bathes in the blood of abortion and dead cells. Thus the shadow of a man's sexuality consumes and simultaneously reflects him.

Meanwhile, from the phallus that decapitates Henry comes the undeveloped baby. Creation comes out of him whether he likes it or not and however deformed it must be. Henry's head then re-enters the world...

It falls through the feminine into a wasteland and a boy picks the head up before an elderly man can reach it. The boy takes to a factory and they turn the brains into rubber that is put on the end of a pencil.

This set of events depicts a cycle that the immature masculine mind puts into the world. The underdeveloped man follows an ethos that is easily sold by all - it is one of consumption and irresponsibility. This consumption is detrimental to all. It sees the man's ability to talk and to create manifest and then wiped out. A little like Henry calls his child into existence, but effectively wipes it out, his head is made into an eraser on a pencil - a tool of speech - that will erase the pencil's markings - its words. Henry's mind, which made this eraser, is shown as a destructive force, its remnants like stars in heaven that fall all too easily...

Refusing to acknowledge this vision of his, Henry seeks out the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall, but she has moved on. He has nothing but his deformed child, and it laughs at him.

Notably, the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall sees him for who he is: a father to the deformed child...

She rejects him because that is her nature; she wants nothing but pleasure. Henry wants more; we wants companionship and pleasure constantly: a true heaven. He will not get this. Henry is then forced to investigate what this creature that he created is; he must cut it open:

Within his baby he finds only a heart - or organ of some kind...

This represents Henry's anima (his own heart; his masculinity). He sees within the baby himself, vulnerable, weak and deformed. He then decides to destroy it:

Haunted by flashing lights - which symbolise realisation and simultaneously the calling of something into being - and the growing deformed baby, Henry has a final vision. He sees the egg from the beginning again. He realises that it represents his anima, and that, in having a child, he ventured into it. It explodes...

... and Henry sees himself to be the destroyer of his own words...

We cannot know if Henry's journey into his anima was positive or negative. We have witnessed a man realise his weakness and corruption and destroy what he created out of this. Does this mean he will go on to create good? Does this mean that he only failed to turn what was damaged into something good?


To conclude, I have to say that I do not think that this is the one and only interpretation of the film. (I personally have varying readings). Nonetheless, this is one interpretation that will conclude the Kaleidoscope series. To find out why this is the final film of the series, check out The Red Kaleidoscope Rainbow now.

< Previous     post in the series     Next >

Previous post:

Pacific Rim: Uprising - Wasted Potential

Next post:

End Of The Week Shorts #57

More from me:

No comments: